This week in Women in the Ocean, we sat down with the charming four-time world champion Carissa Moore. Moore opened up about her incredible 2019 WSL season, launching her non-profit Moore Aloha, and what to expect from her new surf film 'Riss'.
At the age of nine, Carissa Moore had her goals lined out for herself: become a professional surfer, travel the world, and surf with other cool girls. Merely seven years later she was doing just that. In 2008 she became the youngest surfer to win a Triple Crown of Surfing event, after snagging the championship title at the Reef Hawaiian Pro. Two years later she joined the prestigious World Surf League Tour and was whisked away to faraway places like Australia, Portugal, and Fiji. There she surfed alongside not just a bunch of “cool girls”, but the best women in the world. After a standout rookie season, she walked away with the World Title, ending Stephanie Gilmore’s four-year reign. For the next five years Gilmore and Moore went head to head for the World Title in one of the most thrilling rivalries in women’s surfing. When Moore snagged her third win in 2015, she seemed unstoppable.
But in 2016, her momentum on the Tour came screeching to a halt.
Suddenly the three-time world champion found herself struggling to stay within the top spots of the tour. For three seasons this self-described “funk” persisted leaving Moore frustrated and confused. Outwardly, it just seemed like the surfer had lost her rhythm, but there was more brewing underneath the surface. At some point, an athlete is forced to grapple with this difficult question: who am I beyond these competitions? For Moore—who’s committed a decade of her life to the Tour—it was coming to terms with her identity as a person when the trophies weren’t there to provide validation.
This realization sparked a new journey for Moore, leading herself down a path of joy, gratitude, and mindfulness. It inspired her to launch Moore Aloha, a non-profit that uses surfing as a platform to empower young women. With this new mindset, she approached the 2019 competition season energized and excited. Not only was Moore happier and surfing the way she wanted, but it brought her success on her terms. It paid out. She won the World Title, became the sixth female to ever win four championships, and qualified for the Olympic Games. Now, that’s one hell of a comeback story. Her new film Riss, allows the audience to peek behind the curtain of that inspiring 2019 season. It’s not your conventional surf flick and instead feels like a scrapbook page from Moore’s life, so you get to know the woman behind it all. And don’t worry there’s plenty of stylish surfing.
We sat down with Moore to learn more about the project, that iconic 2019 season, and her hopes for the next generation of female surfers.
Check Out the Full Film Below:
The film explores your 2019 season on the Championship Tour. The three years prior you describe yourself being in a bit of a funk. What kinds of challenges were you dealing with before that season?
Carissa Moore: I had a few years where I wasn’t in my flow professionally and personally. Every person deals with ebb and flows of motivation and questioning their identity—particularly what makes me happy and what does success really look like? During that three-year period, I was constantly dealing with all those questions. This past year I really settled into myself and felt confident about my journey, my passions, and my purpose moving forward.
Winning the World Title in 2019 had to be an amazing moment for you, but to do it with this greater sense of identity and purpose had to feel even more special, would you agree?
CM: For sure. This past World Title meant so much more to me than the trophy. That win was an accumulation of the journey I had personally and professionally. All these aspects of your life play into your success on the water. For me, it felt especially satisfying to walk away with the title in the way I wanted to do it.
Ben Thouard / Red Bull content pool photo.
It’s obvious that 2019 was a major turning point for you. Can you pinpoint any factors that aided this positive change in your life?
CM: I think a big part of it was perspective. In many ways, I was looking at the glass half empty, instead of half full. As a professional athlete, it’s easy to get caught up in all the pressures surrounding you. When you’re a kid everything feels epic. We get to live this incredible dream, but it’s easy to stop recognizing that as you get older. It becomes easier to get distracted and you soon find yourself chasing the wrong things.
This past year I made a conscious effort to be mindful. Honestly, it meant being grateful every day and always finding the positives. Even in the most challenging situations, there’s something good to be taken away. So, looking back on that year my process really changed.
TGR recently did a film with Lindsey Vonn, and she’s very candid about the mental challenges that come with being an athlete and dealing with the pressure to perform. Did you find yourself dealing with this struggle too?
CM: I think we all deal with struggles like this in some way. It’s just magnified as an athlete because we’re already under the lens to perform. Ultimately we’re all performing in some way, whether it’s at work, raising a family, or being a good friend.
You’ve been competing on the Tour for a decade. How has your perspective on competition changed over the years?
