April 9th, 2021 — Carissa Moore remembers smiling as she stood up on her board. She remembers feeling the cool water on her skin.
It was the WSL world tour quarterfinals at Newcastle, Australia’s iconic Merewether Beach, one of the last big events in the lead-up for this summer’s Tokyo Games. Conditions were perfect as Moore paddled out.
“She is already a Hall of a Famer,” said the live broadcast’s commentator. “She has won almost everything there is to win but is still so young.”
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Despite the laudatory introduction, Moore still managed to stun everyone when she launched off the lip of a six footer, spun her board 270 degrees, before grabbing the rail to complete a massive aerial reverse to propel her into the semifinals.
The announcing team went berserk: “What? What?!”
They couldn’t form sentences, while Moore herself, still on her board, held her head in her hands in disbelief at what she had just done.
Moore went on to win first place in Newcastle and is currently ranked No. 1 in the World Surf League’s Championship Tour. The air reverse might have shocked the four-time surfing world champion, but for those who have been watching her surf on the tour for the past 10 years, the performance was just the next step in her evolution.
Moore first fell in love with the sport as a 5-year-old girl, surfing in tandem with her dad off the beaches of Waikiki in Honolulu.
“I loved the feeling of the escape that it gave,” Moore told Just Women’s Sports over the phone on a travel day before the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro competition in June.
”I think I was between 10-12 years-old when I remember having a serious conversation with my dad about how far I wanted to take it.”
Moore didn’t play any other sports growing up. She may have dabbled in swimming and dance, but surfing was always “it.” Despite putting all of her eggs in one basket, Moore never suffered any doubts about her path.
“I think it was my dad’s belief in me and his belief in my potential that really made me believe in myself and the journey.”
Moore’s journey put her in the limelight early; she won 11 national titles during her amateur career and made a splash in the Championship Tour in 2010 when she finished third overall. She was awarded Rookie of the Year at 17 years old, and in 2011, she became the youngest winner of the ASP Women’s World Tour. Only 18 at the time, she went on to win three more surfing world titles and is now one of two American women competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“The moment I found out was the very last event in the Maui Pro on the 2019 Championship Tour. It was a huge moment and I was overwhelmed with emotions because I hadn’t let myself think about it, because I couldn’t let my foot off the gas pedal with how well the other girls were surfing,” Moore said. “I didn’t want to get ahead of myself.”
While a four-time World Champion might seem a shoo-in for the Olympics, Moore was neck-and-neck with fellow Americans Caroline Marks and Lakey Peterson. The Americans were the top three surfers in the world, yet only two could go on to compete for Team USA.
Moore ended up qualifying for the Games when Peterson fell in the round of 16 to Australia’s Tyler Wright at the 2019 Maui Pro, eliminating her from the Olympic qualification.
Moore can’t wait to represent both her country and Hawaii at the Olympics, but she isn’t getting ahead of herself. Instead she’s focusing on being present, whether that’s in the water surfing, scrapbooking at home, or just soaking up any time she can get at home in Honolulu.
“I’m a pretty simple island girl,” Moore says, “ I just love being home — with my husband, my dog. My sister moved home, so I pretty much just jump houses and say hi to everyone every day.”
Moore’s voice is soft, yet confident. She speaks quickly and energetically when she mentions her family and Hawaii. Relaxed as she may seem, the simple island girl still surfs and trains most days and is in full preparation mode for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“My main goal is to be as present as possible and give everything I can to the moment in front of me,” she said. “I think that’s when I’m at my best.”
With surfing set to make its Olympic debut, Tokyo could prove to be a breakout moment for Moore. Already a legend in the surfing world, the Olympics are a chance to shine on a global stage.
Faced with such an opportunity, Moore falls back on old advice from her dad: “‘Go hard and give it everything that you have every time you go out. When you do anything, do it 100 percent.’”
Her iconic air reverse was just that: a moment of trust in both the water and herself. A reward for giving it her all. Both an athletic achievement and a personal statement.
“I hope my surfing shows an expression of how I feel,” Moore said. “I wear my heart on my sleeve and I surf from my heart, so I hope you can feel that.”
In Tokyo, Moore will have a chance to express how she feels to her largest audience yet. There’s a chance she’ll surprise both us and herself yet again.