Visiting the cultural sites of French Polynesia is an excellent approach to the history of the South Pacific islands. However, traditions are not still lifes: they are renewed and modernized. Discover va’a in French Polynesia, a sport that pays tribute to the Polynesian way of life.

Relevance of Va’a in French Polynesia

What Is Va’a?

The va’a is a Polynesian outrigger canoe. This type of traditional canoe is both very stable and flexible, adapting to swell movements. Therefore, its use is perfectly suited for navigation in lagoons as well as in the open sea. In the absence of a sail, it is up to the rowers to make the boat progress.

Originally, the va’a was used for fishing and inter-island travel. The pirogue was made of wood, carved out of a coconut tree trunk. Now lighter and more maneuverable, the va’a is made of modern and composite materials. Abandoned by the fishing industry, the Polynesian pirogue has known a second youth in the 1990s thanks to sport.

Va’a in French Polynesia: Identity & Tradition

Even though it is a great sport in French Polynesia, the identity dimension of the va’a is important. Its use is a tribute to heritage and traditions. Always in contact with the water, the va’a is a source of abundance in fishing and of discovery during the great migrations. Even in today’s sporting competitions, the rower becomes Aito, the warrior in the Tahitian language.

This cultural trend is naturally honored during the great va’a events, the most famous of which links several islands together. To understand the islands is first to assimilate the relationship that Polynesians have with their past but also with the water, in the lagoon or on the high seas. The traditional dugout canoe is an important identity object in extended Polynesia.

Pirogue va'a on the lagoon of Moorea

Polynesian Competitions

Hawaiki Nui Va’a: Meeting Leeward Islands

Since 1992, the Hawaiki nui va’a gathers every year the competitors of the extended Polynesia. This race links the islands of Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora in three successive stages. The crews multiply their exploits over several days by linking speed and endurance tests on the lagoon and in the open sea. They travel more than 100 miles to become Aito warriors, as their ancestors were.

The identity factor is very strong. For this occasion, all Polynesia pays tribute to a common heritage. The competition is accompanied by multiple celebrations and cultural ceremonies, and the atmosphere is festive. And what more emblematic place than Matira beach in Bora Bora to conclude the race? One of the most beautiful beaches in French Polynesia! More than a traditional sport, va’a is the expression of a shared identity.

Tahiti Nui Va’a: Around Tahiti

Since 1995, the Tahiti nui va’a brings together the best Polynesian and international competitors every two years. The crews set off on a three-day marathon that takes them around Tahiti and its peninsula. Less culturally marked, this sporting event remains a highlight of the local calendar and a magnificent showcase for Tahiti, its wild landscapes and its black sand beaches.

Due to changing weather conditions and global health events, this endurance race has seen its program modified for the 2022 edition. Events off the coast of Faa’a will replace the traditional tour of the island. However, the Tahiti nui va’a will most likely return to its original format in 2024.

Where to Practice Va’a in French Polynesia?

Your guide during the traditional pirogue tour in Moorea

Register in the Club of Your Island

Residents can contact the nearest sports club directly to register and get a license. Registration is open to both boys and girls. This demanding sport requires good physical and mental preparation. It is also a rewarding and formative sport that takes place in a spirit of friendship.

The Tahitian Va’a Federation lists all the va’a sports associations in French Polynesia. You will find many clubs on most Polynesian islands. With the exception of professional organizations, let’s mention for example the Paddling Connection on Tahiti, the Hinaraurea on Raiatea, or the District of va’a on Huahine.

Discover Va’a During an Excursion on Moorea!

If you wish to practice va’a during your stay in French Polynesia, we recommend you to take part in a half-day excursion on the lagoon of Moorea. Professional rowers will take you to discover the wonderful landscapes of the island. This activity takes place in a friendly atmosphere and the pace will be adapted according to your abilities.

This cultural initiation to the va’a will include many stops, a Polynesian meal and even a fishing trip. Your partners for a day will share their experience with you for a better understanding of the mana and the culture of the islands. Perfect for families, this tour will be a highlight of your stay. You can book your tour online today!

Become Aito Too!

Fly to Fenua and discover the best activities in French Polynesia! The lands at the end of the world are waiting for you with their dream landscapes, their colors and all the tropical flavors. Contact us and start organizing your stay in Tahiti and her islands.