Day before race day . . .
I had a great sleep that night and woke up with excitement. I packed light bringing swim trunks, tank top, glasses, hat, one pair of shorts, and my pillow. Hopping in the bus, I remembered that I had forgot to pack my toiletries, but I was too excited to go on the ferry than whine about missing shampoo. Inside the ferry was nice and cool. Our group chose to make camp upstairs even though the food court was downstairs. I was hungry and the boat ride would be an hour, so I bought myself two small egg rolls. Coming into the bay was amazing the water was so clear and the color was super light baby blue. We left the ferry and took a bus over to the spot where all the pirogues were so we could set them up and try them out before the race. The group attached alma and carried the boat into the water. My group (Team A) hopped in the pirogue and gave it a test ride. In my opinion even though the pirogue weighed 155 kg, it went faster than the ones in Taiohae because it just glided.
The helmsman said it had a small turn to the left but no big deal so we left it as it was and brought it back to the pirogue holder. Then we were escorted over to the classroom where we would be sleeping since we were staying in a school. Each Team had their own classroom with 16 mattresses inside. Getting settled in was a little hard having to move all the desks and chairs over to the side so we could put the mattresses down and pull out our bedding. Some like me went to the market to buy things for the race or for pleasure. Dinner we were told was going to start in one hour. The kids bought snacks and watched volleyball until it was time for tomato sauce on rice and fish. It wasn’t the best meal but they had fresh apples and oranges to chose from. I was so happy when I bit into that apple, I almost screamed; good apples are hard to come by in Taiohae. After dinner we settled down on our matts and had a long conversation about technique that lasted till late at night. But I fell asleep at 10:00 p.m. I had 5 hours of sleep till our wake time at 3:00 in the morning.
Race day . . .
As we woke up early in the morning, we were told to pack everything up and head out with the paddles and water tubes. The teams all walked in the P.E. building so that the refs could give everyone a pep talk before we headed out to the course. The helmsmen had their own group meeting, and once both meetings were over, everyone got together to give a moment of silence to a couple of kids that were shot and murdered two weeks prior. The five minutes passed and each team walked over to their pirogues and placed them in the water. The entire group A hopped into the pirogues and paddled off to the starting line. I was in Team A. Sitting in the pirogue next to the starting line I started to get nervous. My whole body was electrically excited. It took a long time to get all 42 boats in line. Vanene Hoe!! Each and every pirogue was paddling trying to get in front. Then BOOM – our pirogue hit another and another pirogue hit ours. Everything was crazy. On the left of us, one pirogue tried to capsize us by flipping our alma, when one of our motors yelled at him in Marquesan freaking the paddler out making him drop our alma back into the water. Finally, we got out of that mess and continued paddling at a moderate speed. Then at the final bit of that leg, our captain gave the three hip call telling us to go faster. We finished in 5th for our 14-17 year cadet category (The categories are by age: 10-12, 12-14, 14-17), the highest category. Each leg of the race was 5 km; there would be 9 legs. Up next was Group B on the second leg. Since each middle school had one boat and two teams, we need to swap out paddlers. Firstly, the pirogue that just raced would try and find the motorboat that had the other group of paddlers. Secondly, the previous group would hop out of the pirogue for the next group to get in. There was one super strict rule, if anyone hopped into the water without a life jacket on, that team would be disqualified. So finally once the next team was settled in the pirogue, the previous team would board the motorboat that would follow the team that was paddling. Group B finished in 7th then we hopped back in and paddled over to the starting line. The 3rd leg was against the clock. That meant we would have to go faster than normal speed to get a good place. Each pirogue had 30 seconds before the next one would take off. Our group beat the guys in front, giving a lot of effort to do so. For that leg we finished in 6th. Then Group B came in and finished the fourth leg in 7th place. At this point, I was getting tired, but I told myself I was going to pull this off. So I swam over to the pirogue, jumped up in and we paddled over to the starting line for the 5th leg. In a few minutes we were off and all the paddlers lifted their pirogues to plane. At halfway mark, I started to get tired, but we kept going. In the end, I was really tired but we placed 10th. Being really tired, I got out of the pirogue and sat down in the motorboat and munched on a granola bar. For the 6th leg, the boy replacement came in and swapped out for the one that was too tired. For that leg, Group B was looking at a 6.1 km. I was too tired to cheer them off. For 45 minutes to 1 hour I slept on the motorboat trying to recover my strength till our team said “Bryce, time to go.” Group B had finished in 12th place.
Back in the pirogue, we paddled to the starting line and waited for the referees to say go for the 7th leg. I said to myself I was going to give it all. READY, SET, GO!! We darted off lifting our boat out of the water and going at a normal medium to fast speed. Halfway, I was completely wiped out but I kept paddling. I couldn’t move my arms any faster, but I just kept paddling. Then the other pirogues started to pass us. We were coming close to last when, “Hip Hip Hip,” we paddled harder passing one boat. When we crossed the finish line, I almost fainted. I had nothing left, no more inside. We found the motorboat and I crawled aboard. I sat myself down and fell asleep. I had given everything, and we finished in 13th as well. At the 9th leg, our 14 member team took anyone that wasn’t tired to fill a pirogue. They finished hard and placed another 13th. The race was over. The paddlers all took apart their pirogues and placed them on the holders. Before the announcements, we ate some snacks, fruit, bread, and a few cookies.
The dance . . .
During the announcements of what places everyone got, our group practiced our Marquesan Haka dance that we would shortly perform. When the judges called us up everything went quiet then our dance leader started it: “Hoe vaka kae kae kae ha!” Our guys all walked out with necklaces on and got in formation. The chief dance leader started ‘Smack’ talking in Marquesan. He was looking at us trying to get a glimpse to see if we were ready. Then the chief gave us the cue and we all started dancing and chanting. It was fantastic! I was in the back since I didn’t know all the words. Then we stopped, the second chief walked up and started talking ‘Smack’ in Marquesan. No one else in the audience knew what he was saying. He put on a great show. All were afraid of him. The chief stopped and all at once the group started dancing and chanting. It was a great experience for me. As we were walking back all the people made way, one of the chiefs jumped at the crowd scaring them all away.
Our team was of course curious what places we scored in the race, so my dad asked around and told us the scores. Combined we placed 13th in the highest/oldest cadet category and 20th overall out of 42 pirogue teams. I felt we did way better than expected.
That same day we grabbed our bags and headed back to the ferry where we would return to Tahiti. One hour later and we were settled in on the boat, buying snacks, since most of us were still pretty hungry.
The boat was nice and air-conditioned so I fell asleep. I woke up as the team was getting off the boat. I snatched my stuff and headed off the ferry to where the bus would take us back to the dormitories where we had previously stayed. My dad met us at the rooms and told me he would meet us at the airport the next morning. I undressed, took a shower and went to bed. It had been a really long day.
The return home . . .
“Aaaaaaaaahhhh we’re gunna do Paranoid!” I turned off my ipod alarm and woke everyone else up. Prof Cathy Brunel gathered everyone and we waited with our luggage for the bus. In 30 minutes, the bus came and our team loaded in. The bus ride felt sad. The kids were feeling low. They didn’t want to leave as they all had a great experience. At the airport my dad showed up with his camera and shot videos of us waiting, checking in, and boarding the plane. My dad and I both sat together and recounted stories of our time in Tahiti. For the flight back each paddler went to sleep. Looking at Nuku Hiva from above, I felt a comfort, for I knew I had come back home with yet another unforgettable experience. For me it was very challenging, but I had a great time with my Va’a piers and I enjoyed getting to know them better. In sum, I loved it!