Hawai‘i’s World Champion Surfer Carissa Moore Wants You to Feel More Love and Aloha. Her First Film Shows What That Looks Like
Our very own Olympics rep and champion’s “RISS: A Film About More Love,” is giddy, heartfelt, intimate and family friendly—perfect for these trying times. Join Moore for a Q&A as it debuts on Facebook Thursday, or stream it on The Red Bull Channel starting Monday.
“Right now, I should be in El Salvador,” says Carissa Moore, her dogs barking in agreement—or is it disapproval? “I’d be competing in the mandatory International Surfing Association Games in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.”
Instead, the current (and four-time!) world champion and U.S. Olympic Games representative is at home in Pālolo and rolling phone calls with media to promote her first film. Her dogs, Puffy and Maya, “they’re just mutts,” sit in on the call like perfect little publicists. RISS: A Film About More Love debuts Thursday, May 7 on Refinery 29’s Facebook page at 9 a.m. HST before streaming on redbull.com starting Monday, May 11. At one point, “Moore Aloha” appears on a sign in the film by Peter Hamblin. It seems as good a tagline as the film’s subtitle. The movie is a joyful surprise—like Moore herself in the often arduous, emotional world of pro athletics. She, and the film, are beaty and bouncy, so filled with music that life feels like a get-up-and-dance hoedown at times. Which makes it the perfect surf video for those lockdown low moments. (We were having ours before screening it; we’re much better now, thanks.)
The film gives us Moore as she is on the beaches of her tours, where young people surround her, particularly young girls. She always seems to be returning the love: glowing, sometimes goofy and always present. Not discussed, but present for all watching, is what’s next in a world of uncertainty. “I’m slightly disappointed the Olympics is not happening this year but very grateful it’s still happening and I’m still on the team,” she says.
But after she won her third title in 2015, there was a dark time. The film starts with her saying, we’re not going there. But I have to ask: What happened?
“There were a few years when my mindset and perspective was a little off,” she says. “I was looking at things from a negative space, taking things for granted, chasing for the wrong reason. Last year I reconnected with my passion and my purpose. I just felt more connected to being who I am. After that, things fell into place.”
Falling into place doesn’t describe her scintillating run that began July 9, 2019 in South Africa, where she won her first World Surf League event of the year at Jeffreys Bay. From there to the next-to-last contest, she held the yellow jersey signifying No. 1. What changed? “A lot of it was mental. I started being a lot more grateful. Just stoked. Looking at life in a more positive way instead of getting down on myself.”
But a loss in Portugal prevented her from clinching the title and she entered the last contest in Maui locked in a three-way race with fellow Americans Lakey Peterson and Caroline Marks—not just for the world title but the two Olympic slots. That’s when, as the film notes, gratitude repaid gratitude: Both Peterson and Marks were knocked out in heats before they even got to Moore, who heard the news, tears streaming down her face, in a darkened locker room.
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It’s these moments of authenticity that bind the loopy, bouncy portions of RISS together into an understanding of what makes Moore go: flow. And authenticity is one of the main subjects of the film, which began as one kind of project and, as London-based Hamblin and Moore got to know each other, became “A Film About More Love” and not your standard march-to-victory road trip. Moore debates with herself periodically and also, goofballs, dances, dresses up (once memorably) and sings.
In an archival clip, we listen to the little girl, sassy at 6, give a lesson in how to surf. We hear her talk about wanting to grow up and be like Hawaiʻi pro Megan Abubo. Now? Being a pro surfer, she says, can sound like “utopia with a little responsibility”—fair enough—until she reels off what a year entails: 30 flights, 170 hours in the air and 70,000 air miles, plus car rentals, taxis, jet lag, excess baggage …
The movie isn’t invasive, Moore clearly is setting boundaries here. But she wants us to see her. Not just punching a fist in the air at Jeffreys Bay, but the moods, the camaraderie, the side-eye at the camera that says, “can you believe how goofy I am?” and the philosophical statements that the Punahou graduate delivers like a casual aside: “If you’re having fun in everything that you’re doing, that’s when the magic happens.”
There’s also plenty of self-deprecation, such as her hands-in-face embarrassment after she sings, beautifully, on a balcony at a party. The singing comes as a major surprise—because while many surfers love to sing, few send chills down your spine, as Moore does doing Stevie Nicks’ “Players.” She hits all the high notes and possesses a deep resonant vibrato. Is there a second career in the works? Would she like to join Stevie (whose pipes are getting growly) onstage at some point?
“I’m a fan, a very big fan of hers. But I’m going to stick to singing in the shower,” she says.
The hiatus of the world tour has pro surfing worried, as in the case of all sports. The woman’s tour, like women’s professional and Olympic soccer, had just hit new heights with the level of competition and personalities. Some of that is due to the way women support each other and the league, some of it due to so many of the women being more open and less grim (unlike the men’s tour, which can seem like The Road to Mordor).
“I think we’re all in it together,” she says. “We all have our individual journeys, yet we’re all in it to win it as a whole and, at the same time, we all want to elevate the sport together. There’s a mutual respect for each other. That’s what the women’s tour is. It wouldn’t be what it is without every single surfer on tour and the women that have come before. We’re stronger together.”
A pretty good COVID-19 mantra, applicable to a lot in life, from Moore’s lips to our ears.
How to watch:
RISS: A Film About More Love with Carissa Kainani Moore, written and directed by Peter Hamblin for Red Bull Media House
Premiere: Refinery29 Facebook on Thursday, May 7 at 9 a.m. HST
Streaming: Red Bull TV starting Monday, May 11