Northland paddlers battle pacific ocean in prestigious Tahitian race

By Kristin Edge -
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Sean Herbert, Tonga White and Steve Roulston put in a steely effort during the testing conditions.
Sean Herbert, Tonga White and Steve Roulston put in a steely effort during the testing conditions.

Challenging pacific ocean conditions provided a Northland team of paddlers with a high-seas adventure during a 120km race between two islands.

The nine-stong team, who raced under the banner of Nga Hoe Horo Outrigger Canoe Club, completed the marathon two-day race between Tahiti and Tetiaroa Atoll - once the vacation spot for Tahitian royalty and known for having been purchased by Marlon Brando.

The team completed the race in a combined time for the two days in 12 hours 10 minutes and 30 gruelling seconds.

Three crews were unable to finish the race as the sea conditions were too tough, causing some gear failure.

It was through Conan Herbert, Waka Ama NZ development manager, the team was invited to compete in the prestigious event as the only international team outside Tahiti's top 12 long distance crews.

Herbert, originally from Pawerenga in the Hokianga and one of New Zealand's most experienced steerers, described the conditions as some of the most challenging he had experienced during the race last weekend

He had less than a month to pull a team of nine paddlers together who could handle such a challenging race.

"Going into this race it was the unknown for us because we've never competed against these teams before."

Race conditions on day one were not ideal with a large side swell and gusting winds.

"The highest point on the island we were paddling to was the coconut palms. We were at sea for about three and a half hours where we couldn't see land," Herbert said.

Tetiaroa Atoll - once the vacation spot for Tahitian royalty and known for having been purchased by Marlon Brando.
Tetiaroa Atoll - once the vacation spot for Tahitian royalty and known for having been purchased by Marlon Brando.


The swell was slamming into the right side of the canoe, causing the craft to list to the left, putting pressure on the ama, which stabilises the canoe.

Eventually, at the half way stage, a wave smashed the side of the canoe ripping the ama off. Crew on a support boat shadowing the team jumped in and made the repairs in the choppy water.

"We had a fast recovery and managed to lash it together again in about 15 minutes."

Herbert said two days of racing was a real challenge as the team had to keep in mind while they were toughing it out on day one they had to keep fuelling their bodies and staying hydrated in order to cope with the second days racing.

"I'm really proud of the boys they managed their nutrition and hydration and they were ready for the second day."

Conditions on day two were even more testing

"It was about the worst conditions you could choose to paddle in," Herbert laughs.

"It was definitely a challenge for all the teams to finish. You had to have the all round skills to get across or else you wouldn't have made it."

Herbert said, in promoting the race to his crew, he had sent out beautiful pictures of the world class resort on Tetiaroa.

However, instead their accommodation at the end of the first day paddling was in the staff quarters and consisted of mattresses in air conditioned containers.

Crews head out on day two of the 120km race.
Crews head out on day two of the 120km race.


Whangarei paddler Steve Roulston reckoned they went knowing it would be a tough race and once out on the water it was an awesome challenge.

"It was easily the hardest race I've done. It was more like an adventure

Fellow teammate Richard Pehi said the conditions were bigger than New Zealanders were used to paddling.

"It was a mental game and no one was giving up."

And one thing they were agreed on was the Tahitian hospitality.

Winners were Team OPT in 9h56m38s.

The Nga Hoe Horo team was Conan Herbert, Steve Roulston, Sean Herbert, Matt Clutterbuck, Mike Rogerson, Richard Pehi, Tonga White, Paora Monk and Turanga Kerr.

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