Just under 10 days to go until Tahiti’s largest stand up paddle event, and the first major stop of The Paddle World Tour. The Air France Paddle Festival kicks off the 2019 with all the world’s elite racers lining up to what is expected to be an epic battle international athletes and local Tahitian paddlers with a total prize purse of 25 000 Euros available to win!The Air France Paddle Festival isn’t all about the long distance race, there is also the 7 KM lagoon and prone race, plus the Gillette fun race. Race organiser Jerome Loisel talks to TotalSUP about the evolution of the Air France Paddle Race, and “the sweet madness and passion” that motivates him to organise the epic Air France Paddle Festival each year!
This is the 6th year of Air France Paddle Festival, can you describe the evolution of the festival?
We set out three goals initially in developing the event. The first goal was to become the biggest SUP race in French Polynesia, something that we succeeded doing in the first year, with the help of our main sponsor Air France.
That first event witnessed a three fold increase in paddler participation compared to other races. The next goal was to have a race within the paddle festival that would be part of the French Polynesia SUP Championship, we wanted to achieve this within the first five years, and amazingly so we achieved this in 2015. I felt that this was all done to the extraordinary 1st edition of the Air France Paddle Festival. That same year we received some amazing feedback and the Air France Paddle Festival was named the “Best SUP event of the year” a title that both the sponsor, Air France, and I were totally stoked about! Finally, the third goal was for the paddle festival to be a worldwide recognised event for the Hawaiki Nui Va’a event, a goal we would like to achieve within 10 years.
In 2018, we became a major on the Paddle League World Tour, something that came with some added pressure, perhaps the international recognition came 5 years before we were actually ready. Now, we are working hard to stay at the top. As we have recently learnt with the cancellation of the Pacific Paddle Games, it can be difficult to maintain the level of success at each event, maybe due to the increased demands and resources.
On a positive not, each year we see more and more competitors enter the competition, and the emergence of young paddlers. Last year we saw some good young riders from New Caledonia and Tahiti. These young guns destabilised the senior paddlers including some very good Pro paddlers. It is good to see the the SUP succession is assured!
Can you disclose the route the elite paddlers will take?
The long distance race will be 24 KM this will be the 1st major race on the Paddle League World tour 2019. The route will be difficult because it is essentially an upwind, downwind, flat and it has two difficult reef passes, that have will invovled paddling and competing with a lot of current. The race is both in a lagoon and also in open ocean. In previous years several elite paddlers had a hard time navigating the route, it is a technical route but you need a good endurance level to be competitive!
Have any of the Top racers been confirmed?
There are several top elite paddlers who have already registered, we are expecting to see a packed event. However to be honest in French Polynesia the local paddlers are very good, I feel they can also compete at a high level and cause a surprise! That is why the foreigners have to beware of the Tahitian paddlers, especially the canoe paddlers! The Prize purse for the Elite Race is 11 7932 Euros in cash, plus the chance to wine 3 airfares PPT-LAX-PPT!
What other action is happening in the Air France Paddle Festival?
There is the Gillette Fun Race, this is a Relay with 3 people that share 1 stand up paddle. We also have the 8 KM lagoon and Prone race. The goal of the gilette race is to have fun. If your team is in disguise they will be awarded a head start. This race is held at the end of the day to finish the Paddle Festival. It will concludethe festival with lot of smiles. It will allow strong amateurs to have fun and race on SUP. There is alot of Fun and goodies up for grabs!
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