Although we hear a lot about watermen having a deep connection to the sea since they practice a number of water sports in and on the water; women are also starting to make their mark with water sports in Tahiti through SUP, surfing, va’a (traditional canoe racing) and kite surfing. Vahinés also live in harmony with the sea and waterwomen are a force to be reckoned with on the magnificent water playgrounds that the lagoons and ocean provide. Florence Oudin, a va’a racer and SUP surfer, is well aware that there are many men in the water. However, it is the same at work: “I often go to the sea by myself and once there, I take a wave and just like that, I set the tone!” She muses. Aude Lionet worries some of the guys when they see the young woman first take on the powerful waves; however, from the first take they realize she knows what she is doing. A guy’s sport? Sure…it was at one time, but now it is the vahinés’ turn. The girls know they are thrill seekers, but they also have this desire to compete against the men and not allow them to monopolize the sport.
The girls stay fit not only with boarding and water sports, but also by running and heading to the gym. This is a lifestyle they cannot do without. They organize their schedules around workouts and reserve a huge chunk of their time for surf sessions. They are still few in number, so they have an edge when it comes to sponsors who are seeking female surf riders. However, not all vahinés in the water are surf addicts. They tend to practice water sports as a means to relax, have fun and stay in shape. They just happen to be able to work out in a magnificent setting far from the closed environment of a gym. And why not take advantage of the beautiful islands where gorgeous weather, warm waters and glorious stretches of ocean are available all year long? This little revolution is quite timely due to the evolution of lighter gear that is easier to manoeuver, making water sports much more accessible to women. Manufacturers and brands understand this and now create products targeted towards waterwomen.
“My Way of Life”
“I just spent the entire day surfing!” Aude exclaimed as she sat down. However, the sky is grey and it has been raining since the beginning of the afternoon. It is no big deal. The swells were gorgeous and that was enough to entice this young woman into the water. Sponsored by Paddle F for the past three years, Aude surfs the best spots in Tahiti. “Like most people here, I started with a boogie board. We’d have fun in the waves. I always hung out with the guys,” she explains. She gradually started surfing, then successfully moved onto SUP surfing. When she is not at work, she is on the water. “This is my way of life. Plus, you get a great tan while working out! This is much more fun than being cooked on the beach!” Aude has encouraged her girlfriends to take up surfing. “This fun sport takes place in nature connected to the environment. It is such a delight.” Does she have any fear? Are there any mistakes that she no longer makes? “Everyone looks out for one another at the surf spots. If you wipe out, it doesn’t help anything to panic. You’re in nature and she is mighty powerful. Mistakes just teach you to better select your waves.” Night surfing, photo shoots and the Ultimate Wave movie have given this young woman a lot of experience; yet she remains level-headed. She considers herself an intelligent thrill seeker whose goal is to have fun without getting hurt.
“I Love a Challenge!”
Florence Oudin loves sports and the water. She fondly recalls her first time on a surfboard. With a grandfather living on the Basque coast in France, this young woman spent a lot of time observing the swells from the long beaches of southwestern France. “Surfing was not accessible to me. Every morning I would go down to the sea. We would go into the waves but never with a surfboard. Surfers fascinated me.” Later when on vacation with a friend, her guy friends spent their time surfing. The boards were just there for the taking, so she just started surfing. She had spent every winter skiing growing up and she is hooked on snowboarding. Surfing is a whole other animal. “You can struggle for an entire surf session then take your last wave and have a thrilling ride. It is then you can quit for the day!” That is how surfing goes. You have to grab onto those fleeting moments of absolute joy. “When I go running, I know exactly how it will pan out. Surfing on the other hand, is unpredictable.” This young woman is passionate. She gets up at 4am and is in the water before the sun comes up. By noon, she goes rowing with friends from work and on some evenings, she puts on fins and a mask to go snorkeling. As far as competing? “I only like to challenge myself. Adrenaline gives me a boost, but as far as winning events, it is not my thing…”
“Terrifying but Beautiful”
After living in Tahiti for ten years, everything finally fell into place in Indonesia. Since then, “If I don’t go surfing, I don’t feel good,” she says. What does she like about it? “The feeling of freedom, riding the waves, exceeding my own limits. It is a very powerful sport. Very healing.” All of her days off are dedicated to surfing. She and her boyfriend, who is also a surfer, go around the island to find the best surfing spots. They recently had a child, which has slowed down the rhythm of their surfing sessions, but the couple still thinks about surfing all the time. “I can be in the water for hours without taking a lot of waves. I just love to be in the water. When you surf, you can see the wave taking form next to you and the coral beneath you. Of course, this is terrifying, but it is so beautiful. When you leave, your spirit is revived.” Edwige does not consider herself to be a great surfer, but she doesn’t care. For her, it is all about the adrenaline. “When I see a wave, I tell myself, ‘shall I go or not?’ I go anyway and I start screaming!” To exceed her limits and to have joy at the same time fits her like a glove.
“When riding the waves, all my problems go away”
Kite surfing, wakeboarding, surfing, stand up paddle boarding… Mareva is diverse on the water. Her favorite sport is kite surfing. She has been doing it for a year and never goes anywhere without her gear. She keeps it in her vehicle just in case. “I have spent many days eating sand while my guy friends rode the waves. I always wanted to do it but was afraid.” A girl friend signed them both up for a lesson and Mareva has not stopped kite surfing ever since. After taking lessons, she now has a coach. Her goal was to perform aerial stunts and to take off from the water. “I started by jumping a little into the waves, which served as a trampoline. Then one day, everything just fell into place by itself,” She remembers. “You just have to throw yourself into it. It is impressive and dangerous but if you are afraid of getting hurt, you won’t do anything else.” To top it off, the thrill of being on the water is intense. “When I ride, I forget all my problems. Besides, it is a great way to strengthen your glutes, thighs and abs!”
Were vahinés the first female surfers in history?
If the thought of surfing makes you think of Hawaii, which is considered the surfing Mecca, the sport was first depicted in Tahiti toward the end of the 18th century, about 220 years ago. In 1788, James Morrison, one of the deserting sailors from the famous Bounty, described surfing sessions taking place off the coast of Tahiti. He wrote that for this pastime, they used planks of wood in variable lengths. He stated that, “Both sexes excel at this diversion, and some are so expert as to stand up on their boards until the surf breaks…They resort to this sport in great numbers and keep at it for several Hours… In general, the chiefs are best at this and all other diversions, yet the women are not any less skilled.” So already waterwomen were holding their own against the men! Even better, in an analysis of the ancient oral tradition, there is a reference to a famous female surfer called Hina-Raure’a, who would have lived in Tahiti during the 14th or 15th centuries, which was the Renaissance period in Europe… She was Turi’s wife, a demi-god, who excelled in this sport that she practiced on the spots along Tahiti’s east coast.