PAPEETE, Tahiti – For its 4th consecutive year the Air France Paddle Festival has delivered a spectacular show. Spirits were high, the crowd came in full force and competition was fierce. With the new venue, a maxed out 8k amateur race and extra fun added this year it’s easy to claim this has been the best year yet. It wasn’t all fun and games though as the weather this year was both your worst enemy and best friend.
The lagoon 8k race was packed with hundreds of racers. | Photos: Supconnect
With the morning bringing rather gloomy conditions with full cloud-cover soon came the wind which made things a bit difficult for paddlers in both the 8k lagoon race and 24k elite race. The lagoon race was packed with hundreds of paddlers taking to the start line and with howling winds at their backs it was difficult to hear the race start horn blow which resulted in a false start for the race. So, it was back to the start line for a re-do. Once that horn blew the second time though, there was no turning back as paddlers began their unexpected downwind race. As the conditions were extremely windy at the start of the 8k race it proved very difficult for the less-experienced paddlers who had to learn to deal with the chop. After all was said and done the lagoon race saw all paddlers finish with a smile and cheers from the crowd waiting for them at the finish.
1st and 2nd place of the 8k headed towards the finish. | Photo: Supconnect
The elite race was quite a show from the start. From the very beginning you could tell that this pack was hungry for the win — but this would not come easy. As the pack pulled out into the lagoon they were greeted with a very strong head wind that they would fight for the first 8k of the race. Talk about brutal. This first leg of the race really brought out the Tahitian beasts as a fierce pack of 7 battled for lead position all the way through the head winds and then it happened. Georges Cronsteadt made his move and stepped on the gas as the group made their way out into the open ocean for the downwinder leg of the race.
Elite race start. | Photos: Supconnect
This is where Georges Cronsteadt really got his mojo and began to gain a hefty lead ahead of his closest competitor, Steve Teihotaata. For about another 8k Georges was cruising and riding bumps on his own which was a much needed relief after the harsh start to the race but his commanding lead would not last forever. Little by little Teihotaata was gaining on him and before he knew it Cronsteadt had Teihotaata on his heels. The wind started to die and the two Tahitians were neck-and-neck in a flatwater battle. Then things got even more interesting, and perhaps a bit controversial.
Georges Cronsteadt taking the lead followed closely by Steve Teihotaata. | Photos: Supconnect
As Teihotaata and Cronsteadt were battling it out paddlers in 3rd, 4th, and 5th positions made an interesting move – which is where the controversy comes in. The dozens of boats that were following the paddlers created an obvious wake to which these three took advantage of and in no time closed the massive gap between them and the two leaders and were paddling right alongside Cronsteadt and Teihotaata. This came as a surprise to the two leaders and immediately they started voicing their frustrations towards officials on the boats calling for a penalty.
With the two-pack now becoming a five-pack the race was back on as the group made their last buoy turn back to the lagoon and towards the finish. Cronsteadt once again stepped on the gas and gained a few board-lengths lead over the rest of the pack but fatigue would would soon kick in and Cronsteadt would be neck and neck to the finish with his relative Yoann Cronsteadt. Yoann was able to get a board-length’s lead on Georges and was able to cross the finish line in first. But with possible penalties on the line from riding the boat wake, Yoann might not get the win. If that’s the case, Georges Cronsteadt will claim the win. (We will update you with the final result as soon as we’re informed.)
Sonni Honscheid looking fierce. | Photo: Supconnect
The entry level was low for the elite females but that didn’t stop the handful that participated from giving it their all. Germany’s own Sonni H onscheid wanted to join in on the fun this year and that she did. Sonni did what she does best and paddled the 24k elite race with power and finished not only well-ahead of her fellow female competitors but also ahead of many of the men as well. Very strong performance from the Starboard athlete.
SUP polo was enjoyed by all, but the kids had the most fun. | Photo: Supconnect
Aside from the heated competition the race village had tons going on with SUP Polo games, kids races, music, and more. 2017’s Air France Paddle Festival once again delivered a spectacular event, the largest paddle boarding in all of French Polynesia. Congratulations to all participants of the event, we look forward to seeing you next year!
Stay tuned for full results.
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