The outrigger canoe is an integral part of Polynesian culture, and Tahitians are always delighted to give visitors lessons. Don’t worry, with a little trial and error, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
A canoe is called a va’a in Tahitian. A va’a is a canoe attached to an outrigger (ama), by two struts (iato) and narrow pointed form is perfectly designed for navigating in the lagoon or on the waves out in the ocean. Va’a used for fishing are wider than the racing va’a. Outrigger sailing canoes have two ama and the traditional Polynesian sailing ships that crossed the Pacific Ocean were the twin hulled va’a that inspired the design of the catamaran. Your can take va’a lessons and although you’ll probably never be able to compete with the local paddlers, you should soon get the hang of it. You can also have lessons on a sailing va’a and the traditional means of navigation used by the early Polynesians.
Designed for speed
Towards the end of the day you’ll see countless young Tahitians in training for international va’a competitions heading out into the ocean in V6, six-man outrigger canoes. Others will be darting across the lagoon in their V1, one-man canoes. There are different types of va’a used for racing, fishing, motu excursions and even for bringing breakfast to your overwater bungalow.
Va’a isn’t just a means of transport, it’s also the national sport of French Polynesia and other islands in the Polynesian triangle. Its importance in Polynesian culture can be seen at any va’a competition, especially the world famous Hawaiki Nui Va’a! This legendary V6 race in the Leeward Islands crosses the open sea from Huahine to Bora Bora via Raiatea and Taha’a. Three days of intensive paddling over a distance of 125 km to finish on the magnificent Matira Beach. During the week of the race, these stunningly beautiful Society Islands come to life in a joyous celebration of Polynesian culture and athletic prowess.
Thrills…and spills in a va’a
Polynesian outrigger canoes are an unmissable feature of any lagoon in The Islands of Tahiti. And once you’ve mastered the art, paddling one is a superb experience. The va’a used to be made from the hollowed out trunk of a tree, but are now super light fibreglass canoes that are much faster and easier to steer. Watching a single-man V1 va’a or a six-man V6 va’a as it surfs on the incoming waves in the pass, you get an idea of the thrills and skills of va’a paddling.