FRENCH POLYNESIA CANOE RACING PIONEER DIES

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Jan. 30) – Some 500 people attended funeral services Monday for Edouard Maamaatua, considered the "father" of French Polynesia's outrigger canoe racing community who had an international reputation. He was 73 years old.

French Polynesia Government President Gaston Tong Sang was among the many political figures that paid their final respects to Maamaatua, who died over the weekend. The funeral services were held in the St. Trinity Church in Tahiti's Commune of Pirae, followed by burial services in Pirae, which borders Papeete on the north side of the capital.

As the mayor of Bora Bora, Tong Sang yearly witnesses the fruit of Maamaatua's pioneer efforts in outrigger canoe racing because that is where the finish line is for the Hawaiki Nui Race through four of the Leeward Islands.

Among other political figures that worked with Maamaatua over the many years of growth in outrigger canoe racing in French Polynesia as well as the Pacific Basin are Pirae Mayor Edouard Fritch, Mahina Mayor Emile Vernaudon and Faa'a Mayor and former French Polynesia Government President Oscar Temaru.

Besides the internationally famous Hawaiki Nui race, Maamaatua is associated with the development of the yearly Heiva I Tahiti (Tahiti Festival) outrigger canoe races in Papeete Harbor. These are traditionally the most popular sports events of the year in French Polynesia.

Under Maamaatua's influence, the outrigger canoe became know as the "va'a", the Tahitian word for the variety of canoes with extended outrigger balance bars that keep them afloat. While the ocean races, such as the Hawaiki Nui, involve six-paddlers, the lagoon races, such as those held in Papeete Harbor, range from one-paddler to 12-paddler canoes.

Outrigger canoe racing has become an institution in French Polynesia, with many clubs formed on all of the major islands. Those clubs are open to men, women, junior boys and girls and veteran men and women.

The popularity of such races has also extended far beyond Tahiti's borders to Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Australia, New Zealand, California and France.

Maamaatua not only contributed to the outrigger canoe's popularity, but also designed and built some of the most radically different canoes to meet the growing demand from paddlers for canoes that would cut through the water faster and faster.

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