Attitude and Adventure at Bora Bora KXT Ironmana

Photos and Words By: Kristen Gill

When asked to give three words to describe his experience at the Bora Bora KXT Ironmana Liquid Festival in, Tahiti, Brennan Rose responded:

I have never paddled so far.

I have never been so tired.

I have never been so strong.

I have never been so hungry.

I have never been so burnt.

I have never paddled that many islands.

I have never meet so many amazing people.

I have never been so happy.

I have never felt so alive.

I have never felt so blessed.

I have never.

I flew to the middle of the South Pacific to document this, the 13th annual festival, which prominently featured standup paddle boarding, as competitors from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and more joined Tahitian SUPers in several standup races.

Though the Bora Bora Liquid Festival has been going on for more than 12 years, this year marked the first involving international competitors. Several top U.S. athletes were invited, including Jay Wild, Morgan Hoesterey, Jenny Kalmbach, Riggs Napoleon and Brennan Rose.

Stephan Lambert, founder of the Bora Bora Ironmana KXT Liquid Festival, said the theme of the festival is to "go deeper", and for this year in particular, it was to do it "with attitude." This approach is what Lambert had in mind when he met with Hoesterey, Kalmbach, Napoleon and Rose at this year's Battle for the Paddle and invited them to Tahiti.

The big surprise. 250 miles of paddling across five Tahitian Islands.

The big surprise. 250 miles of paddling across five Tahitian Islands.

What these American athletes didn't know when they arrived is that they would be split up among five outrigger sailing canoes, each with a local Tahitian to show them the ropes. Starting from the black sand beach of Point Venus in Tahiti, the group paddled 250 miles between five islands: Mo'orea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha'a and Bora Bora, using just wind and human strength in 9-10 hour days, for six days in a row.

Jenny Kalmbach, eventual winner of the Women's Waterman title says, "We were pushed to our limits physically and mentally but it was an incredible experience. I am so grateful to Stephan for including us in this part of the journey."

As Lambert says "There are many ways to learn about a place, but if you discover it while also discovering something about yourself, even better."

Honoring Tahitian Traditions

Tahitian hospitality.

Tahitian hospitality.

Culture here starts on the water and the Liquid Festival was a true connection of the ocean, the local people and the visiting athletes. On the island of Huahine a big welcome awaited the paddlers at the pier, complete with fresh flower leis, traditional Polynesian food and dancing to live music with the locals. When the SUPers left to continue their journey, they were joined by well-wishing locals in their boats, waving and shouting their good-byes and good lucks.

Liquid Festival and Bora Bora KXT Ironmana

Tired, sore, and mentally fatigued, the SUPers who crossed the channel now faced the KXT Ironmana. Most of the standup paddlers competed in the KXT Waterman Series, which included a mix of long-distance and sprint events and finished up with a 35 kilometer SUP race circumnavigating Bora Bora. Other events included the traditional Polynesian va'a (a canoe with an outrigger, called an “ama”), surfski, swim, prone paddleboard and OC1.

"Tahitians are phenomenal paddlers, it’s in their blood and paddling is such an important part of their culture so I knew the competition would be tough,” Kalmbach says. “I was stoked to be able to paddle with the guys and girls over there. I got some good tips for downwind paddling, which will come in handy this season!"

"The Tahitians are very competitive! They give 110% from start to finish,” Rose says. “They had the best sportsmanship I have ever seen. They would stay in the water until the last guy or girl came in and would splash them with water and encourage them."

Teaching SUP to the Locals

Every SUP athlete also participated in family day events, where they would teach local Tahitians how to paddle on SUP boards.

"Seeing the smiles of the kids and their sheer joy of getting a chance to use the paddleboards while mingling with and getting instructions from the athletes was one of my highlights," says Hoesterey.

An Atmosphere of Adventure

The Liquid Festival's days were spent making friends, competing, exchanging cultures, and cheering on the other participants. The evenings were a fine mix of happy hour drinks at sunset, carbo-loading dinners, entertainment by local musicians, singers and dancers and DJs that played well into the night.

Traditional dancing.

Traditional dancing.

"All in all, it was a mentally-challenging event that made me enjoy being fully present. It renewed my love of the sport and reminded me of why I do this,” Hoesterey says. “I didn't want to take a nap, because I didn't want to miss anything!"

The atmosphere of the entire festival was full of positive vibes, a competitive spirit that was encouraging and supportive and a passion for adventure on, in and around water. Go deeper, indeed.

To learn more about the Liquid Festival and Bora Bora KXT Ironmana, or to sign up for next year's event, please contact: Stephan Lambert at

Check out this video, too (it’s in French but you’ll get the idea).

IRONMANA : Beyond The Pain – TEASER from Julien Marckt on Vimeo.

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