Pain and Pleasure at the 2014 Bora Bora KXT Ironmana

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Overall Waterwoman winner at the Bora Bora KXT Ironmana Morgan Hoesterey in the midst of the final 32km standup race. | Photo: Duke Brouwer/Surftech SUP

Bora Bora KXT Ironmana

The Bora Bora KXT Ironmana is an event like no other. It's a competition, yes, and a hard one at that. But it's also more. Competitors for the overall waterman and waterwoman titles must swim, prone paddle and standup paddle in a multitude of events over four days to become Ironmana champions. Did we mention that this competition is held on Bora Bora, in the islands of French Polynesia, one of the most postcard-worthy places on Earth?

Of the competitors called to suffer in this tropical wonderland—both talented Tahitian locals and international competitors—no one was an expert in everything. Some, like Grace Van Der Byl are world-caliber swimmers but had hardly been on a standup board. Others like Niuhiti Buillard, the eventual winner of the brutal 32 kilometer Ironmana SUP race really struggled with swimming. This multitude of disciplines leveled the playing field and made each and every competitor challenge themselves outside of their realm of expertise. It humbled everyone daily and made for great camaraderie between all the athletes.

Stephan Lambert, the mastermind behind this special brand of torture, is a French expat whose life revolves around the water. Each day Stef would tell us, "Expect nothing, prepare for everything," which translates roughly to: "You're going to be punished today but I won't tell you how until right before."

Day Two is a good example. All the competitors took a boat to one of the motus, a small island in the lagoon, and we put on our goggles and dove with harmless black tip sharks, rays and an array of reef fish. It was delightful. Then we swam for two kilometers across a bay on the inside of the motu. Not so delightful. After waiting for everyone to come in we motored on and did a shorter swim in gin-clear water against a current. On the way back to the Sofitel Marara Hotel, we were dropped off in the middle of a channel to swim with the wind but against the current to return to our residence on our own. That was all before the 10km SUP race in the afternoon heat.

There were three days of that. And then came the final SUP race. All week we thought we would be paddling around Bora Bora completely but Stef surprised us again and told us that we'd be doing a five-lap course instead. "It will be mental because you will be doing the same thing again and again." He was right. The 32km race featured sidewind, upwind, flatwater, a few teasing moments of downwind bumps and a tropical squall. It was hot, it was long and finally it was over.

The Tahitians dominated the last race with Buillard—a 22-year old who has only been paddling SUP for a year but has been paddling Tahitian outrigger since he was 13—taking a strong first place with Tamarua Cowan and Atamu Conti rounding out the top three. There is a hotbed of paddling talent here waiting to explode, mostly from years of outrigger experience. These Tahitians told me they are ready and actively trying to bring their paddling skills to the international stage. Definitely something to keep an eye on.

On the women's side, Olympic Gold medalist (in Kayak Four) Krisztina Fazekas Zur dominated in the SUP race with all-around water-woman Morgan Hoesterey holding down the second spot. Tahitian Hinarii Yiou took third.

After impressive performances all week, Hoesterey took home the Waterwoman title, followed by Fazekas Zur and Graves.

On the men's side, Cowan took top honors with triathlon pioneer Roch Frey in second and Tahitian Clayton Ellis in third.

Look for a feature on this event in an upcoming issue of SUP magazine.

More Bora Bora KXT Ironmana here.

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