Headphones on, trunks still damp from her heat, Carissa Moore paced, alone, in a corner of the locker room. Outside, hundreds of people lined the cliffs of Maui’s Honolua Bay, watching the waves below to see which of two women -- Australian Stephanie Gilmore or American Caroline Marks -- would win the quarterfinal face-off in progress.
For the fans, it was an exciting matchup of top surfers competing for the 2019 World Surf League Champion Title. But for Moore, the stakes could not have been higher as she was aiming to be a four time champ.
As the final minutes ticked down, contest media began to gather at the lockers, poised for a reaction. Moore put her hands on her head and looked down, bracing herself. Camera shutters clicked in quick succession. In this makeshift, windowless corner on Maui, the tension was palpable.
Finally, the last score was announced. Moore paused, absorbing. And then: Her arms shot into the air. The group erupted into cheers. Marks had lost. Moore, triumphant, was a champion, once again.
RISS. A Film about More Love with Carissa Kainani Moore will be available on May 11th on Red Bull TV. The new film follows her journey in 2019 and captures the year leading up to that moment with a steady gaze, offering an intimate look at one the sport’s most iconic athletes. Divided into three vignettes, the 40-minute feature is both tender and playful, and celebrates a comeback that was the culmination of years of emotional searching and hard-won personal strides.
In a recent conversation about the film and her journey there, Moore described what some of that process was like. “It’s taken me a while to realize that I’m not my results,” she said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life, I’ve always been chasing results and other people’s validation. And this year, I think it was finally like, ‘No, none of that matters. I’m a daughter, I’m a sister. I’m a friend, I’m a wife.’”
A surfing phenom who was winning contests almost as soon as she could paddle, Moore qualified for the world tour in 2010, and quickly became a fixture at the top of the rankings. She won her third world title in 2015, but in the years that followed, the wins came less easily. For the next three seasons, as other women rose in the ranks and dominated the top spots on tour, Moore was struggling to find her footing.
Her outward struggle for competitive rhythm was a reflection of her internal battle for a sense of self. “It takes a lot of work, especially when I felt like I was in a three-year funk and just not flowing,” she said. “I hit -- not rock bottom, but I guess you could say that. I hit a pretty low point. For me that was a pretty defining moment where I thought ‘OK, things have to change.’ That was that inspiration to make that daily commitment to start changing the way that I looked at things."
On a tour where athletes are on the road up to 11 months of the year and every minute of every contest is streamed live around the world, the pressure can be profound. “There are a lot of different things coming at you, every single day,” Moore said. “Trying to mold you into something that you’re not. I think that it’s difficult to just be yourself and have that inner sanctum. To think, ‘No, I’m good enough, just the way I am.’ And to know that the right people will appreciate that."
With its mix of up-close interview footage, contest clips and stylized non-sequiturs, RISS captures that turning point for Moore, and how her season unfolded as a result. There’s sepia-toned footage from when she was a little tot, telling the camera that she wants to be a pro surfer, and impromptu jam sessions with some of her crew on tour.
The film, directed by Peter Hamblin, captures the range of moments that make up tour life. He threads together intimate snippets of interviews with Moore at different points in the season with bright, stylized graphics and a wink-wink narrator who speaks directly to the viewer. The film’s three vignettes have a few cameos interspersed, and focuses on three themes: following one’s dreams, being authentic, and giving back.
Outside of competition, Moore and her father launched a new non-profit called Moore Aloha, which aims to inspire and empower the next generation of female surfers. Some of the cuter scenes involve her tribe of tiny future chargers, some of whom might be competing themselves one day.
RISS, though, is designed to be more than the sum of its parts. After the hard yards of rediscovering a sense of identity that’s not directly tethered to competitive success, the movie is also a kind of celebration, ushering in a new phase of Moore’s life. Yes, her motivation is still inextricably tied to her passion for surfing but, the film shows how she has happily shed some of the external expectations that can go along with a life in the spotlight.
Part of what allowed Moore to discover a renewed authenticity was a commitment to making a more positive mindset a daily practice. She started with the little things: Instead of focusing on what scores she wanted at an event, for example, in 2019 she set specific performance goals. Maybe a heat didn’t go her way, but her maneuvers did. In that process, not only did Moore find greater happiness, but also the freedom to surf her best.
That sense of freedom comes through on film, not only in drool-worthy surf parts, but also in goofier scenes and edits designed for fun. In one segment, a conversation between Moore and her coach filmed from afar is dubbed to make it sound like they’re discussing the merits of ice cream instead of heat strategy. In another interlude, Moore and her sister, Cayla, are dressed in rococo costumes -- think Marie Antoinette -- and dance on a set.
Beyond the occasional costume shoot, Moore’s family is a rock in the truest sense: By her side, in person and across the ocean, with a connection that radiates off the screen. Her inner sanctum, she said, includes her husband, Luke Untermann, and her father, Chris. Untermann, who traveled with her to a number of tour stops last year, is a reliable presence on screen, ready to dance with his wife to celebrate a win or open his arms for a post-heat hug.
There are also small, tender moments that underscore Moore’s bond with her dad. At one point in the film, just after winning the Roxy Pro France, Moore -- still dripping wet -- sits down on a set of stairs to call her dad. As people rush back and forth around her, Chris picks up the phone in Hawaii, where it’s the middle of the night. Yes, he watched her. Yes, he’s proud of her. And yes, he loves her. Amid the hundreds of cheering fans, whirlwind celebration on stage and well-wishers patting her shoulder, the thing that matters most is a call home.
As a whole, Moore said, RISS exceeded her expectations. “Peter’s done a very good job of taking a genuine, real look into who I am, as a person,” she said. Their goal together was to make a film that deviated from standard surf fare and had its own feel entirely -- at a time when the world has been turned on its head, she hopes it’s an escape.
Most of all, though, RISS is something of a high-energy, self-aware time capsule and cinematic party. It’s Moore as a young woman, defining who she is now, and becoming the person she wants to be: someone who is a four-time world champion. But also a real person, who’s “perfectly imperfect,” as she says.
And that is just the kind of person Moore looks up the most, she said. That is, “the ones that are the most vulnerable and aren’t afraid to share their trials and tribulations and the challenges. And to acknowledge that they don’t have it together, because to me that’s the most relatable.” People, said Moore, like Mick Fanning, who makes time to talk, no matter how many world titles may be on his mantle (three, for the record). Michelle Obama, who’s strong and poised and empowering. And Karlie Kloss, who’s defining a modeling career on her own terms, bucking the idea of what that means.
In RISS, Moore is reveling in the life that she has defined for herself, through the trials and the triumphs. “Because we all have our things that we go through,” she said. “And it’s hard to show people that sometimes. We all want to have it together.”