Check out Jörn's great story from his Te Aito experience 2014
Years paddling: 26 (since 2005 mainly waka ama, prior to that various paddling codes, mainly C1)
Club: Porirua Canoe Kayak Club (Hoe Tonga region)
No. of times competing in Te Aito: 2nd time
Paddling inspiration: “You’re not obligated to win. You’re obligated to keep trying and persevere.”
Brief description of the race – how many paddlers, what kind of Waka was used etc.
There is no question that apart from the Super Aito, Te Aito in Tahiti is the most prestigious long distance V1 race to compete in globally. With over 400 paddlers on the start line, in the open men’s division alone, this race has a certain edge that is quite hard to comprehend without experiencing it.
Some photos are available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hoetonga/sets/72157645455857359/. One of the videos shows my start. Watch the guy in the red canoe on the right, unfortunately his race was over very quickly.
Te Aito is held in July each year. The race starts at Point Venus on Tahiti Nui. The start line is on the beach but with the large number of paddlers and canoes, the line is actually over 500m wide. Despite the large number of competitors, I have yet to experience a cleaner start though, a far cry from some of the running starts experienced in some races around New Zealand. The start line is closely monitored, and paddlers have to stand behind a marked line.
The course goes downwind for about 7km, around a channel marker buoy, through the reef via a channel, and then upwind close to shore back to the startline. The course offers some good surf conditions in the downwind part, I estimate that the wind was blowing at about 15-20 knots this year. The full race distance is 28km, two laps of 14km.
In terms of the types of canoes that were on display, the majority would probably be Fai Vaa and Timi Vaa, but there is a wide range from a number of manufacturers.
Was entering and registering for the race easy or difficult? Why?
Given that so many Tahitians are on facebook, the lack of an online entry facility is a bit surprising, but it was still pretty straightforward. One can enter at one of the local paddling stores (pay the entry fee and fill in a form).
What did you do to prepare in NZ?
I spent a lot of time on the water, supported by some on-land and gym training. I am using a K1 for aerobic cross training, and when on the W1, I maximise training time on the ocean to improve my surf and ocean skills. That’s not that easy in late May and June as it is getting dark early and Wellington is not known as a hot place either. Luckily I was able shift my work hours a little so that I could get away earlier, in order to at least have some day light left for paddling.
Following my experience in 2013, I spent less effort on acclimatising (eg sauna, hot yoga). I have found that arriving 8 days before the race is sufficient time to acclimatise. I quite like the heat, so I find it’s less of an issue. Also, July is traditionally a ‘cold’ month in Tahiti, at least that’s what the Tahitians are saying.
This year I also did some fundraising to help me get to Tahiti, this worked really well. A big thank you to my supporters.
What goals did you set yourself for this race? Did you achieve them? What was your result?
My goal this year was to make at least the top 100. My lead up and preparation was excellent this year, everything went to plan, until one week before I left. After having avoided the onslaught of winter colds, it finally got to me. A bit of a cold is not normally a big deal, but unfortunately in this case it developed into bronchitis just as I arrived in Tahiti. That threw the spanner in the works. While I was able to paddle, there is no doubt that it did not help the cause. I ended up with a 150th place. Given the circumstances I am ok with that result.
Do you have goals for next year?
I am keen to come back for a third time. I have an end goal in mind, but the initial goal is to stay healthy during the lead up. The rest will naturally fall into place.
What was the hardest part of the race?
The conditions in the first upwind leg are washing-machine-like. This is because there are hundreds of paddlers trying to fit into a narrow channel going through the reef, and all around you there are power boats with supporters. So it’s hard to find a rhythm in those conditions.
What advice would you give NZ paddlers wishing to head to this race? What tips would you give in terms of the race course, start, finish, level of competition etc.?
The Tahitians master the craft of surfing W1, and in order to be able to compete, there is no way around the fact that one has to get better at that aspect. That means paddlers must improve that part of their paddling skills, and it ultimately means heading out of the harbour and onto the ocean. It helps immensely if you approach those people that can provide advice or feedback.
I also highly recommend learning some French. English does not get you that far. This year I did an introduction course before I left (app on iphone) and this helped a lot.
Is there anything you would change for next year? I.e. travel earlier, train more/less etc.
Despite an increased focus on surfpaddling in this year’s lead up, I am looking to further increase the focus on that aspect of paddling. Travelling over earlier would also be useful, but that’s difficult given work commitments and limited leave.
Would you recommend this race to other paddlers from NZ? Why?
Absolutely, I have learnt so much from competing in the last two years, it widens your horizon about W1 paddling.
Are there any other international races that you wish to/will be competing in soon?
For next year, I am again looking to come back to Te Aito, and if the results justify it, compete at the Super Aito in August next year.
In terms of W6, I would love to have another decent go at the Molokai Hoe, and if things come together, competing in the Hawaikinui Race and/or the Tahiti Nui Race would be special.
Lastly, we know that competing in a race like this is not possible without the support and help from family, friend and sponsors. Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Absolutely! I would like to thank my family, for supporting me in my training and racing, and the many supporters that helped me financially via pledges.
A special thanks to Hantz Salmon and his family, and the paddlers at Hititai for hosting me again this year. Being able to blend in with the locals, train and prepare with them, is of immense value. My sincere thanks to them!
A special thanks also to Joe Bunton from Fai Vaa. Joe provided me with a full carbon loan Fai 3x that matched the specifications of my own Fai 3x here in New Zealand. Having a canoe to paddle that you are already used to is a big help in optimising your performance. Thanks Joe!