All photos: Aaron Black-Schmidt

There is perhaps no more paradisaical SUP destination than the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora. A plane hop removed from Tahiti, Bora Bora is a less trodden paddling sanctuary teeming with turquoise water, exotic marine life and beach side bungalows galore. The island itself is fringed by a white sand lagoon and encircled by outer reef that keeps the area protected, so paddling opportunities abound with many miles of calm, 80-degree, tropical azure water to play on.

The Tahitian paddling community is no stranger to the offerings of Bora Bora, and every fall it congregates at the island’s Sofitel Resort for the nation’s flagship waterman competition, the KXT Ironmana. We attended Ironmana last November and I participated in the grueling events—four days of seemingly impossible feats in swimming, prone paddling and standup paddling. By the end we’d paddled hundreds of kilometers and swam at least ten. We saw every view of the island there is to see. The experience was as rewarding as it was challenging. And damn, was it beautiful.

Ironmana gave me a reason to investigate this far off land that I may otherwise have never experienced, this empyreal culture that I may otherwise never have known and a new capacity for pain and pleasure that I may otherwise never have tapped into. For that I’m very grateful, and Ironmana aside, I’m confident the lure of Bora Bora itself will bring me back someday. Once you’ve paddled there, it’s hard for anything else to compare.

More from Tahiti.

More Ironmana.