Adam Baidawi

Smashing Through Ceilings

Carissa Moore, surfing’s golden child

Carissa Moore was there again. On the brink. Inches away from undisputed greatness. Sure, she’d been here before — at 18, she became surfing’s youngest ever world champion — but this visit was different.

Ask anyone. Ask LeBron, ask Maria Sharapova, hell, ask the president: the second is always harder.

Sometimes, the only thing harder than going up is staying up.

Home and Heart

It started with a push. And a tumble. Carissa Moore was four or five: the tomboy with a raspy voice. Her father Chris plunged her into the waters of Waikiki Beach. There, surrounded by the South Shore’s stoic mountains and palm trees and towering resorts, Carissa Moore hopped on her first mushy waves. Since then father and daughter and surfing have been intertwined. For Carissa Moore, technique and heart are never too distant from each other.

Nobody had doubt. Carissa – as young as she was – was a natural. She had miles of potential. Surfing became the foundation of her life, especially after her parents divorced when she was 10. “I ended up not surfing for half of the time. I’d only surf when I was with my dad,” she says. They’d catch a few waves and chill on the sand. They’d hang out and enjoy the beach, but really, they’d enjoy being with each other.
Carissa Moore Video

the tricky critic

Chris Moore was always a tricky critic: big, stoic, sparing with compliments. “That’s why I’m really hard on myself,” Moore grins. “My dad has a huge heart, but it’s hard to get him really excited.” Chris Moore was certain of what his daughter was capable of – and motivated her to chase it, the way brilliant parents can. He was a fierce competitor himself, a former ocean swimmer. Better than most, he knew what being the best demanded.

They were always close, but their relationship was different on the water. There, father and daughter could share things, trade thoughts; dream of the future in a way you can’t really do on the shore. “We’ve gotten so close. He’s my best friend. He’s my coach. He tells me stuff nobody else wants to tell me – he’s the reason why I push myself so hard,” she says. “He’s never let me sell myself short.”

"Hey, I want to be one of the best surfers in the world.”

Carissa Moore, 12 years old

Passion to obsession

And so the Moore’s routine started to take shape; it became more lifestyle than habit. Chris would get up first, around 5, 5:30. Whenever Carissa surfaced, they’d cook some breakfast, Moore style: maple syrup on eggs. (Yep, another thing Carissa picked up from her father.) They’d chat in the car and hit the surf for a few hours.

Hawaiians, of course, are spoiled for choice: the small mushy waves on the south side, the big powerful beasts on the north. The Moore’s morning routine became so ingrained that it was tough to shake, despite whatever else was going on in Carissa’s life. Passion was becoming obsession. She’d be the girl rocking up to classes with wet, salty beach hair. The girl who’d leave at dawn the morning after a sleepover, ready to shred the first good waves of the day.

Surfing or nothing

For the young Hawaiian – who, by the way, was always a hell of a student – surfing wasn’t just appealing, it was magnetic.
“I was maybe 12 years old, and I remember saying to my dad, ‘Hey, I want to be one of the best surfers in the world.’”
“Dad said, ‘Hey, you want to be the best? There are all these girls that are going to be surfing more than you. You’re going to have to use the time that you do have wisely,’” explains Moore.

“From a very young age, I learned how to appreciate my time in the water. Working hard. I really enjoyed it – I loved working hard. It cleansed my soul.” Once she knew the path to her dream, she made every sacrifice to chase it. She trained between classes. She missed her senior prom (“My poor boyfriend had to go stag”). She, ultimately, passed up a college education to chase something more elusive – more ultimate.
“I was all about surfing,” she smiles.

“You’re working with Mother Nature.”

Carissa Moore

Soon, Red Bull saw this too, and began working with 16-year-old Moore to take her emerging talent to an elite level. “They asked me: what are your dreams? What are your goals? We want to help you achieve them.” They helped her work with world-class surfing coaches, travel to amazing coasts, and build a routine for Moore to grow into. “It’s crazy. Way back when, surfers were looked at as people who just hung out at the beach all day,” says Moore. “Now, surfers are athletes. Everyone has a nutritionist. Everyone has a physical trainer. A physio. Everyone has surfing coaches. Everyone has a support team behind them.”

“Honestly? It’s is one of the most underestimated sports in the world." You’re not learning with a constant ramp, when you’re learning maneuvers – like skateboarding or snowboarding. You’re working a wave that’s different every single time. You’re working with Mother Nature.” So, the teenage Moore set out for her rookie professional year. “I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to go out there, surf with 16 other girls and have a blast,’” she shrugs.

“I was in for a rude awakening.”