Combine some of the most beautiful islands of Polynesia (home to a fun-loving, incredibly welcoming and generous people) with an eclectic crew of kiteboarders and watersport competitors and it can mean only one thing. The Manureva Aquafest has returned to the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands is a place that not so many of us over in the Northern hemisphere have really come across and certainly not the most immediate destination you would think of when packing your bags to go kiting. Well ok in KTA circles you perhaps would have as its been on everybody’s tick list since our first event over there last season, so it was great to be returning for the 2nd Manureva Aquafest with a bigger team and a bigger programme of events.
The Manureva International Aquafest took place from the 10 – 14 June 2013 and marked the second year of collaboration between the Asian Kiteboard Tour team from the KTA and the Cook Islands Kitesurf Association. Although primarily focused around a kiteboard competition, the Manureva Aquafest did as the title suggests, it threw in a few other water challenges during the week. Competitors found themselves not only needing to meet their normal event challenges in freestyle and course racing under their kites, but also other ‘waterman’ skills in the local Vaka outrigger canoes and stand-up paddle board racing.
The event is heavily supported and sponsored by the Cook Islands Tourism Department and Air Rarotonga. Their aim is to see activity-based tourism increase in the islands, particularly in the area of watersports, for which the country is blessed with many perfect locations.
Cook Islands Kitesurf Association organiser Paka Worthington underlined that to discover the traditions and culture of the Cook Islands and its people was a key factor in the overall experience of the competitors, to fully understand the uniqueness of the event.
‘Our ancestors dreamed of being able to fly’ said Worthington ‘and this week at the Manureva we will be fulfilling their dreams as the kiters take to the air, bridging the gap between past and present’.
The KTA linked up with the Cook Islands Kitesurfing Association to develop new competition opportunities for both local and international riders alike. Having established the competition last year, the event has grown for 2013 with the inclusion of the KTA Kite Kids that introduced around 40 youngsters from local Rarotonga and Atutaki schools to kiteboarding for the first time. The KTA Kite Kids sponsorship support continues from Maelstorm and Ozone, with international Neil Pryde subsidiary Cabrinha, who are supporting the programme for the first time to provide the boards and water kites to take the classes further. The classes were led over the four days by Kathrin Borgwardt who has pioneer the KTA Kite Kids throughout the season, with support from Cabrinha’s Lison Albouy. Key to these sessions and their progression after the KTA has gone the local support also from the Atutaki Kiteboard Club and KITESUP the kite school in Rarotonga. It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm for kiteboarding from both the kids and local volunteers alike and perfect to be able to support them further by gifting them the trainer kites from Ozone and boards from Cabrinha.
The kiteboard competition itself was put together to encourage riders to take part in both freestyle and TT racing. Riders could just take part in only one or the other of the events, but there was also an overall winner’s prize package based on the combination of the points from each event – a double chance then to go home well-rewarded. Almost all of the 28 riders (3 non-scorers) from 8 countries represented did so.
The Cook Islands themselves are the secret of the Pacific – a place where you can breathe in the fresh pure air and wade into the cool, calm blue lagoons; calm that is except for those dynamic moments of competition that saw the kiters blasting from the water in head-to-head competition. Reigning Asian Champion and one of the visiting international riders at the event, Yo Narapichit Pudla took on allcomers in both the freestyle and race. In the end his wealth of experience bore him through to win, but not before some high class challenges were dealt out by the locals. Tahiti’s Tetuatau Levervd and Rarotnga’s Pauro in particular shone through in the freestyle event while fellow Cook Islander Evarima Koteka showed great talent in the TT racing, even managing to take a win off of Pudla, something seldom achieved this season by any rider.
For the girls it was fully international affair as the Cook Islands is still looking for its first female competitor to emerge. KTA Open race champion Kathrin Borgwardt from Germany was to claim the title this time, showing she had not forgotten all her freestyle moves either. Thailand’s Fon Benyapa and New Zealand’s Anderson Romero were hot on her heels though throughout, making sure it was a hard fought competition all the way to the finish.
The 15 islands of the Cooks lie halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, scattered across 2.2 million square kilometers of ocean, boasting rare beauty and an idyllic climate. The Cook Islands are Paradise and a dream for any kiter to compete at, but this was no normal kiteboard competition and soon competitors more used to the power of the wind found themselves battling the elements from another angle at the end of a paddle.
Vaka outrigger canoes are the original mode of water transport across Polynesia. The former lifeblood of the Maori, both in travel and food gathering, has been transformed today into slick racing craft. For the Aquafest, teams of six paddlers took to the crystal waters for a day of fast sprint Vaka action. The local teams as you might expect came out on top, with some of the kiters looking less than their usual coordinated selves for once, but great fun and competition was had by all.
Like so much about this event even the Aquafest day was a meeting of old and new, so as the day unfolded not only were the paddles of the Vaka in action but also the new paddle phenomena SUP. In stand-up-paddle the kiters were to fair much better and looked a lot more at home as they fought it out around the course. This section of the event was being sponsored by Naish with its master of ceremonies Luke Thompson ensuring that things ran smoothly and fair play was observed by all.
Luke had also be taking care of the tunes all week with some cool on beach mixing for both the kite and paddle competitions, but being Aquafest and being the KTA it needed to have one final twist to proceedings which was to come in the form of the first Cook Islands Harlem Shake. So sit back watch and enjoy ….
The 2103 Manureva International Aquafest was counted by all involved as a great success. The event had seen an increase in both local and international competitors, showing that the event and the sport of kiteboarding is on the increase within the region and for the Cook Islands in particular, prompting confidence in the future for bigger and better things to come, but as we said from the beginning of this report this was a very different event one that mixed both watersport competition and a step into the Cook Islands way of life and some very unique experiences for us all to take away with us.
The Cook Islands is a very traditional religious area, everything closes on Sunday with no exceptions and everyone heads to church to take in a sermon with the local minister. The thing then that is so unique to Cook Island churches is the way they sing the local hymns, to hear this is quite an experience, high pitched harmonizing voices mixed with the deep voices of the men resonating around a church that has seaward views to blow you away and yes all the kiters went along, not something you are going to see too often at a kite competition.
In addition to this unlikely surprise in our Cook Islands adventure we were also lucky enough to be in Atutaki for the creation of a new tribal chief. This does happen too often as you might imagine being a hereditary thing, so our timing was perfect. The ceremonies that began at 4am (very noisily I might add) carrying on throughout the day and helped us understand more about what culture and tradition means to the Cook Island people.
It was amazing to see the warriors and the council members all in traditional clothing performing the ceremonies with hundreds of people watching on also geared up with coconut leave headdresses or flowers that are worn by everyone on a day to day basis also. Then following all the formalities it was time for the dancing and pretty awesome it was too, from the knee knocking frenzy of the guys doing their thing to the beauty of the girls performing hula dances, the latter of which for some reason held the attentions of the KTA photographers for quite some time. All of which was followed by a feast to remember; tons of food of all sort that had cooked over hot stones in leaf covered pits in the ground was piled onto tables for an ‘eat as much as you can’ extravaganza.
Once again the KTA Team and competitors had the best time in the Cook Islands and very well worth the long travel. What a great end to our 12/13 season at a location that promises a lot of potential for the future and even now plans are afoot for next year’s event, one which if it goes as we hope, will raise the bar again for kiteboarding in the region.
1. Yo Narapichit Pudla (THA) Kathrin Borgwrdt (GER)
2. Evarima Koteka (COK) Anderson Romero (NZL)
3. Tetuatau Levend (TAH) Fon Benyapa (THA)