As I positioned myself on the start line I was overwhelmed with feelings of fear.
It was in that moment I realised I hadn’t thought about my race plan at all, I felt pretty dumb for missing that important part.
The race start felt like forever. That time from when the red flag goes up and then the green. There was lots of pushing and shoving going on with paddlers trying to get the best start they could. I remember hearing Hinatea Bernadino yelling out “given me space, give me space”. She ended up paddling out and right around to the side to reset. I know there was at least one other wave of paddlers behind me.
After one paddler had pushed her way through she grabbed my ama in an attempt to better position herself. My first thought was that I wanted to slap her upside the head but my better self showed up and thought I would show her in the race whose boss.
It was a gnarly start, kind of like dodgems with canoes crashing right in front of me. I had a feeling to just stay back because I didn’t want to flip, it proved to be the right thing to do as a gap opened up in front of me after the carnage. However it meant that I had a lot of ground to try and make up. I took my opportunity and booted it out of there.
By this time I knew I was a wee way back from the front pack and lost my bearings. I decided to just focus on me and making every stroke count.
I pulled away from the pack I was in and was making small gains picking off paddlers one by one. I had two other paddlers flank me for most of the course. It was a head wind on the way up to the first turn marker, but there were little bumps that I was able to capitalise on pushing me in front of the other two.
As we neared the half way mark I started to notice some of the other paddlers, our top NZ paddlers, I could see Vesna, Mari and Marama and I got all excited. I realised then I had to try to make up as much ground as possible before the turn as once they round the marker it’s all downwind and trying to catch someone on a downwind is pretty hard if they are on a roll.
I passed one more paddler before the marker and then the whole race changed.
As soon as I got around the turn marker the water was heavy, and all over the place. I realised I hadn’t had much to drink either. I didn’t want to risk stopping and have someone pass me.
Just over half way back down the reef my thoughts wandered to the paddler in front of me. It was Marama Elkington, one of our top NZ junior and opens paddlers. I could see her getting closer and closer but then I started to feel like crap. I had made up a little refuel drink for me to take about 6 kms from the finish but again I couldn’t bring myself to taking it. The internal chatter started. I was thinking about all the stuff I should have done, had I done enough, who was I to think I should be there, and be up there with these other awesome paddlers.
I started to feel tired, but not my body, my brain, and then the two paddlers who had flanked me most of the race were gaining on me and ended up passing me. We were at the end of the surf run by now and rounding the last turn, I took the inside right along the reef and it was the heaviest feeling ever. To my right, Tui MCCaull had taken a wider line and she just zoomed by. My brain was so tired by now I wasn’t quick enough to make any good decisions so just kept paddling hard to the finish line which was only about 500m away! Within 10 minutes I had gone from being in 7th place to 9th!
I was just grateful I made it over the line and that I managed to come in where I did. And that was 9th out of 36 paddlers in my division and 16th overall out of 80 women paddlers.
In reflection I had so many what ifs but since then have come to recognise all the learning in the lead up to the race and after.
The week leading up to the race was pretty stressful, in the sense I was in a different country, it was hot, and my baby was really sick. I had spent most nights sleepless trying to comfort her through the night. There was also a lot of stress around from having my whole whanau there and whanau expectations. More lessons that I will share later on. These are all important things I know I need to share because these days there are more mama taking on the challenge of being an elite athlete and we are faced with a whole other set of challenges that will only make us stronger.
So many things I could have done better but I’m happy in knowing I went out there, did a pretty good job and are now hungry for more. Its given me a taste and glimpse of what is possible and I am now on a mission to make that happen.
And that is to be the best paddler I can be because I know by doing that it will create a snowball effect of so many health and wellness benefits for me and my whanau. It’s unlimited potential! Who knows where it may lead?
Thank you to everyone who supported me to get to Tahiti and gave me words of encouragement, hugs, kisses and butt-kicks along the way. I am blessed to have so many awesome people around me.
NB: Aito Tahiti is the most important individual va’a race in Polynesia with a distance of 15km with a downwind surf leg.