Carissa Moore's Hawaiian Heritage Inspired Her to Open Up About Mental Health

Photo Illustration by Aly Lim
Photo Illustration by Aly Lim

In January, Carissa Moore shocked fans when she announced she was stepping away from competitive surfing. With an Olympic gold medal and five world championships under her belt, the 31-year-old Hawaiian American is ready to focus on the next chapter of her life. The 2024 Paris Olympics will be Moore's last competition — at least for a while.

For APIA Heritage Month, Moore opened up about that next era, "simplifying" her life, and why she chooses to be vulnerable about her mental health. Read it all, in her own words, below. And read more mental health journeys from APIA perspectives here.

I feel fortunate that I've grown up with an open family, and one that has always talked about our feelings and shared a lot about what's going on. That's really embedded into being Hawaiian. In our Hawaiian community, there's this idea of aloha spirit, showing love and being respectful of other people. We're very open and warm, and that's impacted the way that I live my life.

I was inspired by my dad to be open about my mental health. In high school, I was struggling with my body image and an eating disorder. A lot of people were jumping to conclusions and writing their own stories about what was going on. And my dad was like, "Just own your story. Then no one can write it for you." It was cool to see the positive feedback that I got from that, and it helped me through what I was going through. I didn't feel so alone. That's really encouraged and empowered me to continue being open.

I had to check myself and I was like, OK, going back to the drawing board. I'm gonna reset. I'm gonna rebuild myself.

Right after I won my third world title, I went into a three-year slump of just going through the motions. I wasn't motivated. I was lacking passion and purpose. It was the first time that surfing wasn't that joyful. I was doing it, not for myself, but for everyone else. I hit this rock-bottom moment where I felt like surfing wasn't fun and it was bleeding into my personal life. I had just gotten married and it should've been the most happy time of my life.

I had to check myself and I was like, OK, going back to the drawing board. I'm gonna reset. I'm gonna rebuild myself. And that started with simplifying my life. I started my charitable foundation, Moore Aloha, which helped me give back, find that love, and share surfing with the next generation. Getting to see people psyched about surfing for the first time, helped me remember why I fell in love with it in the first place.

There's been a lot of inspiration for Moore Aloha, but it really came from this place of wanting to share more love. I know how difficult it can be navigating womanhood, life, and all the pressures and expectations that are put on us. So I wanted to create these events and programs where women felt safe to come together to share, encourage, and empower each other. I think there's something beautiful in vulnerability and sharing our own stories, and so much strength that can come from it. Because when we know that we're not alone, the possibilities are endless.

I also have my bag of tools that I go into when I'm not feeling great about myself or struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress. A lot of it has to do with movement. I love getting in the ocean. Surfing is one of my top tools to start feeling better. Being of service to others and giving back also helps me reconnect with love and my heart. I love journaling everyday — I have a collection of journals. I love yoga. Taking some time in nature. Those are some of the things I like to do to stay healthy and happy.

Earlier this year, I made a huge decision to step away from competing on the championship tour full time. It is something that I had thought about for a few years. I was exhausted. Competing at the top level is very intense. I needed some time to shift focus and follow the joy, follow my heart. It's been a fun last couple of months. I'm busy in a different way, and a little bit less stressed, which is awesome. It's gotten me to be creative and think about other things aside from surfing. The best stuff comes when we're a little bored, when we're a little lost. I'm grateful for this time, and that I get to give myself the space and grace to figure it out.

— As told to Shari Straker; additional reporting by Yerin Kim

Shari Straker is the social content producer at PS. A graduate of Craig Newmark's Graduate School of Journalism, she has more than four years of experience. She currently manages both of PS's TikTok accounts and is obsessed with all things social media, pop culture, and fashion.

Yerin Kim is the features editor at POPSUGAR, where she helps shape the vision for special features and packages across the network. A graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School, she has over five years of experience in the pop culture and women's lifestyle spaces. She's passionate about spreading cultural sensitivity through the lenses of lifestyle, entertainment, and style.