Growing up in Honolulu, Carissa Moore spent many hours surfing Queens, the famous break at Waikiki. It was there, in the shadow of Diamondhead, that she rode her first waves and learned her first turns. And each time she surfed Queens, Moore passed by the nine-foot bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the beloved Hawaiian father of modern surfing, that stands at the entrance to Kuhio Beach. Though she knew who Kahanamoku was, the statue did not hold much meaning for her.

This past summer, Moore, 29, went back to that statue. She had recently become surfing's first Olympic champion, just over a hundred years after Kahanamoku dreamed of a surfing event in the Games. On her walk down to Queens, Moore carried with her flower leis, the Hawaiian symbol of love, respect, and Aloha. She went there with gratitude and with a deeper sense of connection with her Hawaiian heritage and all that Kahanamoku represented. She had come home.

Carissa Moore Carissa Moore in a homecoming celebration next to the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki. As a child, she knew who Kahanamoku was but the statue initially did not hold much meaning for her. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

In 2021 Moore had the season of her life. She began the year by winning the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Then she won in Australia at Newcastle, the Championship Tour's second stop after the start of the season in Hawaii. In a year where each women's Tour event saw a different winner, Moore never placed below the semifinals.

To cap the season - despite a determined challenge from Tatiana Weston-Webbat the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles - Moore won her fifth World Title. All that and she won surfing's first Olympic gold medal.

"After I won and I got to stand up on the podium and put the gold medal around my neck, it was a very fulfilling and satisfying moment," says Moore about her Olympic victory. "It felt like an accumulation of my whole life into one moment."

NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 9: Four-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii surfing in Heat 3 of the Quarterfinals of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 9, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Cait Miers/World Surf League via Getty Images) During the 2021 Rip Curl Newcastle Cup, Moore landed the biggest in-competition frontside air reverse by a woman. - WSL / Cait Miers

For most of her life, Moore has surfed. By age 5, she was riding her first waves at Queens. Her journey to a professional career began around the time she turned 12. She recalls telling her dad Chris on the way home from the beach one day that she wanted to be the best in the world. He backed her. Chris has coached her throughout her career.

Carissa grew up fast. By her early teens her dynamic style and progressive moves drew both attention and expectations. Competitive success came quickly. As a high school senior, Moore competed on the Championship Tour for the first time in 2010. She made her mark by winning two events and finishing third in the world. The following year, she captured her first World Title after winning three of the 2011 Tour's seven events. Even now, she remains the youngest surfer ever to win a title amongst the performance shortboard elite.

Moore made it look easy. In the lineup, she demonstrated confidence and focus. But out of the water, she fought for balance. She wanted to finish high school at Punahou, a private, co-ed prep school in Honolulu, the same one Barack Obama graduated from.

Pro surfing felt like a pressure cooker. The surf industry prized a tall, thin, blonde aesthetic, and Moore worried she didn't fit. Her body became the focus of her anxieties, and at the same time she celebrated her first big successes, Moore struggled with eating disorders.

The same drive that brought her early success sometimes made it difficult for her to keep her perspective. "I think that when I was a young teen, I was so focused on being perfect or trying to be perfect," she says now. "I was so hard on myself, that I sometimes lost the joy in it." By age 23, Moore had won three World Titles in a back-and-forth rivalry with Australia's Stephanie Gilmore.

"RISS" Steps Inside the Life of Carissa Moore

Now, ten years after her first World Title, Moore has gained confidence and resilience. She can better separate her sense of self from her results in the water, and she navigates the inevitable setbacks more smoothly. "Losing is never easy," she says. "But on this journey, you're going to lose more than you win." Moore credits her dad and her husband Luke Untermann for giving her essential support. Moore also works with a life coach and keeps a journal as she travels on Tour.

"I think I'm getting better at learning how to process the losses - instead of crawling into a deep, dark hole, it's more of a learning process," she says. "Just having that wisdom and grace and having the power and confidence to back yourself - that's taken me 29 years and I still feel like I'm figuring it out."

In the water, her willingness to keep learning has driven a continual evolution in Moore's surfing. At each stop on Tour, Moore works with different coaches to shape her surfing to the specific characteristics of each wave. The first few times she competed at Cloudbreak in Fiji, Moore recalls being scared of the hollow left, so she worked with 2001 World Champ C.J. Hobgood to improve her backside barrel riding. Checking off the boxes in her training reinforces Moore's confidence when it's time to surf her heats.

