302: How Surfing’s World Champ is Reinventing Herself

This week’s conversation is with Carissa Moore, one of the most prolific surfers on the world stage.

At age 18, Carissa became the youngest person – male or female – to win a surfing world title and was the first woman to compete in the Triple Crown of Surfing, Hawaii’s most prestigious contest series featuring the world’s best male surfers.

This year, Carissa became the first surfer in history to win a WSL world title and Olympic Gold Medal in the same year.

This was also the first time the Olympics included surfing as a competition so Carissa was the first woman to ever win Gold in this event.

I was fortunate enough to work with the U.S. Surfing Team in Tokyo – it was incredible – all of it.

The team dynamics, being able to play a part in representing the United States of America, and to support the four surfers in their competitive pursuits.

In this conversation, we discuss some of the ingredients for Carissa to win Gold in Tokyo: the support system she had growing up, her approach to preparing for high stakes competition, and why her ideal competitive mindset has evolved over the years.

“Sometimes when you’re on the verge of giving up, that’s just the point when you’re about to see the light and breakthrough.”

In This Episode:

Is there a general theme that runs underneath the surface for her?

There’s been a few different themes over the years, especially during my world title runs and stuff. There’s always a theme that I’m chasing after or an overarching theme that will help me stay on track when things get tough. But I think if I were to share something that maybe has changed over time, that voice has changed from something that has been super doubtful and hard on myself to a more encouraging and positive voice.

What do her thoughts sound like when she’s most confident?

There’s just this inner light that I just feel can’t be dampened. Like I have a smile on my face. There’s joy. There’s this excitement. There’s no fear or doubt. I’m just ready. I want to give it everything that I have. If it doesn’t work out, there’s also this peace. I think that that’s a huge part of it, is that peace.

Grounding herself in love

It was also that moment though that I realized no one else can save me here. I’m going to have to pull myself out. But it was really beautiful because my husband looked at me. He had tears in his eyes and he’s like, “Babe, you can do this.” I almost want to cry again because for me this was more special than winning the world title was… Sorry. I cry every single time. It was that moment that he was just like, “Hey, if anyone can do this, you can and I love you.” I just took a couple deep breaths and I went to the water and I just like… I turned it around. I let it all go and I said, “Hey, my theme for this year was freedom.” I was like, “This is my moment to let it all go, to surf from my heart, go hard, give it everything I have. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not meant to be. But at the end of the day, I can ground myself in love because that’s true and that’s solid and I love surfing.” So I’m going to go and do those two things.

Community and sense of love

I was having a little mini freak out and I was like, “I can do this. I can do this. I’ve trained for this. I can do this.” But there was also just like, it was scary. It was scary to be alone and just to put it all on myself. I’d like to think that I would’ve risen to the occasion and overcome by myself, but there’s something so special, and I think I learned it pretty early on, that community and that sense of love is so important to me.

Fighting for her passion

With being able to only surf a certain amount of time, I had to learn how to be diligent and organized and on time and use my time wisely if I wanted to be good at it. And if it was something that I was passionate about. And the fact that it wasn’t on a silver platter, so I had to fight for it.

“The zone” and fighting to find it

The zone is just that state of where you’re able to compete and think clearly, make good decisions. You’re in attack modes. You’re going for it. And you’re not overthinking or doubting or surfing, underperforming, right? You’re at this place where you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And I think a lot of times the night before, or in preparation, we would have a training session and we would make one moment way bigger than it needed to be. And we would blow it out of… Make it… We’d get frustrated or I’d get insecure. And then somehow I would climb back out and it was that climb that got me in the zone. I don’t know, but it was interesting. And, it worked.

Finding freedom

There’s the mantras that I constantly am going through my head of progress, not perfection. Let’s trust in the formula. I have this formula. It’s worked time and time again, trust in it. Have a freedom. When I’m free, I perform better. I am closer to my optimal performance when I’m free. So the worst thing I can do, is stress out and have anxiety. So let it go.

