Photo: Greg Panas

Photo: Greg Panas

Core Commentary | Poenaiki Raioha

Age: 18 | Papenoo, Tahiti

Poenaiki Raioha doesn't speak much English, but that's OK—the 18-year-old Tahitian's surfing speaks for itself. It says, as we deduce: "In 2014, I won Gold at the ISA World SUP Surf Championships and then pushed Kai Lenny to the brink in the finals of the Huntington Beach Pro." Raioha is a frontrunner among a new generation of SUP surfers, of which standup paddling is not a secondary pursuit picked up to round out the waterman's arsenal, but a sport unto itself. Raioha's campaign is just starting.

How did you get into standup?
The first few times I tried was in Tahiti with my dad. He took me out and paddled me around as a kid. My family saw how much I enjoyed it and my grandfather bought me my first board when I was 12.

So we're thinking surf is your thing?
I prefer surfing. There are so many different components involved in SUP surfing—turning, gaining and managing speed, working the paddle—you're always doing so many different things when you're surfing. I love all types of paddling, but surfing is the most fun to me.

Talk about Tahiti's SUP scene.
There's a ton of new talent coming out of the area. There are guys who have been standup paddling forever, but now they're being joined by a bunch of new paddlers—young kids and talented, strong athletes. I like to think my brother (Mauiki) and I are at the front of the pack with the younger generation of Tahitian paddlers.

Are you ready to represent when the World Tour comes to Tahiti in May?
I'm really excited to have everyone come to Tahiti. It's such an ideal place for SUP; I think it will be good for our sport and good for the country as well. I hope we can keep Tahiti on the Tour for years to come. And yes, I'm ready to represent. I'm comfortable in those waters and confident that I'll do well when the competition shows up.

Who are your heroes?
(World Surf League competitor) Michel Bourez is my biggest inspiration. He's done so much for Tahiti and really put us on the map in the world of professional surfing. He may not be a standup paddler, but he's an amazing waterman, competitor and all-around athlete. He's my main idol. Other than Bourez, I don't really look up to any other athletes. I try to be my own role model.

More youngsters on the SUP scene.

Had enough of Tahiti? Didn’t think so.