Carissa Moore: Riding the crest of an Olympic wave

The timing of surfing film RISS couldn't have been better.
Carissa Moore: Riding the crest of an Olympic wave
Carissa Moore is the subject of a new Red Bull documentary.
Carissa Moore is the subject of a new Red Bull documentary.

The timing of surfing film RISS couldn't have been better.

The candid new documentary is a mixed-media exploration into the life of newly titled Olympic surfer Carissa Moore, who is the youngest World Surf League (WSL) winner and a four-time world champion.

Written, directed and edited by Peter Hamblin, we see the Honolulu native, 27, competing in - and winning - the 2019 WSL season.

It comes after a challenging few years for Moore, during which she admits she "was struggling on tour, and kinda just with myself".

Indeed, when Hamblin met her, she was coming off the back of her worst year professionally, finishing fifth in the world.

"She was miserable," says the South African filmmaker, who won awards for Let's Be Frank, about big wave surf adventurer Frank James Solomon.

"But she was also finding her space as a person - and I didn't even know that.

"She was telling me how things were changing, so over the course of me hanging out with her, she literally went from the worst position in the world to the best position in the world, winning her fourth world title and becoming an Olympian.

"I couldn't have asked for a better canvas to tell a story."

The film follows Moore's journey in giving back, inspiring the younger generation and ultimately striving to be defined by more than the results.

It was also made during the first year that female surfers were paid the same as men in the sport, a decision which Moore concurs was a landmark moment.

"I remember when we had a small meeting, right before the Freshwater Pro in 2018 [in California], and some of the big heads at WSL were like, 'Hey, we are going to be working towards pay equity, this is happening for you guys'," recalls the bubbly sportswoman, chatting on a video call from her porch in Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, her high school sweetheart, Luke Untermann.

"And I just remember my mind being blown, because when I started competing as a professional surfer, to win an event was 15,000 dollars.

"As the years progressed, I have seen so much progression and elevation on the WSL women's world tour; our prize money has increased, the venues have gotten better. They've already done so much to elevate us, and so to take it to that next level of pay equity was like, 'What, this is amazing!'

"I think, more than the pay cheque, it just speaks volumes to the leaders of our sport and what they're doing for women, and I hope it inspires other people to do the same."

An interesting element of RISS is the way in which Hamblin highlights how people put on personas, particularly professional athletes.

Through shooting Moore so intimately - not only in the waves, but also in her personal life (they even go to a party together in the film) - a friendship grew, and he found she opened up to him.

One scene sees her talk through her usual media response when asked about losing a competition, before revealing how she really feels when that happens.

"We all watch those interviews and we go, 'That's such bullshit. We know it's bullshit, so just tell us what you really think'," but brands and just society dictates that we put this front up," suggests Hamblin.

The most fun part about this project for the director was capturing the little moments and segues that tell us a bit more about the real Moore.

"As a professional athlete, you have to hold your cards to yourself - you've got competitors. I'm trying to dive in to try and find something else.

"But if I was a professional athlete, I'd also probably keep my cards close to myself. You get bombarded all the time by a million people. It's a different world, one we can't really understand."

It was a very small crew involved, and nuggets and conversations with Moore were often just captured by Hamblin holding a camera himself.

"When it came to the events, I would concentrate being on the waterline when she came out of the water and sneak a microphone on to her and then ask her little questions - and then she goes and she kisses her husband around the corner, and I was there," he explains.

"So, it was trying to be intimate, gaining trust and just be in a space where a lot of people don't get to go."

Carissa Moore.
Carissa Moore.

The film depicts Moore's competitive nature as being an important part of her huge success.

Is it a trait she thinks we should encourage more in young women?

"Yes, I think it's definitely more than OK to have a little bit of a healthy competitor in you!" she responds emphatically.

"I don't think I'm that competitive outside of surfing. I think Pete captured probably the most competitive outside-of-surfing me - which is in charades," she adds with a laugh.

"But for the most part, I'm pretty lackadaisical about things."

Moore should be in El Salvador right now, competing in a mandatory event for the Olympics.

Of course, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the games - which were meant to start in Tokyo in July - won't be happening now until 2021.

It will be the first time that surfing is part of arguably the biggest sporting event in the world.

"The Olympics got postponed, the tour itself got postponed, all the events got postponed, so I'm just hunkering down in my valley home here in Hawaii and it's definitely different, but I'm enjoying it," she notes, sounding upbeat.

"I'm enjoying the time with my family. And it's definitely given me a new appreciation for my life on tour and getting to travel, because I think I was taking it for granted for a little while.

"Now when I go back, it will be fresh, and I will definitely be grateful for every moment."

RISS is now available on Red Bull TV globally online at

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