Gratitude and surrender

Having a gratefulness about everything, about everything that comes my way and knowing everything happens for a reason. I do believe that there is something, there is a bigger purpose out there. I do. And I think that there was like this surrender in that moment that like, “Hey. Wait, how cool is this one? I’m so grateful I made it. I cheated death just now. I made it through the semifinals. I shouldn’t have made it through with seven points, but I did.” And there’s like a reason I’m going into these finals and I’m there. Like, this is the coolest thing ever. All I need to do is show up and be myself and surf from my heart, and that’s like all that anyone can ask for. So I think I did, like in that final, there was this beautiful piece and surrender and flow.

How she battled through her three-year “funk”

I would say 2016 to 2018 for three years, it was after I won my third world title and I just went into a full-on funk. Like I just fell out flow. I just didn’t feel connected to myself, didn’t feel connected to my purpose or my being, I didn’t know why I was surfing. I was not having as much fun, I was so focused on results and I was focused on the wrong things. And I think the personal struggles really reflected professionally… I went back to the drawing board and I was like, “Okay, how do I want to rebuild this? How do I want to rebuild a better version of myself and move forward?” And that’s kind of when I started looking at, “What does happiness look like? What does success look like? Who am I without results without competing?” And that’s when I started grounding myself or finding… What am I… Grounding myself in truths like we’ve talked about, and things that like can’t be taken away.

Her father’s impact

A lot of people see my dad as just the dad. And he is a phenomenal coach and a phenomenal father who’s been able to… You’re so right, I wouldn’t have taken these steps on my own if it wasn’t for the framework he shared with me through my childhood. And he also shared with me the idea of love, giving back, taking care of people, and the sense of community. That’s thanks to my dad. And yeah, he’s never the one to find the shortcut. He’s willing to put in the work. He’s all about that.

Taking her power back

I am a people pleaser. I want everyone to be happy. And I think that’s maybe the trap that I fell into and maybe that’s something that I fell into as a really young kid is, “Hey. I’m winning. Everybody’s happy. No one’s fighting. Everybody’s good.” And so I think that after I won my third world title, I felt like I just kept doing what everyone wanted me to do. Even though it was ultimately what I wanted to do, it still felt like I was doing what everyone else wanted me to do. And that’s when it just felt like it was not… It just became a chore. And so that’s why I think like you said, when I took my power back, when I created my boundaries, when I created space for myself and in my mind, it was like, “I’m doing this for me. I’m not doing it for anybody else,” that’s when it became joyous and fun again.

Applying new themes, not goals, to each year

This year, I didn’t feel like I was going into it to beat the next person. I was just trying to do my best, be the best version of myself. And I touched upon it earlier, but this idea of freedom and finding that freedom. And so that was literally the whole goal and motivation for this year, where in the past, like my first world title, maybe the motivation was, “I’ve never done it before. This is something I’ve worked for my whole life. I want to get one.” The second one was, “I want to prove that it’s not a fluke. I deserve to be here.” The third one, I don’t really remember what the whole motivation was behind that one, but, “Hey. I lost it. I want to be back on top. And then the one in ’19 and ’21, it’s just been just a new me, a new, different approach and motivation, kind of doing it from a more pure and genuine place, a more authentic place, a more place of joy and love.

Simplify and be grateful

Two things that help me kind of find myself again when things are hard: to simplify and to be grateful. As I feel like when you’re simple and things are simple, things are quiet, you can really hear yourself. You can really work through those thoughts and the things that are bothering you. Or when things are simple, it’s just there’s peace. So I encourage simplicity. I also encourage gratefulness in trying to find the good in everything, because with a grateful heart and mind, I mean, you can have the worst situation, but it could be beautiful. And then those kinds of things, they just start compounding and then you get into this good role and things start turning around.

What love means to her

Love is… I don’t know. It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s intangible, but it’s how you treat other people. It’s unconditional. It’s the simple smiles you share or the exchanges of kindness randomly throughout a day. It’s waving to a stranger on the side of the street. It’s sharing a beautiful meal with your best friend or walking on the beach at sunset with your husband. Love is everywhere. Love is following your passion and chasing your dreams and sparking passion in somebody else. It’s literally… I don’t know. It’s what connects us. It’s what drives us and motivates us. I swear that’s what we live for. It’s to find those connections. It’s to give love and share love and receive love. That’s what we’re all striving for. The rest of this stuff, it’s going to come and go. But that’s the stuff that lasts. That’s what’s going to stand the test of time. I truly believe that.

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