Based on the variety and difficulty of the Bora Bora Liquid Festival KXT Ironmana and Waterman Tahiti Tour trials, athletes are challenged to totally surpass any preconceived limits they may have set for themselves and their abilities. Va’a (sailing canoe), open water swimming and prone and stand up paddle boarding competitions take place within the stunning backdrop of our islands. Here is a meeting with Stephan Lambert, an extraordinary world-class aquatic athlete and competitor who created these events.
“It is not the destination, but the journey.” This gypsy proverb could very well have been coined by Stephan Lambert. Today, he is renowned as the creator of what are considered to be among the most beautiful races in the world of aquatic sports: the Ironmana and the Waterman Tahiti Tour. His path seemed to have been preordained, but he preferred to change direction. He is the son of Alain Lambert, the coach of famous tennis champions Guy Forget and Yannick Noah and trainer for the French Davis cup team. He should have become the champion tennis player he was promising to be. He knew how to hit the yellow ball almost as soon as he learned to walk. He won individual and team French championships. Then at 16 years old, he left to do an exhibition match in Hawaii. His eyes became wide open. What already existed in him became very clear: “I am going towards the beach,” he told Guy Forget who had accompanied him. Champions of surfing and va’a (Polynesian outrigger canoe) whom he met during this trip turned him onto the sea. While in the south of France, the sea “was part of the environment;” after Hawaii, it became a lifestyle. He had only one desire: to go live over there. His mother reined him in. First, he had to graduate from high school, then attend university. With five years of higher education in his pocket, he left to go live in Hawaii.
Coaching was also part of his life. He had what it took to make it happen. He initiated training programs and became a consultant. In 1994, he arrived in French Polynesia “due to fishing.” He worked as an evaluator for bluefin tuna, determining the price of fish and feasible export distribution markets. “Working 14 hours a day, there is no time to surf…there is a moment you realize you’re doing the wrong thing.” He dropped everything and moved to Bora Bora. After organizing a Jet Ski club, he again changed direction to refocus on sailing canoes. “The moment I stop creating, I become bored,” he admits. He had a new challenge, a new life. “It involved bringing noble values into this disappearing symbol of the sailing canoe. It is a feature that unites people. Riding a jet ski and sailing a canoe generate a very different energy,” he says. Finally, time now flows at a rhythm that Stephan Lambert had always been seeking, punctuated with solitary crossings between the Leeward Islands on his prone paddleboard and shooting photos for famous brands.
Race for the “taravana” people, the crazies in Tahitian…
He is still coaching, and between Tahiti, Hawaii and California, he naturally gravitates towards athletes. He continues to offer unique training programs with a foundation that involves a close, spiritual connection with the water. Those who desire to train for the Heiva, a marathon or a va’a race, came to see him. Foreign athletes arrive from abroad to attend his isolated workshops on his Bora Bora motu. He then got the idea to fuse these programs into a sportive event and to bring several aquatic disciplines together in order to perpetuate the waterman spirit.
In 1999, he organized the first edition of the Ironmana, which involved thirty kilometers (18 mi) on the Bora Bora lagoon in a va’a. At the time, people said it was a race for the “taravana” people (crazies in Tahitian). Fifteen years later, the same people are on the start line. The race has since increased from 30km to more than 60km (37mi). From its beginnings as a one-day competition, the challenge has turned into a five-day long festival of trials. With open water swimming, stand up paddle boarding and prone boarding as now part of the program, participants change their mode of transportation three times to engage in a type of triathlon.
2014 brought the first edition of the Waterman Tahiti Tour, which includes a championship in five stages, each taking place on a different island from April through September. The idea is to use this event to prepare for the Ironmana, which lasts a week and is always held the first weekend in December.
These events are considered “progressive”: the same course and distance never occur more than once. As the years pass, so do the degrees of difficulty. “One must always do more than the previous year. There is this greed for effort plus reward which equals pleasure,” Lambert states.
The philosophy for these events is the same for the trainings that Lambert offers: always exceed your limits and don’t worry about your adversaries. For the participants, there is only one motto: “expect nothing, be ready for everything.” Many have embraced this way of life. According to open-water swimming champion, Californian Grace Van Der Byl: “If you want to be a Waterman, you have to do the Ironmana.” The Ironmana and Waterman Tahiti Tour have become key competitions for men and women who seek water challenges.
«You are your own adversary»
« You are your own adversary. You have to have faith and believe that things will work out all while being aware that there are very difficult challenges ahead. To give up is not an option,” Lambert explains. “Attitude is the first domino that affects everything else.” Attitude. A word that comes up quite frequently in the conversations of this former tennis champion.
Beyond the physical challenge, Lambert encourages a spiritual quest. “To not give people a challenge is a great way to control them. If they are reminded that anything is possible, they become free electrons,” he asserts. Lambert attempts to train everyone on a path that is difficult, yet gratifying. “It is the spirit that animates the participants. These events have a spiritual dimension. They become an interior journey. The doses of endorphins that the body delivers with a workout are even stronger if you are in competition with yourself. It is only once you pass the finish line that the story can begin.” For after such exertion, a blast of energy takes over the participants that can last months after the competition. Ironmana and the Waterman Tahiti Tour encompass mental and physical challenges. For Stephan Lambert, the motto is, “I bet I can do it.”
Today, about a hundred people participate in these two events. Lambert doesn’t know why he feels the urge to train all these people in this type of journey. He just “found a way to share and to not be alone doing what he loves. I am not there to convince people to participate. I just propose an option. I try to encourage people to appreciate the present moment and to love what they are doing the moment they are doing it. To breath fully in the “now”…
Ironmana and the Waterman Tahiti Tour are more than just competitions. They are a unique concept in the world and Lambert hopes to develop it abroad to eventually create, why not…a Waterman World Tour! Since endorphins are a free drug, why deprive oneself?
WATERMAN TAHITI TOUR (WTT)
WTT 1 : Sunday, April 5 (Blue Banana) Punaauia, Tahiti
WTT 2 : May 23 & 24, « children’s day,» Punaauia, Tahiti
WTT 3 : June 20 & 21, Coco Beach, Moorea
WTT 4 : August 15 & 16, Tahiti-Mahina (Pointe Venus beach)
WTT 5 : September 19 & 20, Raiatea
IRONMANA BORA BORA LIQUID FESTIVAL 2015
– Channel Crossing: November 23-30, 2015
This adventure trek executed in a sailing canoe consists of departing Tahiti to link the islands of Moorea, Huahine, Taha’a and Bora Bora.
– Bora Bora Liquid Festival : December 1-6, 2015
For other events, show sports events schedule