The Air Tahiti Nui Spartan Race With Fernando Stalla

Competitors race to the water at the start of the SUP event.
Competitors enter the water at the start of the SUP competition in the Air Tahiti Nui Spartan Race. Photo: Ben Thouard

The Air Tahiti Nui Spartan Race With Fernando Stalla

Words By: Fernando Stalla

Photos by: Ben Thouard

All paddle athletes know competing against the Tahitians is not an easy challenge. Paddling is the number one sport in Tahiti and it goes without saying that they are gifted ocean athletes.

The Air Tahiti Nui Spartan Race organized by the Rautirare Surf Club was a great event that challenged every competitor with five races in five different divisions: swim, prone paddle, technical standup paddle, long distance standup paddle and Va’a – one man canoe).

The competitors had to compete in every race and whoever had the best overall time was crowned champion.

I was pushing hard in all the races, starting with the swim were I got a fourth place, behind first-place finisher Tamarua Cowan and runner-up Teva Poulain. I got another fourth place in the prone race, where Poulain came in first.

Nothing wrong with racing in paradise.
Nothing wrong with racing in paradise. Photo: B.T.

The technical SUP race was a close finish. I was fighting hard for the win but at the final buoy I made a bad turn and was passed by Enzo Bennett–the local champion–who took the win. I was forced to settle with second place only a few seconds behind.

In the long distance SUP, there were new racers coming in fresh who hadn’t competed in the previous races. I lost the lead group in the last three kilometers and had to settle with a fifth place, while Enzo took another victory.

In the end, it all came down to the Va'a race. Teva, Enzo and I fought for the overall victory and this was the biggest challenge for me, since the canoe was something I'd never done. I only had one practice session before the event and was sure that I was going to lose the advantage I had in the past races. Nevertheless, I was willing to give my best and see if I could podium.

Paddlers charging hard at the p
Paddlers charging hard in the SUP portion of the Air Tahiti Nui Spartan Race. Photo: B.T.

My main concern was to not flip the canoe or get hit by a wave since the race was a channel to channel course. This meant going out of the calm waters of the lagoon and into the open ocean, before going back into a lagoon in the next channel to surf a wave in.

The Va’a race started well. I was working hard to not lose ground from the experienced paddlers that kept gaining distance.

Halfway through the race, I realize that I had Enzo and Teva on my tail. From that moment, my hopes of winning the overall title came back and I battled the other two champs for the rest of the race. In the end, I was able to cross the finish line in front of them and claim the overall victory.

What a race!

After a long and grueling race, Fernando Stalla was crowned overall champion.
After a long and grueling day of racing, Fernando Stalla was crowned overall champion. Photo: B.T.

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