Leading Women: World Surf Champion Carissa Moore Says To Follow Your Heart
Reading time: 5 minutes
By Carissa Moore
Growing up in Hawaii, I idolized amazing women surfers like Melanie Bartels, Megan Abubo, Rochelle Ballard, Keala Kennelly. These women were charging big waves, traveling the world and breaking boundaries in what has long been a male-dominated sport. Their success was proof to me and thousands of other young girls across the world that becoming a professional female surfer was really possible.
Now that I'm entering my 10th year competing professionally in the World Championship Tour of Surfing, I've learned a lot about what it takes to follow in your heroes' footsteps. March is Women's History Month, so it's a perfect time to celebrate and support women and girls with big goals—I've got a few lessons I'd like to share about how to follow your dreams and never give up, no matter what undercurrents come your way.
When I was four or five years old, I remember my dad helping push me to my first wave at Waikiki Beach. Back then, spending time in the water was just something fun we did together. It wasn't until I was 12 that I talked seriously with him about my goals and dreams of surfing. He asked how far I wanted to go. I told him I wanted to be one of the best in the world.
Through hard work, dedication and more than a few scrapes and bruises, I've gone on to win the Women's World Tour Championship three times, and I'm also proud to be the first woman to have earned a wildcard entry into the Men's Triple Crown of Surfing, in 2011. I've achieved these things by dreaming big and putting in hard work, day after day, to make those dreams come true. You can do the same!
Everyone falls down sometimes, even the pros.
The first step to success is to keep getting up. Watch YouTube clips of professional surfers, and you'll see lots of amazing slow-motion footage of graceful carves and barrels, and it all looks so unattainable. But believe me: I fall down all the time. I've wiped out in heavy surf so many times I can't even count—hundreds of times, maybe thousands. But each time I fall, I learn something. And then I get back up. Be resilient and unafraid to make mistakes, because reaching your goals wouldn't be as sweet if you didn't have obstacles to overcome. Embrace that process of failing and learning and pushing forward, and you'll achieve amazing things.
Not all of my challenges have been in the ocean. I tend to think of myself primarily as a surfer, not necessarily as a woman surfer. But it's impossible to ignore that surfing professionally as a woman comes with additional challenges. Progress toward gender equality takes time in any industry and surfing is no different. I've experienced biased decision-making at events, weird situations about whether men versus women get to go out on the water, depending on the weather conditions; and so on.
My response has always been about finding ways to adapt and flow. You have to be able to see every day as just the best day ever, despite the obstacles that may come your way.
Fortunately, over the past 10 years of being on tour, I've seen tremendous improvements for women. We've gotten better venues in which to perform, more fair day-to-day rulings from competition judges, and 2019 is the first year that the World Surf League will award equal prize money to both women and men. This is amazing progress! Every year, women are gaining more and more respect in the water.
Find ways to give back to your community.
I've wanted to find ways of supporting the cause myself, and so I've created a mentorship program to meet up with girls once or twice a week to go surfing. My nonprofit organization, Moore Aloha, aims to use surfing as a platform to bring young women together. I want us all to support and lift up one another, and share our stories, so young women can be inspired to be conscious, mindful and compassionate individuals. We just hosted our first girls' surf camp in January, and we're hosting a global exchange at the end of this year.
For me, one of the biggest benefits of this program is how it's passed along a ripple effect of love in the local community and encouraged a new generation of women to be ambassadors of aloha. All the girls that become involved with Moore Aloha are encouraged to give back in their own ways, on their own time, such as through another nonprofit like Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii or Waves for Water. Moore Aloha is small right now, but it's growing, and I'm really excited and proud of this program, and the opportunity to give back.
Recognize and appreciate the supporters who have lifted you up.
I really value the act of supporting and helping out the people around you, because I myself have been the beneficiary of incredible support. I wouldn't be where I am today without the people around me. It's so important to have that one person—and I think everybody has a person like this in their lives in one form or another—who believes in you, maybe more than you even believe in yourself. Having my dad and my family believe in my potential and encourage my journey has really kept me from looking back or giving up. I've had doubts along the way, for sure, but they've always been like, "You got this!"
No matter where you find success, you will find sacrifice. And a lot of times it's the ones closest to you who make the biggest sacrifices. My husband is one of my biggest supporters, and comes with me on tour when he can, but between events, our home base is Honolulu. It's hard to be away from each other so much, and that's a tough sacrifice we've both had to make. But we understand that this is how I make my living for now, and that it's not always going to be this way. We're two people who really love and care about each other and we make it work.
If I had to give one last piece of advice to young women with big dreams, I would say, follow your heart. If you really want something, no matter how ambitious, don't be afraid to take a leap of faith to pursue it. You've got so much talent and potential, and the best way to unlock that is to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. You might run into setbacks and critics, but keep your eyes on the goal, lean on your supporters, and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Carissa Moore is a professional surfer from Hawaii, and the 2011, 2013 and 2015 champion of the World Surfing League Women's World Tour.
Photos: Ryan Miller/Red Bull Content Pool; Trevor Moran / Red Bull Content Pool; Jake Marote/Red Bull Content Pool