It took fifteen years before international bodyboarding competitions returned to Tahiti. Last April, the first edition of the Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge took place on the prestigious Teahupo’o wave. This was a unique opportunity to not only highlight this very popular boarding sport from within our islands, but to also showcase local champions and their intriguing journeys.
Abracadabra! Years ago, folded-up cardboard, broken foam board or even a piece of particle board was enough to magically transform reclaimed materials into a boarding implement to have fun on Teahupo’o beach. This was fifteen years before the first edition of the Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge, the third largest international bobyboarding competition that now takes place in Tahiti. A decade and a half before this moment, they were just kids when they admired their idols from afar participate in the first world event held at Hava’e Pass. For these kids from the “end of the road” as it is called in Tahiti, to take part in such a renowned competition led to their dream to reach the stars and become professionals themselves. “When I was younger, there were two bodyboarding competitions in 2001 and 2003. The sea was very rough,” explains Tahurai Henry, professional bodyboarder from Teahupo’o. “We were still kids and surfed in front of it at the mouth of the Teahupo’o. We watched our idols bodyboard out there. Then the competition became defunct until now. It is an honor that we are able to restart it.”
Dozens of surfable waves
This is indeed the paradox for young people in French Polynesia. Much less publicized than surfing, bodyboarding is certainly just as popular. From Arue to Papara, from Papenoo to Vairao, from Papeete to Teahupo’o through passing by Punaauia…on the island of Tahiti, you cannot drive 10km of coastline without finding waves to surf. Whether on reef, sand, pebbles, at the entrance to the mouth of a river, so many people go bodyboarding before school or after getting off work. Without even mentioning the already hundreds of waves, there are perhaps even more to discover that unroll throughout the edges of all five archipelagoes in an area as vast as Europe. Indeed, Europe and other continents are far over the horizon. Very far. Too far for many people who would love to participate on the Bodyboarding World Tour. Without competitions, then it is not easy to catch the eye of sponsors. One thing for sure, an event such as the Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge opens up new career prospects for local bodyboarders. “Several hundred thousand viewers were accounted for during live internet broadcasting,” explains Max Wasna, President of Vairao Surf Club and organizer of the event. “We wanted as many people as possible to follow the event in order to create exposure for French Polynesia. There are many bodyboarders here because this discipline is more accessible than surfing. It is easier to learn and the gear is inexpensive.”
There was no lack of beautiful stories from within the pages of this first edition of the Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge—and not only on the competitive level. The days that the competition was postponed due to unfavorable wave conditions, the professional bodyboarders took the time to put smiles on the faces of disabled children with a visit to IIME in Taravao (l’Institut d’Insertion Médico-Educatif). They also went to the Centre Hospitalier du Taaone in Pirae to bring hope and comfort to children with long term stays in Pediatrics. They took to the water with kids from Teahupo’o to teach them bodyboarding basics. This type of social work strikes a chord with Alex Leon: “The people here in Teahupo’o are amazing. They opened their homes to us and helped us put the event together.” Next, they took off to gather sightseeing memories thorough visiting Vaipoiri Grotto in Fenua Heihere, which is accessible by boat. They became engulfed by a forest of mäpë, Tahitian chestnut trees, which in ancient times were used to communicate between valleys through beating the roots. Bodyboarding legend and mystic Mike Stewart, 9 times world champion, was dumbfounded. “This type of place gives you goosebumps. You can really feel the mana here. There is so much power, a special energy. How can I put it into words? Words cannot express what can be felt here. One must transcend vocabulary…”
In fact, indisputably he is the one who created the most beautiful story in this international competition. Of course because he held his own all the way to the finals, which he unfortunately lost against triple world champion Jeff Hubbart, but also because just like when he was a kid 15 years earlier surfing this same wave on Teachupo’o beach, Cédric Estall didn’t have a cutting edge board for this level of competition. His friend Tahurai Henry lent him his board, which was a little too large for Cédric’s taste. However, this little detail did not get in the way of his glory. As such, thanks to this competition, a sponsor committed to providing him with boards did so during the closing ceremonies. A page has turned for Cédric Estall. From now on, he will no longer have to bodyboard with makeshift materials. The Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge is without a doubt the magical formula to highlight local bodyboarders and to feature Tahiti as a destination.
Yes, it is an honor, but it is above all a chance to shine in front of sponsors with the possibility of international media exposure and showing off their technical skills on THE wave of reference. “It is incredible when you see what Cédric Estall (finalist), Angelo Faraire (quarter finalist), Tahurai Henry (knockout heat) and the others have accomplished. There were 11 Tahitians in Round 3. You never see as many locals on other stages of the tour. My goal is for this type of talent to gain exposure so that some of them can enter the world bodyboarding scene.”
Tahurai’s brother, Hitoti Henry, started bodyboarding for financial reasons. “In fact, I started surfing first,” he explains. “However, surfboards are expensive, especially when you break them frequently on Teachupo’o wave. So one day I told myself that I was going to start bodyboarding because it would be much cheaper.” This is a decision that proved fruitful. Hitoti Henri was the buzz of conversation during the Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge. He was part of a group of three Tahitians who made it through the trials, a selection round that opens the door to the main event. The Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge includes pros on the world tour as well as guests called Wild Cards, of which 12 were Tahitians. For this 23-year-old bodyboarder, who during the week and on weekends oversees his Logistics Company that specializes in managing luggage for cruise ships, performance is appreciated and important. History also. Even if he had not made it past the third round, he performed one of the most memorable moments in the competition…through coming up against his own brother for a spot in the 4th round. He, as the youngest, lost by a hair against Tahurai, his older brother. Sibling hierarchy indeed.
The virtues of silence…
To be in the moment while listening to silence, to not speak or react, is what in a sense characterizes Cédric Estall, the dark horse finalist in the Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge. He splits his day between tending his vegetable garden, which in Tahitian is called a fa’a’apu, and spending time on the waves in Hava’e Pass. And that is all. “Cédric? If you want to reach him, you have to go to Teahupo’o,” says a childhood friend. “He hasn’t had a vini for five years (Tahitian word for cell phone) and it has been five years since he has crossed over the bridge,” which is in reference to the famous bridge that allows you to cross over the river after the end of the road. Under these conditions, it is not easy to become recognized by sponsors…or even by peers. To the point that when the Tahitian Surfing Federation, a partner in the Sparkgreen Tahiti Challenge, announced its list of local participants in the main event, many people gathered on social networks to dispute the presence of “this” Cédric Estall and who was he? The Teahupo’o spot regulars knew who he was and stated “it is the only place where he bodyboards.”