1st Stop of The Paddle League 2018: Air France Paddle Festival by Chris Parker

The Air France Paddle Festival in Tahiti is less than a month away! This is the 1st stop of the newly formed  Paddle League with 100 Paddle League points on offer for the 1st placed paddler (mens and women), plus  over 300 amateur paddlers involved it is going to be an exciting event! TotalSUP talks to Chris Parker of the Paddle League / SUP Racer about the excitement surrounding the Air France Paddle Festival and how we can watch it live!

SUP Racer Chris Parker

Hi Chris, why did the Paddle League choose the Air France Paddle Festival?

The fundamental aim of The Paddle League is to tell an interesting story about our sport, one that helps unify the paddling community whilst also reaching a wider audience.

If we’re talking about the story of paddling, there has to be a chapter on Tahiti. It’s the strongest paddling nation on the world without a doubt. Outrigger canoe paddling (“Va’a” as it’s known locally) is quite literally the national sport. Their top paddlers are heroes. Tahitians’ love of the ocean has been transferred to stand up paddling in recent years, and now they’re starting to flex their muscles. Tahitians have always traveled to the international races, and we decided it was about time the world came and challenged them in their own waters.

The Air France Paddle Festival has been Tahiti’s biggest race for the past few years, so after we decided Tahiti had to be part of The Paddle League story, this race was a clear choice. SHORT ANSWER: Amazing paddling culture + an established event.

Tahiti is a beautiful place, how excited are you about the race?

We’re totally excited about the Air France Paddle Festival. It’s the first official stop of The Paddle League World Tour, which we’ve been working full time on for the past six months. So it will be a celebration and a relief to see it finally happening! We’re also really excited to see the battle on the water between the international superstars and the local champions. It is exciting to be part of this great, established event and help share it with the rest of the world.

 The local organisers have already built a fantastic race, and The Paddle League is simply aiming to put some icing on top and help share it with the rest of the paddling world.
There are over 300+ amateur paddlers expected to take part, which is amazing to see. One of the big aims of The Paddle League is to support and help develop events that support the amateur, grassroots level of our sport, so we couldn’t be happier to have the Air France Paddle Festival as the first stop on The Paddle League World Tour.

Who is expected to compete, will all the paddlers go there who were present on the main circuits?

There will be a lot of international athletes competing in Tahiti for the first time. It won’t get quite the same number of elite athletes as the Gorge or Carolina (simply due to travel logistics), but it will certainly be the most competitive international race Tahiti has ever seen. Expect top names like Connor Baxter, Titouan Puyo, Lincoln Dews, Michael Booth, Olivia Piana, Sonni Honscheid and Fiona Wylde to be on the start line. But what we’re really excited about isn’t the internationals, it’s the locals.

Tahiti has such a rich paddling culture, and there are probably 20 or 30 “dark horse” athletes who could easily finish top 10 despite never having raced outside Tahiti. Expect a few paddlers to make a name for themselves at this event. And when you include Tahiti’s international stalwarts Georges Cronsteadt, Steeve Teihotaata and Rete Ebb to name a few, it’s going to be an amazing clash. We see this as a battle between the proud Tahitian warriors and the international challengers! At the end of the day I’m sure everyone will enjoy a beer on the beach, but out on the water it’s going to be intense!!

Apart from the great rivalry between the Tahitian warriors and the international challengers, the race itself is going to be a challenge. The pro course is 24km and has all types of conditions: flat water, downwind, waves, sidewind, ocean currents. It’s similar to the Carolina Cup in that you have to be a complete, all-round paddler to have any chance of winning. Local knowledge will be a key ingredient because there are also some reef passes and shallow waters to navigate. 100 Paddle League points are on offer for the winner, and whoever takes those points will have thoroughly earned them.

How can we follow the event?

The Paddle League will be live streaming the race on Facebook in collaboration with TNTV (the local TV station), so we’re hoping to provide some great coverage for the fans around the world.

The Air France race has always been one of my favourite livestreams to watch in the past, however we could never understand it because it was all in French! So we’re basically helping the Tahitians expand on the great event they’ve already built by showcasing it to the international paddling community.

The Paddle League will also have a lot of coverage before and after the race on Facebook and Instagram; we really want to highlight how talented the Tahitian paddlers are and how much paddling is a part of the entire culture there. It’s an amazing place to visit for so many reasons.It’s going to be a lot of fun, and you can watch it all live on April 7 via The Paddle League Facebook page. I’m also excited to have Mathieu from TotalSUP as part of the team for this event, he knows more about French paddling than anyone, so it will be great to share the race coverage with him!

Big thanks to the Manava Suites Resort and Tahiti Tourisme sponsors of the event!

About the Author

Helen Trehoret

SUP, OC1, V6, Surfski ... and field hockey coaching, Helen is a busy British mother of two who lives in Bretagne, France with a passion for all things Ocean. Helen runs Barrachou SUP, a SUP tour company specialized in excursions around Bretagne and Scotland.

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