Hawaii’s Carissa Moore talks about cliffhanger fifth world surfing title win in new format

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On Tuesday, after winning her fifth world surfing title in glassy, 4- to 6-foot waves at the storied break of Lower Trestles in San Clemente, Calif., Carissa Moore was rushed up the beach on the shoulders of her supporters, smiling from ear to ear and draped in the Hawaiian flag.

It was the coup de grace in a history- making year for the Honolulu native, who in July won the gold medal in the debut Olympic surfing event in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games at Japan’s Tsurigasaki Beach.

And after the gnarly storm surf of the Japanese beach, the sleek green waves under a light-blue Southern California sky were a reward in themselves, a relaxed, exuberant but very tired Moore said in a Zoom interview from California Wednesday.

“The swell was fantastic, we had some of the biggest Trestles I think I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Super consistent, a lot of opportunity for all of us to perform; it hit the pebble shelf really nicely.”

Still, victory didn’t come easily for Moore, the defending world champion, at the World Surf League Rip Curl Finals: She lost the first women’s final heat to Brazil’s Tatiana Weston-Webb, ranked world No. 2, in a new format that replaced the traditional system in which the surfer who accrued the most points at events throughout the championship tour won the title.

Only the top five men and five women — those who’d accrued the most points throughout the year — surfed at Trestles in the seventh and final event of the tour, in which the winner of two out of the three final heats took the title.

Although Moore, on a double-overhead, soaring ride scored an 8.93 in the first heat — one of five excellent scores between 8 and 10 out of a possible 10 per wave she received in the final — she was knocked out by Weston-Webb, 15.20 to 14.06.

Somewhat shaken, she returned to the beach for a five-minute break she compared to a pit stop at the track for a race car driver, emerging refreshed, her confidence restored.

“My husband Luke brought me water and gave me a hug and a pep talk, my coach brought my board, my dad popped in and said, ‘You’re good to go,’ and I was,” Moore said with a laugh.

She roared into the second heat like a sea tigress, snaring the first wave in a big set and scoring an 8.93, the highest score in the final, which she followed up with an 8.33, besting Weston-Webb, 17.26 to 15.60.

After that, in the third heat there was no stopping the champ.

“It was the first time I’d won the world title competing in real time, in the water, and it felt really special,” said Moore, who learned she had won her fourth world championship, in 2019, in the locker room after competing at the Maui Women’s Pro at Honolua Bay.

Asked which format she preferred, Moore burst into delighted laughter. “I think it worked well,” she said of the new final. “I’m sure a few things could be improved upon as always, but I think the fans, everybody I talked to, really enjoyed the show. It made for a really exciting finish.”

Although she had never watched the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay in person, she said, Tuesday’s show in the smaller, high-performance waves of Trestles showed “it’s great to have a one-day event.”

There was more pressure in the final event, however, she added, as no one gets eliminated in the opening heats of a traditional WSL event, and on finals day, if you’re the leading surfer, you “don’t normally go up straight against one of the top seeds, like Tatiana.”

The Punahou alumna, who turned 29 on Aug. 27, was also world champion in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019; the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.

She also has finished third or better at every championship tour event since the 2019 Margaret River Pro, and this is the 10th consecutive year in which she has won more than 20 heats, the longest streak in WSL history, according to the organization’s announcement.

So now that she’d won two back-to-back world titles, was she ready to go for a third?

“People keep asking me what I’m going to do next,” she said, “but I need a minute to, like, just chill out.”

Dressed in a cream Shaker sweater and a simple pendant, her dark blond hair falling long and loose — and dry — over her shoulders after long days of surfing with it pulled up in a bun, Moore alternately smiled and yawned.

“I want to take a couple weeks to just unplug, reflect, soak it all in,” she said, before turning to next steps. “I’m definitely a girl who likes to plan.”

In the men’s event, fellow Olympic gold surfing medalist Gabriel Medina of Brazil won his third world title against countryman Felipe Toledo.

For more information and event replays, visit worldsurfleague.com.

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