Island-hopping competitive surfer and Dkoko brand ambassador Marie-Moana Troja motivates us to chase our dreams and be our best selves, in and out of the water. Living in Australia as a surfer and university student, she balances her studies and surfing career with discipline, drive, and a great sense of humor.
We caught up with Marie-Moana to learn more about her island-inspired childhood, everyday lifestyle, and future aspirations.
Where did you grow up? What are your favorite memories as a surfer girl living the island life?
I was born and raised on a little island in the Indian Ocean called Reunion Island. It’s where I spent most of my childhood before moving to Australia at the age of 14. My mother is Tahitian, so my sister and I grew up immersed in beautiful Polynesian culture. My parents have now moved back to Polynesia from Reunion, which is the place I most identify myself with. Although I’m based in Australia now, with my parents back in Tahiti I have two places to call home.
Growing up on Reunion Island was amazing, and choosing a favorite memory is tougher than I thought (laugh). A moment I cherish the most was when Dad made me miss a day of school because the waves were pumping. We drove to the surf, stopped at the service station to grab sandwiches and a pack of M&Ms, and went surfing ‘til dark at this famous wave called Saint-Leu (dreamy left). This was also when I started surfing the reef, as it was known as a dangerous spot. Surfing the reef meant that my dad trusted my surfing enough and knew I could handle the wave. It was such a thrill!
Who and what have inspired you the most in your life as a surfer?
My father has always been an inspiring figure in my life as a surfer. He pushed me into my first waves and is the biggest frother you will possibly meet. I remember when I was just a little girl, my goal was to surf as good as him - he wasn’t scared of the reef and was pulling into barrels at very shallow breaks. I thought it was super scary.
When I moved to Australia, it was amazing to surf where a lot of pro surfers were training, like Stephanie Gilmore, Mick Fanning, and Jay Phillips. Surfing those spots and watching them train helped me develop as a surfer and improve my technique the best I could.
What motivated you to leave home and venture off to live in Australia? How do you spend your days there?
I had to leave Reunion Island at age 14 because of a dramatic shark situation on the island. We weren’t allowed to surf or even swim in the ocean. At that age, it was my dream to become a professional surfer. I was obsessed. I consider myself very lucky because my parents were supportive of my ambitions and sent me off to Australia, where my big sister was already settled. Their only condition was that I keep studying and maintain good grades. I was following a home-schooling curriculum which allowed me to organize my time between surf training and school.
A typical day starts out by waking up early, going for a surf in the morning, coming back for lunch and then studying in the afternoon. If I have time, I’ll go surfing again in the evening. When the waves are bad, I study all day so I can surf more when surf is on. It requires lots of discipline, but I think it has taught me indispensable life skills.
We're obsessed with your powerful and confident surfing style! How did you get into competitive surfing? What do you love about it, and what's your vision for the future of your surfing career?
Moving to Australia definitely helped me start getting into competition. Australia, and more specifically the Gold Coast, is the ideal place to create this sense of competitiveness. It gets very crowded, and you have to “fight” to get your waves. I was also invited, as soon as I moved there, to join the most prestigious surf club on the coast - the Snapper Boardriders. Every month they host these little contests, stimulating that competitive drive from a very young age. As soon as I finished school, I wanted to make it to the dream tour, so I started the qualifying series.
Competition taught me a lot, about myself and about surfing. I was able to meet wonderful people and see amazing places. Although, to me, surfing is more than just 20 minutes in the water to get the best two waves in a heat. We often have bad waves, and the judging can be very subjective. Competing can be fun but also frustrating. No matter how hard you train, if during the 20 minutes you’re out there the wave doesn’t want to come to you, you can’t win.
I love competing because I have a very competitive nature, but nothing beats free surfing. I think surfing and surf contests are two very different things and we should never forget why we got hooked on it in the first place.
I have two more years of university to finish up, so it will get complicated to balance contests and classes. I’ll try to do the contests around where I live, but I really want to develop the free surfing side of things more.
Scoring pumping, barreling waves and pushing myself will definitely be on my priority list.
I also have a few other projects cooking in my mind… (laugh).
What helped you stay centered during the COVID travel restrictions in Australia?
Travel restrictions were tough. Not being able to go further than your local supermarket was draining. What really helped me get through these hard years was to focus on my university and my surfing. I am a very disciplined person. If I don’t have something to work for, whether it’s uni or training, I feel that I’m wasting my time. We were lucky to be able to keep surfing during the many lockdowns in Australia. I am also fortunate to have part of my family close to me – my sister, brother-in-law and my little niece. I can’t even think about how hard it would have been if I was far away from all of them.
What's it like for you now being back home in Tahiti after three years away? What did you miss most?
Wow! It is magical. First of all, seeing my parents who I hadn’t seen in three years was unbelievable.
On my second day back, I went surfing with my boyfriend and my dad at my favorite lefthander, and it was absolutely perfect. There weren’t even ten of us out. The water was warm, crystal clear, and the sun was shining. All the dreams I had over the past three years finally became my reality.
It’s too hard to pick a single thing I missed most. Family is definitely first; but not far behind would be the perfect waves, beautiful scenery, friends, and of course FOOOOOOD!
What's next for you on your surfing journey?
Competition season is over, so I’ll now have to balance my student life with my surfing life. I’d like to travel around Australia and discover some new places. I’ll head overseas during my school holidays.
And of course, I am hoping to surf Pavones and explore Costa Rica one day with the Dkoko girls! ;)
How do you describe your relationship to the ocean?
Ever since I was a little girl, moving from island to island (Reunion, Australia and Tahiti), I don’t think a day has passed that I haven’t seen or jumped into the ocean. If I get stuck in a place where I can’t see the water for longer than 24 hours, I start feeling anxious. I wouldn’t say I have a special relationship to the ocean; I just feel that the ocean is a part of me.
My first name is Marie-Moana. Moana is my Tahitian name and it means “the ocean”, so I like to think it was predestined from day one. Thanks Mom and Dad!
I would like to give a special thanks to Dkoko for supporting me to grow in my surfing career and as a person this year. I was able to surf in the cutest suits without the fear of losing them when a big set would break on my head! Thanks, Dkoko!
Interview written by Tara Ruttenberg
Surfing photos by Luis Rocha
Lifestyle and underwater photos in Tahiti by Mohea Moana