CM: Man when I first started out, I was a grom. My first year of competing I was 17 and the first five years felt fresh and exciting. Everything was new and exciting. There were a few years that I lost that feeling. This last year I tried to tap back into the way I felt when I was first competing and enjoyed being on the Tour. It was great getting to travel and honestly the best part of it all are the friendships you make on the way. There have been so many positive memories, and I was fortunate enough to share it with my husband, dad, and sister at times.
I think I’ve circled back to this place of gratitude.
Moore strives to find something to be thankful for each and every day. Ryan Miller / Red Bull Content Pool photo.
There’s this statement of yours in regards to competition that I found especially powerful: “No none of that matters. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. I’m a wife.” Where did this acknowledgment of self come from?
CM: It was a few things that led me to redefine who I am. During that lull in my career where I wasn’t winning or getting the results, I wanted to be okay with myself when I didn’t have the wins to bolster my feelings. I didn’t have this external validation and it made me wonder how I could define my self-worth when I wasn’t bringing home titles and trophies. It got me to think who am I? What is my purpose? I quickly realized that it wasn’t just winning contests.
It got me thinking who am I inspired by? It’s the people who make time for me and are compassionate.
Most importantly I am a daughter, wife, and friend. Not just a competitive surfer.
Your family plays an integral part in the film. Did you have a hand in that?
CM: Absolutely. That was one of the things that became clear to me: the people that matter will always be there and love you no matter what. It doesn’t matter if I win or lose, my family will always be there to watch in the middle of the night while I’m competing somewhere across the world. Not having a successful few years really taught me to appreciate the people in my life that I hold close.
There’s a huge theme of love throughout the film. It sounds like it really internally motives you—would you agree?
CM: As cliche as it sounds, when you’re able to love yourself fully and completely you’re then able to share it with other people. I genuinely believe if we take more time for each other to share vulnerable moments, lift each other up, and love each other unconditionally it would be pretty cool to see what would happen.
Love is a theme that I’m constantly coming back to. If something feels good and comes from a place of love then that’s the right path for me.
Ben Thouard / Red Bull content pool photo.
Was this one of the reasons you created your non-profit Moore Aloha? To empower more women and share what you love with your community?
CM: Yeah! It’s a passion project of mine and it’s still pretty grassroots. Last year was the first big year for Moore Aloha, with three different events. Back at the beginning of the year I hosted a two-day camp on the North Shore of Oahu for 25 girls. Then I hosted a beginner’s day at the beach for roughly that same amount of girls during the summer. At the end of the year we hosted a small global exchange for four girls from Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. The whole goal was to bring girls together in and around the water so they could inspire and encourage each other.
Like it’s shown in the movie, the themes for the camps are to live authentically, to empower girls, to step outside their comfort zone, chase their dreams, and to take the time for others and the world around them.
Action sports as a whole have had to play catch up for women over the last two decades. What did you find challenging in the surf world as a young woman trying to compete?
CM: Oh it’s definitely come a long way. Surfing is still in some ways a male-dominated sport, but it was more so when I was younger. I was sometimes the only girl in the lineup when I was little. There were more than a few times I was told to go to a different spot simply because I was a girl. When I started competing on the Championship Tour there was definitely a big pay discrepancy and we weren’t given the same venues as the male surfers. The decision making made day-to-day was a bit unbalanced.
Now, after a decade of being on Tour, I couldn’t praise the WSL on how much they have progressed the sport for us. You know, we have pay equity and we are pretty much surfing at the same venues as the men. The decision making is fairer for daily decisions at contests. Before, when the conditions were good, they would put the men out and then let us surf when things were worse. That’s not happening as much anymore. Plus, seeing the support from the men on the tour too has meant a lot.
Do you think this is helping grow the next generation of female surfers?
CM: Absolutely! I can’t help but get excited because I’m seeing this boom of girls in the ocean. This past year WSL hosted these Rising Tides events, which were these girls surf sessions with the pro surfers on the Tour. It was offered up to the local groms at every stop of the Tour. Every place we hosted one at least 30-50 girls showed up. Even in locations like Bali, where there’s a huge cultural challenge for girls to be independent and get into the water—but there were even girls there breaking boundaries.
It’s so exciting. That wasn’t how it was for me.
I can imagine it’s been inspiring to witness all this change over the course of your career on the WSL
CM: It’s super inspiring. There are quite a few girls between the ages of 12 and 15 that are just blowing my mind. I think the future of women’s surfing is looking really bright. I better enjoy the next few years I have on the Tour because when they start competing they’ll be great competition.
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