Carissa Moore, the Surfer who Loves Lists—and Ticking the Boxes
© Ben Thouard / Red Bull Content Pool
Record breaker. Trailblazer. Carissa Moore has four World Champion titles to her name, scores of wins and has been setting the waves alight with her skill, style, power and grace for over 10 years.
From being the youngest winner of the Triple Crown of Surfing at just 16 years old to becoming the first woman to win entry to the Men’s Triple Crown of Surfing in 2011, Carissa Moore has incredible talent and determination, but also an open, reflective and sharing aspect to her nature.
With 2021 set to be a huge year for surfing with Tokyo on the horizon, Moore reflects on the journey that’s taken her to where she is now, how experience has taught her to draw strength from within and how important giving back has become to her.
When you first got into surfing, what was it about the sport that drew you?
In the beginning, what really had me coming back was my dad, and spending time with him. I started surfing when I was five, and it was something that we always did together. It wasn’t until I was 10 or 12 years old that I think I fell in love with the challenge of it. That’s when I really enjoyed goal-setting and working towards stuff and actually competing. But in the beginning it was just the pure joy of spending time with my dad and riding waves together.
I’m definitely in the place now where I feel a certain connection to the ocean
What about that feeling of being out in the ocean?
I do really love getting in the ocean every day—I always feel better after getting my gills wet.
I’m definitely in the place now where I feel a certain connection to it. When you’re in a heat and you need a wave, but it’s completely flat, and there’s only a minute left, but you just know that somethings coming. I think that’s a connection that you only make over time.
And it’s so many different things to me. It can be challenging, it can be frustrating, it’s caused me a lot of anguish at times, but then it’s also brought me so much joy, so much peace, and given me incredible opportunities. It’s been the constant. No matter what happens in life, whatever I’m going through, the ocean has always been there to guide me.
Could you pick out a significant moment from your surfing?
Definitely! My win in Maui in 2018. I had a few years where I was in this weird place in my career; I felt a little bit out of tune with myself both personally and professionally. I hadn’t won a world title in three years, but I was finally starting to find my feet again.
In this final, the waves were as good as it gets and the pressure was off, the World Title was already decided. There was this moment where I was just at peace with everything. I was at peace with the end of a part of my journey and the beginning of a new one, coming to terms with who I am as a person and what makes me happy and what success looks like for me. I ended up scoring a perfect 10 in that heat and winning the event in these perfect conditions.
That was a big defining moment for me. I remember the whole heat; the waves, and I remember there was just this freedom within myself, and that’s where I strive to compete and live from.
Carissa Moore – free and flaring
What work do you do to get to that point?
It’s something that I’m just starting to scratch the surface of. In the past, the moments of being in the zone came from pressure from outside, so it would come from a coach or it would come from a competitive scenario.
I realized that’s where I want to compete from, so how do I create that for myself? I work with a mental coach, and work through a lot of personal stuff so when I get in the water, everything’s pretty simple - I’m just doing what I train every day to do.
How do you manage the pressures of competing at a high level?
I have to admit I still struggle with it, and I find myself regressing to bad habits and thought patterns a lot. I still find myself comparing, I still find myself hungry for the results or for people to say "Oh you're doing great, Carissa, you're the best!"
But I just have to constantly check in with myself, and be like ‘Hey okay, all that stuff’s nice, but what really matters are those quality people that really believe in me and that have stuck with me through those ups and downs’. Those are the opinions that matter. And outside of surfing, thinking about what I’m doing to fulfill my purpose and contribute to society, make it a better place—things I can feel good about.
I never really have a set schedule; I honestly don't know where I'll be this afternoon or tomorrow morning
What does a typical day of training might look like for you?
Training is very weather and swell dependent. I never really have a set schedule; I honestly don't know where I'll be this afternoon or tomorrow morning. I wake up, check the conditions and then figure out where the best place would be to train.
On a good day I'll surf from four to six hours at the most. I usually get up pretty early—I like rising around 5:30 to 6:00 [a.m.]—then I drive to the beach. I’m usually in the water from 7:00 to 9:30. Then I'll usually meet my online trainer and we’ll do an hour training session at the park. Then I’ll come home and rest, and then, if the waves are good, I’ll head back to the beach for an afternoon session around 3:30 to 5:30.
