Stand-up paddle boarding in Bora Lagoon is one of many fun activities at the Bora Bora Liquid Festival. // © Wim Lippens
My first morning in Bora Bora began with a sail as part of a small armada of three Polynesian-style sailing canoes. We cruised the south part of the island, pushed along by a steady 10-knot breeze that kept us gliding over the water at a steady clip. Looking out toward the horizon, powerful 10-foot waves pummeled the fringing reef but, inside the protective lagoon, the bows of our canoes easily sliced through the placid expanse.
Clouds raced with us, blowing over the towering peaks of Mt. Otemanu and then dissipating to expose the jade-green spires of the mountain towering over the lagoon. We tacked 100 degrees, set a new course and raced like tropical birds toward Matira Beach. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to arrive at this broad expanse of talcum white sand and towering palms that plays host to the Bora Bora Liquid Festival.
The Insider’s Bora Bora
Equal parts Ironman competition, Polynesian cultural experience and beach party, each December, Bora Bora Liquid Festival transforms this part of the island into a colorful buzz of activity. More than 2,000 spectators and athletes gather to participate and celebrate during a series of events that includes stand-up paddleboard, outrigger and swim races, beach barbecues, parties and instructional clinics for kids. Now a much more inclusive event than when it began 13 years ago, the Bora Bora Liquid Festival also features activities such as Tahitian dance and Zumba classes in the sand.
I first learned about the Liquid Festival several years ago during a chance encounter with the event's creator, French expat Stephan Lambert, while paddling the calm waters of one of Bora Bora's neighboring islands, Huahine. The professional aquatic athlete and fitness trainer told me about an event virtually unheard of outside of Tahiti except for a few elite athletes from Australia, Hawaii and California.
I made it out to the Bora Bora Liquid Festival the following year so I could pursue my new passion for stand-up paddling (SUP) amidst the island’s postcard-perfect scenery. I haven't missed a year since. Granted, I'm no match for professional SUP athletes such as Brennan Rose and Annabel Anderson, both scheduled to participate this year, but that's the beauty of the festival. Echoing the inclusive and friendly spirit of Polynesia, the Liquid Festival welcomes participants of any level. Events range from the 100-foot swim and SUP sprints in the lagoon shallows to the grueling final event, the circle-island IronMana SUP and outrigger race.
While the Liquid Festival still has the feel of an insider's event, it really can't be classified as Bora Bora's best-kept secret now that news outlets such as ESPN.com have discovered it. The event was also recently sanctioned by the World Paddle Association. Wholesaler Tahiti Legends has designed European plan packages for the Liquid Festival in conjunction with partner hotels the Sofitel Marara and MaiTai, featuring round-trip airfare, transfers and a full event pass.
Back on the water, as we closed in on Matira Beach in our canoes, we saw both local and visiting kids participating in the swim clinic run by Pan-American games gold medalist and U.S. Masters swimmer Alex Kostich. Playing in the shallows, they swam up to our canoe and clambered onboard.
Later that afternoon, I lost my race — badly — to a local. But the crowd cheered just as loudly for me, the outsider, as they did for the hometown boy, proving that the spirit of Polynesia is alive and well at the Bora Bora Liquid Festival.
The 2013 Bora Bora Liquid Festival takes place Dec. 2-8.