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The Holopuni Va’a Channel Crossing.

Last year’s report (which follows this) covering the history behind the Holopuni Va’a channel crossing& the background to this exceptional adventure demands a brief report covering this year’s renewal with tradition, with Polynesian culture & history.

Six Holopuni canoes left Tahiti on Monday, 23rd November, 2015, headed for Bora Bora. They would be joined by 2 further such craft, one in Moorea & the other in Huahine, on this the 6th edition of this exceptional adventure which takes them more than 375km via Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa before arriving a week later in Bora Bora, so marking the opening of the “Ironmana”, the final test in a series of often innovative aquatic disciplines conducted throughout the year known as the “Waterman Tahiti Tour”.


Those sailing/paddling from Tahiti left from Point Venus on Tahiti’s Matavai Bay, a site charged with history that was not lost on those competing for it was here that the first Europeans arrived – Wallis in 1767, Bougainville in 1768, & then Cook in 1769 where he witnessed the transit of Venus across the sun from whence the name Point Venus comes. It was here too that the first missionaries arrived in 1797.

The magnificent support vessel Faafaite (Reconciliation):


As the fleet left the shelter of Matavai Bay they were met by favourable 25 knot winds & a pumping 4m swell propelling them at speeds often exceeding 30km/h that sped them to Moorea. The first to reach Moorea would do so in just 2.5 hours – nothing can beat the adrenalin rush an event such as this gives participants!

The nirvana was sustained in similar conditions on Tuesday seeing the leaders reach Huahine from Moorea in just 9 hours murdering the previous best time ever for the leg of 12 hours! Stephan Lambert who organises the event tells me that his holopuni reached a top speed of 42.8kph: “The boat was talking to me all along…..’zrzrzrzrzrzrzrzrzzrzrzrzrzrzrzrzrz’.”

This is an ’extreme’ sport requiring high levels of physical prowess. It demands non-stop action – paddling in search of wind & swell, working sailing apparatus in extreme conditions, darting out on the trampolines to stabilize craft being powered along in big swells, whilst all the time being very much in the hands of & often battling with the elements. The smallest lapse in concentration particularly at these speeds & in these conditions can see fundamental equipment failure & the boat come adrift, even capsize.

Arriving safely in Huahine the fleet would take a well-deserved 2 day pause. Raiatea & Tahaaa lay ahead before an arrival at the Sofitel Marara Resort in Bora Bora planned for 3pm on Monday.

The course chosen is both a practical & scenic, one that presents pleasure seeking sailors in the area with much to consider. Haapiti is a truly beautiful stretch of water along Moorea’s scenic coastline whilst Huahine with a 2 day lay-off offers much to those with time to explore. There are also surfing opportunities to be had at Huahnine’s Avamoa & Avapeihi Passes. Entering Raiatea at Iriru Pass alongside the beautiful Tipaemaua & Iriru Motus matches the image of Polynesia that so many dream about. It is then a rewarding cruise up the Raiatea coastline to Uturoa. Toahotu Pass on Tahaa from where the fleet sets sail for Bora Bora is sensational offering tremendous snorkeling & diving, surfing & kiteboarding, legendary islands, & unforgettable sunrises over Huahine. The final leg to stunning Bora Bora along that island’s east coast past the resorts for which the island is world renowned & close to the heart-shaped Motu Tupai, the world’s most photographed atoll, completes this great package.

The sun rises over a distant Huahine in an explosion of colour welcoming those present to another exceptional day as they rise aboard their craft moored to the side of the 2 paradisiacal islands that mark the entrance to Toahotu Pass:



With rain predicted for Saturday the holopuni adventurers made the dash for Raiatea on Friday in easy-going conditions of 15-20 knots of favourable wind & a gentle but advantageous swell.

Arriving in Bora Bora after another good run in excellent conditions those competing were beaming with joy at what they’d accomplished. I watched them round Point Matira in a head-wind impressed by the holopuni’s ability to point high into the wind. From there it was a charge for home, a ‘pu’ (conch shell) to mark the importance of the occasion & a welcome greeting in the traditional style:





The traditional greeting welcomes the ‘warriors’, the visitors to the shores of Bora Bora – floral leis, traditional Tahitian instruments & song & dancing – ah, life in the islands……






It’s a moment charged with emotion as the dancers welcome the paddlers to their island:


Those who participated – a fortunate few lucky to have experienced one of the oceans greatest adventures, to have pushed their bodies & minds to the limit & who have arrived safely to the legendary welcome with leis signifying an important occasion & the importance of those wearing the leis:


The Ironmana, the Bora Bora Liquid Festival, the Tahiti Waterman Tour awaits those who dare.



The Polynesians came to these islands by sailing canoe. In this site’s ‘History Page’ it is recorded thus:

Starting from South East Asia, the ancestors of Polynesians sailed the Pacific Ocean for centuries aboard massive double-hulled sailing canoes up to 30m long known as ‘pahi’. Each canoe could hold up to 60 people & more importantly, could sail upwind, something the boats of Cook & Bougainville could not do!

The island of Bora Bora was first inhabited by Polynesians who crossed the Pacific Ocean in such vessels from Tonga & Samoa around the 3rd century AD. Perhaps the world’s greatest navigators of all time, it is literally staggering to consider that Polynesians could safely & with surety navigate these waters using the stars, wind, the patterns of bird flights & other aids more than a 1,000 years before the first Europeans were known to have mastered sailing in their own waters.

With a concept starting in the 1980’s, by the early 2000’s a dismountable & easily transportable 3 man canoe (‘OC3’), the Holopuni Va’a (literally “sail anywhere outrigger”), had been designed in Hawaii featuring kayak style cockpit openings for up to three paddlers & various configurations depending on the purpose for which the craft would be used. The canoe was quickly rigged as either:

  • a single outrigger for use by 1-3 paddlers;
  • a sailing version with 2 equally spaced outriggers, a centreboard, dismountable mast & a stay-less sail system. Trampolines were added for additional passengers, cargo or for simply camping out.

