Born and raised in Maui, Talia Gangini Decoite first rode on a surfboard, alongside her dad, when she was 15 months old. A few years later, she witnessed her first stand up paddleboard race. Soon, she had dreams of carrying on the Polynesian tradition of paddling and becoming the best competitive water woman in the world.
In 2007, at age 14, Talia was the youngest woman to compete in the Molokai to Oahu race on a traditional paddleboard. The 32-mile M2O Race cuts through the Ka’iwi channel, a treacherous span of open ocean swells, and is widely known as the one of the most physically grueling paddleboard contests. In 2012, Talia won first place in the M2O. She was only 19 years old, and the first woman to stand-up paddle the channel under five hours – breaking the previous record by nearly 30 minutes.
When she’s not in the ocean,Talia is designing and handcrafting jewelry and swimsuits with her sister, Tenhani.
Talia shared some time with _Practice. At 21, her story has clearly just begun…
Winning the Molokai to Oahu in 2012 – that's where the journey began.
The first time I paddled the channel I was fourteen. I kept on the doing the race every year. I did stand-up relay one year. My first year going solo was eighteen and I did better than I could ever imagine - only four minutes behind the first place.
To find the endurance – you have to train. You have to log your hours in the ocean. But really, when it comes down to it, out in the channel at Mile 22, that’s when you really start learning things about yourself. It's all about having a super strong mental game.
My advantage is I had a really strong mental game.
In that race, I was way behind and it took me to Mile 20 to actually catch the leader in front of me. She had won the year before. This was a 32-mile race, and that’s when the race starts – the race actually starts at Mile 20. That’s when people will shut down mentally.
I started to go through that …
My boyfriend, Nakoa, who is now my husband, hopped out of the boat, gave me a bag of poi to eat – and said, "Jesus gave it all - YOU give it everything you got! Go, Go, Go!” Something clicked in me right then, and I started catching bumps and this flow started happening.
There’s a spot in the race when the currents are crossed chopped – you feel like you’re not moving and you’re not moving that fast – I was able to get through that.
I never felt that I went faster in my life.
Once you get to the island, you still have to paddle two miles up wind… and I remember paddling, and Lauren Spaulding, my mentor, she was on my boat and she yelled, "Talia, you’re in first place - now go make a world record!
What?! First place?! I couldn’t believe it…
Reading the Ocean
It’s really important how we need our breath – for me when I’m paddling long distance my breathing patterns are super important.
When I'm doing my down-winding, breathing is different than when I am surfing. Down-wind paddling creates wind chops on the water. With downwind paddling, the goal is to catch to each bump and connect it to the next bump to connect as many bumps as you can and just kind of skim over the ocean.
A lot of people think they need to effort their way through it, but you don’t.
You have to relax and breathe and focus on reading the ocean and not trying to manipulate it. It will do what it will want to do. And you can’t change it.
When you’re focusing on centering your core and making sure that you have that focus – you’re going to be a stronger paddler. You'll be better in whatever you’re doing in life…
I am also a jewelry designer. If I’m tense and stressed, my pieces just don’t come out right. But if I take a few breaths and relax and get into that mode where I can think and create, it just starts to flow…
It’s the same in surfing paddling or anything you do in life – if you’re tense you’re not going to be performing well.
Being Talia Now
After last year, when I won, I’d accomplished my goal that I set for myself. And I noticed I was a lot more tense. I couldn’t focus. I was too caught up in the expectations I felt I had to meet. I was afraid of failing and I noticed that on one paddle, I was paddling as fast as I could but I was going nowhere. What was going on? I realized, I just need to relax, breath, and focus – and that got me back into the rhythm.
I took last year off. I just need to regroup. I just wasn’t in the right mindset. It was time to take a step back, take a break. I’ve been doing that channel since I was fourteen. I needed to rest and recharge.
Nakoa is training me now. We do cross-fit strength training here in Maui and a lot of mobility recovery and yoga, too.
And now, after the time off, I feel ready…I am ready to do the race M2O again!
Here's Talia, at work, and play...
For more of Talia, visit her website www.taliadecoite.com.
To browse her swimsuit and jewelry collection, go to www.pasheybella.com.