Ironmana Day Two: A Greenhorn’s Experience

Seven miles of swimming made up Day Two at Ironmana. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Seven miles of swimming made up Day Two at Ironmana. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Ironmana Day Two: A Greenhorn’s Experience

Want to go to Bora Bora?

After hearing this question, it took me all of about two seconds to think about it. Of course I did, who wouldn't?

At the time, I only knew Bora Bora as that place you longingly stare at on a screensaver. I never expected one day I’d jump into the screen and into paradise.

Fast-forward one month and as I write this, I'm perched in a cabana above magically translucent, turquoise water, staring into the immaculate blue, watching lizards run across the balcony as a brilliant sunset unfolds before me.

While the stunning beauty of this magical place is enough for most visitors, I was sent here for a different reason. To experience the Bora Bora KXT Ironmana Liquid Festival. One of the most challenging competitions in watersports.

Swimming took center stage on Day Two of the Ironmana. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt.

The brilliant blue waters make swimming seven miles a little easier. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt.

The event consists of four days of prone paddling, standup paddling and swimming races. Each race is intense and long enough to challenge even the most experienced waterman. Except there's one problem, I'm a bonafide greenhorn in the waterman’s ways. Being realistic about my abilities on the water, I didn't expect to compete in every event. After watching the 31-mile prone paddleboard race in pouring rain on day one, I was unsure whether I could participate in any event.

Day Two brought brilliant sunny skies and one of the most intimidating disciplines of the event–the swim. For someone used to having some type of a board under their feet, swimming almost feels like being naked. So suffice it to say, I wasn't exactly keen about trying my luck, especially after watching true waterman go through hell just the day before.

But had I come all the way to French Polynesia to just be a spectator? On the other hand, did I really have any business swimming several miles in the ocean when I hadn't swam any significant distance in my entire life?

Then just before the race was to start, the magic of Bora Bora made the decision for me. Ten to 15 black tip sharks began circling the boat at our first stop. No, not the man-eating sharks from Steven Spielberg's classic movie, but nonetheless, sizable creatures.

Nothing like the experience of swimming with sharks in Bora Bora. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Nothing like the experience of swimming with sharks in Bora Bora. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Not ready to pass up the opportunity to swim with sharks, I hopped in the water. After a few minutes that I'll never forget, playtime was over and the first leg of the swim was set to begin.

Before even thinking about it, I was swimming alongside the same athletes who I had watched from afar the day before. It was only a kilometer, but finishing it gave me the confidence to try the next leg.

After a two-mile run along the coconut tree-shaded white sand beach, we hopped back on the boat to get to our next leg–a two-mile swim from the boat to waterfront cabanas that looked like little dots in the distance. Next came a three-mile swim that had us swimming above giant manta rays–one of the many exotic sea creatures that cruise the waters of Bora Bora.

This was the view during much of the swimming races. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

This was the view during much of the swimming races. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Next thing I knew, I was running up the beach at our hotel to complete the fourth and final leg of the day. Did I finish anywhere near top finisher Matt Poole? Not even close, but by the end of the day I’d swam seven miles and got a small glimpse into what it means to get outside your comfort zone.

It goes back to what race organizer Stephan Lambert had shared with me before the race: true waterman don't think about the pain or the finish line, but only about the present moment and the next stroke they need to take.

In a fast-paced world that is obsessed with the next big story or gadget, it was refreshing to hear Stephan's perspective. But as I stared down into the clear water during my swim, I began to truly understand what it meant.

It's the importance of having a closer relationship with both the natural environment and your own mind. To have the self-control and wherewithal to keep pushing when you think you can't.

The feeling of accomplishment. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

The feeling of accomplishment. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

The last 48 hours in Bora Bora have taught me a lot about Tahiti’s waterman culture and in turn, even more about life.

Related

Our experience from Day One of the Bora Bora KXT Ironmana.