On a not-so-good day, I’ll surf maybe 45 minutes to an hour, I’ll do a training session and then just go skateboarding with my husband and dogs and do normal stuff.
Do you have a specific focus for training out of the ocean—strength, mobility or a mix?
As a surfer I feel like you have to be well-rounded, so my trainer and I are always mixing it up. I love good, hard cardio workouts so we do a lot of circuit training, but stability is probably the most frustrating for me. We do agility, endurance cardio and strength, but we don’t use a lot of weight, mostly just bodyweight.
Pilates has been for injury prevention so that I can improve some of the foundational imbalances that I have and keep myself healthy, so I can keep doing what I love.
I find a lot of satisfaction and purpose from—I call it "checking my boxes"—so going to the gym or going for my surf or doing the laundry
Are you naturally keen to train, or do you sometimes struggle to motivate yourself?
Oh for sure! Not every day is a great day. Not every day do I want to get off the couch or out of bed.
I think the motivation has changed over time, but I just love the pursuit of trying to be the best at something. I find a lot of satisfaction and purpose from—I call it "checking my boxes"—so going to the gym or going for my surf or doing the laundry. I love checking my boxes, it makes me feel good.
It sounds like you’re a list-maker?
Yes! Yes, very much so.
You mentioned that you work on the mental side of things too. Is that with a sports psychologist?
Yeah, he does have a sports psychology background. I would say that he would label himself more as a mental coach, or a life coach. He definitely has helped with certain things that help with sports specific moments, but I've been very fortunate that my dad has a swimming background and so from a very young age he’s shared with me some of the techniques he's used.
I think one of the biggest things I've learned recently is striving to be present. Worrying about what happened in the past or trying to control what’s out of your control in the future—that’s just a waste of energy.
There are different techniques that I use. For one, I talk to myself rationally, so I’m like 'hey this is just a waste of energy’. I usually say ‘stop’, which totally changes the chain of thought, because you're now focusing on the word stop. I take a couple of deep breaths, I’ll use rational thinking, I’ll sometimes think of positive imagery so a moment that makes me really happy—that usually calms me down—and then I say ‘right here, right now’ and that’s all I have control over. That’s it! And you gotta just try and let go.
People probably see me talking to myself and I probably look crazy!
You’ve mentioned the importance of having supportive people around you.
Yeah, I’m very lucky! I have an incredible support team and a very tight knit group of people, including my dad and my husband especially. No matter what happens and no matter the result, these people are always going to love me and they're always going to be there, and that’s a very comforting thought. They’re also a really good balance of being strict, but also being a good distraction. I think it’s important to check out, you can’t be thinking about it 24/7. When it’s time to turn it on and go hard, it’s time, but there are other times to have fun and go and enjoy what you’re doing.
Do they ever say, "No, we’re not talking about surfing now, we’re going to go and do something different?"
Oh yes! That’s mostly my husband, but I’m glad I have him there saying those things otherwise my dad and I could go on and on about it all day.
I really enjoy watching Netflix and chilling with my husband and my dogs, or skateboarding, or taking a sunset walk on the beach.
What does it mean for surfing to become an Olympic sport?
Oh my gosh, it’s huge! It's a really big moment for surfing. The Olympics wasn’t ever really on my radar as a young girl as it didn't seem like a possibility, so it was only when it became a reality a couple of years ago that it became something I wanted to strive for. In the 10 years that I've been competing on the Championship Tour, I've seen so much progression of the sport and it's just great to see surfing rise to that Olympic level, to be appreciated on that stage and to be taken to a broader audience. It's a really special sport, and I think just by tuning in and watching it I think you’ll be able to feel it.
By sharing your stories you're opening up your heart.
What do the OIympics mean to you?
I’m so excited! What an opportunity to be a part of history! It's bigger than just a contest; it's about sportsmanship, it's about the stories that are created there, it's about representing your country and where you’re from, meeting new people and bridging those gaps that we may have. It's a place we can escape to and forget our differences and the things that keep us apart and finally come together through sport.
You’ve talked about making the world better by sharing stories. What do you mean by that?
I think the people I personally really looked up to—and the people who have inspired me—are the people who have been able to let their guard down and be vulnerable, and have shared what they've been through. By sharing your stories, you're opening up your heart.
We’re all human, we all go through very similar things, and I think that in vulnerability we can find strength and by sharing our stories and experiences we can move forward, stronger, together.
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