Built from composite materials the outrigger weighs slightly over 60kgs in the paddling version & less than 70kgs in the sailing version. At a tick over 9m long it was an easy to handle, lightweight & fast canoe capable of handling large swells even surf. The centreboard offered the outrigger increased up-wind capacities as well as stability; the trampoline making for the best bed to gently rock away the night at your favourite isolated surf spot!

In a celebration of water sports & Polynesian culture, to reconfirm the reliability & versatility of the va’a & to actively participate in the spirit of the Bora Bora Liquid Festival, the OC3s would again sail from Tahiti to Bora Bora in this the 5th such crossing. It’s a crossing encompassing some 48km from Matavai Bay, Tahiti to beautiful Haapiti on Moorea, then a 167kms haul from Haapiti to Fare, Huahine, followed by 59kms to stunning Toahotu Pass on Tahaa & finally 72kms to the Sofitel Marara on Bora Bora. Eight days set apart for the magnificent 6 island crossing.

Two recent adaptations of Polynesian know-how from long ago:


November 25, 2014 dawned with overcast skies & the threat of rain; not nearly enough to dampen the enthusiasm of those participating. Participants gathered, canoes at the ready, at 5.30am along Matavai Bay on Point Venus, the most historical spot in all the Pacific – where Samuel Wallis landed when he ‘discovered’ Tahiti in 1767 & where Louis-Antoine Bougainville arrived a year later. Captain Cook based the HMS Endeavour here in 1769 to observe the crossing of Venus across the sun, scientific research which explains the naming of the point. The HMS Bounty dropped anchor here in 1788.


Following the traditional blessing of the tahua as local custom dictates, the Holopuni Va’a Channel Crossing was under-way. The crews included 3 international guest athletes as well as some local invited athletes – one has to wonder if they ever imagined what they were in for!

The 4 va’a (outrigger canoes) literally raced away in tail winds which built to around 25knots with a favourable 2.5m swell seeing the canoes hammering towards Moorea reaching speeds in excess of the 25knot wind down the face of waves! The far side of Moorea was reached in around 2.5 hours!

It’s this sort of sailing that pumps the adrenalin; it’s this sort of speed that sets the heart beat racing! Great vigilance is required when the winds are strong & the swell coming from all directions or something can give………… ‘Holopuni 1′ skippered by Stephane Lambert, the organizer of the Bora Bora Liquid Festival, would pay the price of what seemed a dream run, certainly a thrill packed run, losing first one & then the other outrigger before capsizing & needing to be towed to Moorea.

Thierry Tching’s va’a would suffer gear failure & as the fleet gathered at stunning Motu Tiahuru opposite Moorea’s former Club Med it was decided to canabolise Lambert’s va’a to the benefit of that of Tching.

By chance an outrigger which missed the start at Point Venus ‘found its way’ to Moorea & was permitted to join in – don’t you love that Polynesian ‘coolness’ – so as morning dawned at 5.30am the revamped fleet (now once again 4 in number) set sail with Fare in Huahine the next port of call.

A consistent 10 knots of favourable wind pushed the boats along but half way through this, the longest haul at 167km, the breeze stopped & the rain came pelting down. The athletes reached for their paddles & the battle against distance & fatigue, cold & the approaching night-fall set in.


It would take almost 17 hours for the fleet to compete a punishing crossing almost half of it paddled with a choppy swell & varying currents only adding to the pain.

A day of rest was well merited to rebuild both body & boat before the va’a resumed racing. Another start at the crack of dawn with, this time, the sacred island of Raiatea’s soon to be World Heritage listed Marae Taputapuatea as the initial goal. Calm seas & ideal wind conditions saw sailors quickly putting the difficulties of the first 2 legs behind them.


The fleet would regroup on the sands of Raiatea’s Marae Taputapuatea before sailing in the protected waters of a lagoon to Tahaa’s stunning Toahotu Pass. Here participants would over-night before the final assault on Bora Bora.

December 1 dawned, crowned in sunshine & favourable winds from the south-east. Trouble of another kind, however, had struck – the sweep of one of the crews had succumbed to chikungunya. The ill-fortuned sweep was forced to retire; his crew would abandon the race with him……………. so ‘now they were 3’!

The outriggers are accompanied by a couple of escort boats throughout the journey………..sometimes they provide the best vantage points:


Around 10am on December 2nd the 3 remaining va’a sailed through the sensational turquoise lagoon waters surrounding the Sofitel Island Resort & onto the white sand of the Sofitel Marara Bora Bora Resort. As tradition would have it, a pu (Conch shell) was sounded in recognition of a major event as the va’a reached shore:




A closer look at the craft, the rigging & other equipment. Note the far larger paddle used by the sweep; used more so to ‘direct ‘ the craft than to power it along. The centreboard fits just behind the base of the mast. The trampoline areas to each side of the 3 paddling cockpits are clearly apparent, supporting luggage:


A well deserved cocktail or ten was reserved for these valiant warriors, under the watchful eye of…..


Those who sailed the final leg:


My thanks to Kamakea Bambridge – the daughter of an old golfing mate of mine, Phineas – who provided many of the above photos in representing the sponsor, Noni Energy.

This was a true test of all the Bora Bora Liquid Festival stands for – a test of physical & mental power, of endurance & of determination, of attitude, of taking one to one’s limits & beyond, refusing to surrender. There’s a true sense of achievement in accomplishing a feat such as this. This is very much a team effort out of which great friendships build.

“When the going got tough, the tough got going”!