BORA BORA’S Ultimate Beach Party

Each December, top athletes and festive travelers gather for a magical mix of watersports, local culture and toes-in-the-sand celebration.

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Other than ‘sign me up,’ what else can you say about an event that’s equal parts Ironman competition, Polynesian cultural experience and ultimate beach party held on the idyllic South Pacific island of Bora Bora. Held each December on the southern portion of the island at the Sofitel Marara Resort, the event creates a colorful buzz of activity drawing more than 2,000 spectators and several hundred athletes, who gather to participate and celebrate during a series of events that includes SUP (stand-up paddleboard), outrigger and swim races, beach barbecues, parties and instructional clinics for kids. A much more inclusive event than when it began 14 years ago, the Bora Bora Liquid Festival now also features activities designed for even the non-athlete such as Tahitian dance and Zumba classes in the sand. And of course there is always lounging under a palm tree with a maitai and taking in the jaw-dropping scenery.

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I first learned about the Liquid Festival six years ago during a chance encounter with the event’s creator, French expat Stephan Lambert, while paddling the calm waters of Huahine, one of Bora’s sister islands. Tanned and tattooed with traditional Polynesian symbols, 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.

After learning about this active traveler’s dream trip, I vowed to make it the following year so I could pursue my passion for stand-up paddling in the postcard-perfect scenery of Bora Bora. I haven’t missed a year since. Granted, I’m no match for professional SUP athletes such as Brennan Rose and Jenny Kalmbach who have participated in previous events. But that’s the beauty of the Liquid Festival — the event welcomes participants of any level by staging races ranging from weekend warrior-friendly 100-foot swim and SUP sprints in the lagoon shallows to the grueling final event, the 36km circle-island IronMana SUP and outrigger race.Paddle_FiredanceAnd while the Liquid Festival still has the feel of an insider’s event, it really can’t be classified as Bora’s best-kept secret anymore now that news outlets such as ESPN.com and Outside Magazine have covered it. The event has also inspired a documentary shot by two of the world’s most elite watersports photographers, Tim McKenna and Gilles Hucault. The Bora Bora Liquid Festival was also recently sanctioned by the World Paddle Association, their first in the Pacific. So although more elite athletes and pros are attending, the welcome mat is always out in true Polynesian style for novices and non-athletes alike, who just want to mix it up with locals while enjoying one of the globe’s most envy-inspiring destinations. Travel packages including round-trip air and hotel stay at event partner Sofitel Marara Bora Bora Beach Resort. Full event passes are still available.

The 2014 Bora Bora Liquid Festival takes place from December 3 to 6. For more information, visit http://www.easytahiti.com/noa/bora-bora-ironmana.html

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