Carissa Moore has established herself as a powerhouse in women's surfing, a world champ who's not afraid to compete against the guys.
When she was five years old, Carissa Moore started surfing with her dad off the beaches of Waikiki in her native Honolulu, Hawaii. “He loves the ocean and he wanted to share that passion with me,” Carissa says. “By the time I was 12, we had a more serious conversation, saying, ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work, but I also knew it would be really fun.”
She started collecting wins at NSSA junior surf competitions and top spots at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships, where she helped Hawaii win a team victory. In all, she clinched a record 11 NSSA amateur titles, and at age 16 in 2008, she became the youngest champion at a Triple Crown of Surfing event when she won the Reef Hawaiian Pro.
In 2010, Carissa qualified for her first season on the ASP World Tour, now called the World Surf League. In that debut season, she won two major contests, finished third overall and was named Rookie of the Year. Not bad for a 17-year-old newbie.
“That first year was a bit of a shock,” she recalls. “I didn’t expect all the challenges I had to face. It was hard to adapt to new waves and I missed home. It was a learning curve, but I started to find a place for myself.”
The following season, Carissa was a youngster to watch on the World Tour and she lived up to her reputation, winning three events and claiming her first World crown, unseating four-time defending champ Stephanie Gilmore in the process. At 18, she became the youngest person – male or female – to win a surfing world title.
Never one to turn down a challenge, that year Carissa also became the first woman to compete in Oahu’s Triple Crown of Surfing, typically an all-male event featuring the world’s best surfers.
Carissa took top World Tour honours again in 2013 and 2015. Then, after three quick titles within five years, finishing off the top step of the podium in both 2016 and 2017 required a certain mental adjustment, but she sees it as part of the journey.
“I’m definitely performance driven, so I’m always wanting to improve. Every year I’m learning lessons, transforming as a person and as an athlete,” Carissa says. “My goal is still to do well on the Tour – and a big objective is to compete out of a place where it’s not a roller coaster of emotions. I’ve learned a lot about how to lose and how to pick myself back up when things aren’t working.”
Returning to her best form impressively in 2019, Carissa surfed to victory at Jeffreys Bay and Hossegor on her way to a memorable fourth World Surf League title after a four-year gap. She also went on to secure her place on the 2021 USA Olympic surf team.
As ever, Carissa’s biggest supporters are her family, including her longtime love Luke Untermann. The couple married in 2017. “Getting married hasn’t made day-to-day life that much different, but there’s another level of commitment and content. It’s been awesome."
Carissa has been named an Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic, a Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine and Top Female Surfer in the SURFER magazine poll (numerous times). She was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame at just 21 years of age, and the State of Hawaii declared January 4 to be Carissa Moore Day.
She's also put out impressive video parts and media appearances, including countless web edits and segments, and she starred in a documentary, Riss, that focused on body image issues. The high-profile athlete hopes she can inspire others.
“I want to leave a message that I love surfing and I get to do what I love, but I’ve also gone through a lot of challenges,” Carissa says. “I want other girls to know I understand what they’re going through. I want to empower women to believe in themselves and do what they love.”
Recently, Carissa founded a charity that offers girls opportunities to learn about surfing and much more.
“We’re starting with a small mentorship program at home. The goal is to give back and encourage them to be strong, beautiful, confident young women – and also to give back in turn,” she explains. “Eventually we hope to do it on a bigger scale, like an exchange program with girls coming from all over. I think that’s how you can really make the world better, by sharing your stories.”