MAUI, UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 2: Three-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii wins her Fourth World Title at the 2019 Lululemon Maui Pro at Honolua Bay on December 2, 2019 in Maui, United States. (Photo by Cait Miers/WSL via Getty Images) With impeccable style in the barrel, Moore showcases her tube riding skills while competing at the 2019 lululemon Maui Pro at Honolua Bay. - WSL / Cait Miers

The progression in Moore's surfing was on full display when she won at Newcastle in 2021. Surfing against France's Johanne Defay in the quarterfinals, Moore landed the biggest in-competition air of her career. With just under seven minutes to go Moore was leading the heat, but Defay only needed a five to overtake her. It was not the time for Moore to cruise to victory.

In the punchy Newcastle beach break, Moore lofted a clean frontside air reverse. Her incandescent reaction made it clear how much the make meant to her. "I was like, did that just happen? OMG!" Standing on the inside, Defay celebrated along with Moore. "It's definitely something I've been trying to work towards my whole career," she says. "I've definitely done like, little airs and stuff, but that one actually felt like a legit one."

Carissa Moore Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games Finals July 27, 2021 Representing Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Carissa is chaired up the beach after winning surfing's first Gold Medal. - ISA/ Ben Reed

After winning the Newcastle event, Moore took over the lead in the world rankings. She dipped to second after Tatiana Weston-Webb stormed to victory in Australia's Margaret River, but a shocker at Australia's Rottnest Island bumped West out of the top spot. Moore's consistency kept her on top. "I had a theme for last year which was freedom and getting closer to performing more from a place of freedom and peace - and learning how to let go and surrender," says Moore. It seemed to work for her.

When Moore traveled to Tokyo for the Olympic Games in July, she was the top-ranked surfer in the world. She also brought with her a new perspective on what her Native Hawaiian heritage meant to her as a surfer. In 2019 her coach Duncan Scott had told Moore the story of how Kahanamoku had dreamed of a surfing event in the Olympics. How cool would it be for Moore as a Native Hawaiian to be part of Kahanamoku's dream coming true? Inspired, Moore set out to learn more about the legendary Hawaiian waterman.

"Not only was he this incredible waterman and Olympic swimming champion, but I learned how he treated people and how he really brought surfing to so many places around the world and shared our culture," she says. "I felt this extra sense of purpose going into the Olympics."

After the opening rounds of the Olympic event took place in small, clean conditions, Moore faced a wild, windswept lineup on finals day. The unruly conditions tested Moore's confidence and ability to adapt. She recalls losing priority during her semifinal heat against Amuro Tsuzuki with only seven points on the board. When Tsuzuki found one of the cleanest waves of the heat, Moore thought it was over. To her surprise, Tsuzuki fell. Just like that, Moore was right back in it.

KAPALUA, HI - DECEMBER 7: Four-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii winning Heat 3 of Round 1 of the Maui Pro presented by ROXY at Honolua Bay on December 7, 2020 in Kapalua, Hawaii. (Photo by Dayanidhi Das/World Surf League via Getty Images) 'Through this process of going to the Olympics and learning more about Duke and our history, I just felt more connected to my roots,' Moore says about her Hawaiian heritage. - WSL / Dayanidhi Das

When the hooter sounded on her final Olympic heat, Moore felt like so many things had come together for her. "Feeling confident enough to be there, a little bit more on my own, and back myself and my decision-making - I feel like it's taken me a really long time to get to a place where I could compete like that," she says. "That felt like a really beautiful moment."

On the world's biggest stage, Moore had poured all of her experience, passion, and energy into surfing her very best. She'd won surfing's first Olympic gold medal.

Bringing the gold home to Hawaii meant another beautiful moment for Moore. "Through this process of going to the Olympics and learning more about Duke and our history, I just felt more connected to my roots," she says. When she carried her leis to the Kahanamoku statue, that connection strengthened for her and Moore feels a new pride in her Hawaiian heritage and in her place in surfing history.

Moore's magical year was not done yet. Back on the Championship Tour, another test awaited her. To secure her fifth World Title, she needed to win the best of three heat showdown at the Rip Curl WSL Finals at California's Lower Trestles in September. "It was nerve-wracking," she says. The compressed, single-day format raised the stakes. Moore realized that she could lose a year's worth of work in a single 30-minute heat. "That's a scary thought, you know?"

SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA, USA - SEPTEMBER 14: Four-time WSL Champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii after surfing in the Title Match of the Rip Curl WSL Finals on September 14, 2021 at Lower Trestles, San Clemente, California. (Photo by Pat Nolan/World Surf League) Carissa Moore celebrates an incredible year, holding up her fifth World Title trophy after a win at the Rip Curl WSL Finals during the 2021 Championship Tour season. - WSL / Pat Nolan

And in fact, the World Title did come down to a single heat. Competing against a flaring Tatiana Weston-Webb, Moore lost the first heat in the final match. "I got to a point where I was one heat from losing the Title," she says. Moore won the second heat, which brought the match to a tie. She still had to paddle out one more time to win the Title. She couldn't let herself focus on the results. To win, Moore had to let go.

"I just had to be like, ‘hey, I'm going to go out there and surf my hardest. I'm going to surf my heart out,'" she recalls. "If I go out there and take myself out because I'm overthinking things, then I'm going to be upset. But if I go out and surf hard and I lose - that's okay."

In the early years of her career, Moore put herself under intense pressure to be perfect. Often, she rode a rollercoaster of emotions. These days, Moore has learned to keep it all in perspective. "Figuring out more of my identity and who I am outside of being a surfer has helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin and more confident in my decision-making." That confidence has made Moore a more formidable competitor.

Entering the 2022 season as the defending World Champion, Moore has her work cut out for her. A new class of rookies including Hawaii's Gabriela Bryan and Bettylou Sakura Johnson has entered the draw, and the women's Championship Tour includes events on the North Shore of Oahu at Pipeline and Sunset Beach.

And despite her success at Pipeline - earlier this month Moore went back-to-back as the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing champion, an accomplishment that requires top surfing at Pipeline and it's right-handed counterpart Backdoor - the break still makes Moore nervous.

Road To The Rip Curl WSL Finals: Carissa Moore Stares Down The Perfect Season
From a gold medal-winning performance in Japan to fronting the World Title race, Moore could make some very impressive history.

"It's a thumping wave and people get hurt out there all the time," she says. The peak shifts over the reef depending on swell direction, tide, and the ocean's whim. It requires time in the lineup to distinguish between the dreamy makeable barrels and the crushing closeouts. The crowded lineup doesn't help. Weighing risk against reward has often led Moore to pass on Pipe in favor of the North Shore's other waves. Now, she has to go for it.

"I'm kind of a worrywart," she says. "I'm always thinking about the worst possible scenario. The challenge is changing the narrative and focusing on, ‘what if I make it?' It's the wave of a lifetime."

This past winter Moore has put in more time at Pipeline. She may still be a worrywart, but in early January she scored a beautiful deep right-handed barrel at Backdoor as part of her Triple Crown campaign. Moore says she still has work to do on her backside barrel riding when going left. With Teahupo'o and G-Land on the Championship Tour this year - both hollow left-handers - she'll have plenty of opportunities to step beyond her comfort zone.

Moore welcomes the challenge. In her early years on tour, she often felt that women did not get to surf in the best conditions. "I was involved in some of the calls, and I was just heartbroken sometimes that we weren't given the same opportunities," she says. "If you give us a platform to shine, I really feel like the girls can step up." When she paddles out a Pipeline, Moore will have the chance to show the world exactly what she can do.

This past summer, if you had stood on the corner of Pensacola and King streets in downtown Honolulu, you would have seen an empty gray wall on the side of a high-rise building. These days, that wall looks quite different as artist Kamea Hadar has painted Moore and Kahanamoku together in brilliant color.

Duke and Carissa Moore A mural created by Kamea Hadar of Native Hawaiian Olympians Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku on a building in Honolulu, Hawaii. - Yoshi Tanaka

The mural spans 12 stories. Both Hawaiians wear their Olympic gold medals. Moore looks off into the distance with a bright yellow hibiscus flower in her hair and the Hawaiian flag wrapped around her shoulders. When she first saw it, Moore got the chills.

"I would never imagine being painted next to one of my heroes, one of my role models, one of the legends of our sport - that's kind of heavy!" says Moore. "But if it can help to inspire the next generation that anything is possible if you do it with love, that's pretty cool."

When she mentors young girls, Moore tells them to dream big. She certainly has. Moore has won five World Titles and an Olympic gold medal. And she's not done yet. Moore still believes she can get better. Right now, it's backside barrels and bigger airs. What comes next, she isn't entirely sure - and that's okay.

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