Carissa Moore rode her first wave at 4 years old, pushed by her father into one of those perfect little peelers the south shore of Oahu is famous for. Barely a toddler, she stood steadfast in a straight line toward the iconic mountains and concrete of Honolulu where she was born and raised. But in some ways, Moore is still riding that wave decades later and still feeling the push of her father who has stood by her every step of the way. That connection to his guiding hand and to the waves of her home still plays an integral part in her life and career. That one push into that one wave propelled the Hawaiian regular foot onto a trajectory that very well may redefine women’s professional surfing. For sure, the half-pint with the goliath talent has already raised the amateur bar so high that many male competitors’ heads are still spinning. Jack Shipley, one of surfing’s longest working professional judges calls Carissa Moore, “the future of the sport.” She’s cashed the largest check ever in women’s pro surfing, as a teen signed with global beasts Nike and Target, and won a world title on her first serious attack on the tour. So while we reminisce on the plethora of Carissa Moore’s teenage accomplishments and ruminate on the even more mind-bending treasures that await her in adulthood, let’s not forget that it all started with one push into one wave.
Born August 27, 1992 in Honolulu, Carissa Moore was already being praised for her “balance and movement” at 2. She began surfing at 4 and was competing by 6. Her father, a competitive swimmer and occasional ironman participant, stepped into an immediate and powerful coaching role in his baby girl’s surfing life. However, when Carissa’s parents divorced when she was 12, the dichotomy that grew from her father’s intense surf tutelage and her mother’s urging away from surfing and towards academics and more “girly” interests would help her add dimension to an evolving persona. Her interests would broaden beyond that of the average provincial pro surfer. Already signed with women’s surfing leader Roxy, Moore was turning heads internationally in both video and print coverage that highlighted her utter dominance of the amateur circuit. She would go on to become the NSSA’s most decorated athlete ever with 11 National titles.
By 2004, Moore was named Surfer Magazine’s “Breakthrough Performer of the Year,” and she took the top spot at the Billabong Junior Pro. But beating the girls wasn’t enough. In 2006, she won the Rip Curl Grom Search U14 boys division against Hawaii’s best young male surfers. And proving it no fluke, she did it again at 14 in the U16 division of the Quiksilver King of the Groms. The next year, she was the youngest ever finalist at the Roxy Pro and was for a brief moment runner-up in the world rankings. In 2008, she was the youngest competitor and youngest ever winner of the 6-Star WQS Reef Hawaiian Pro held at Haleiwa. Keep in mind, Carissa Moore was only 15 years old. Think for moment: What were you doing at 15? The same year, in a bold move that later would become a trend for many of the sport’s biggest stars like Kolohe Andino and Julian Wilson, Moore jumped ship from Roxy and signed with non-surfing juggernauts Target, Nike, and Red Bull to become the sports best paid female. The move sent shockwaves through the industry, but signaled a shift in the industry’s corporate power base. Carissa Moore was right in the thick of it.
With the weight of the world on her shoulders, she said, “I would like to be a professional surfer. But mostly, I just want to have fun. When I catch a good wave, I get really, really excited. I feel really good.” It was an attitude that was paying off as Surfer Magazine identified her as one of 2009’s most influential surfers. The same year, she bested legend Layne Beachley to go on to win both the Reef Hawaiian Pro and the Vans Triple Crown. Meanwhile, she was still keeping up with her studies at prestigious Punahou High School.
In 2009, she began her first ASP World Tour assault. A major threat throughout the year, Moore finished in 3rd place due to her skipping one event in order to graduate high school. However, she still managed to garner “Rookie of the Year” honors along the way. The following year, newly graduated Moore was free to surf without any encumbrances, but she had to grapple with Aussie Steph Gilmore at the height of her powers. Cut to the final event of the year and the fruition of that one push from dad and countless waves at Kewalos and countless colored jerseys, air horns, and board bags: Carissa Moore was the 2011 World Champion.
Although Moore admitted to a certain “depression” she felt after winning the trophy that has been the culmination of a surfing life started at 4 years old, she also revels in all the spoils of trucks, homes, and travel that come from it. All from that one push from a father who knew the potential in a little girl. And from all the pushes that followed, Moore says, “We’re best friends, we’re travel partners, he’s my coach. It’s neat! Sometimes it can get complicated…sometimes I hear my dad and I think he’s not satisfied with me.” However, no one can argue the results of a successful and seemingly well-adjusted young woman who very well may transcend the sport of surfing. But while it’s still early to assess her historical effect on performance, her dad must nonetheless be proud. And when all the waves have been ridden and all the trophies won, it’s safe to assume a dad wants nothing else but to hear what she told Surfline: “There’s no person I’d rather share that with than my dad. “ You can almost hear his hoot still reverberating from that first push and that first wave. Great ride, Carissa!