Monday, August 31, 2015         


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1 in a million

Marketing Hawaii's Carissa Moore has become big business, reportedly worth as much as $1 million for the ASP champ

By Ferd Lewis


Barely 48 hours after her Association of Surfing Professionals World Championship in Biarritz, France, earlier this month, Carissa Moore could drive down Ward Avenue toward Kewalos, her favorite surf spot, and glimpse the entire storefront of the Hawaiian South Shore surf shop featuring life-size window wraps of her milestone triumph.

When she heads to the U. S. Open in Huntington Beach, Calif., this week it will be hard to miss similar Red Bull-produced images around the iconic Jack's Surfboards business on the Pacific Coast Highway. Not to mention the Nike banners stretched along the landmark pier.

Or as Moore, the unpretentious face of women's surfing, puts it, "Hey, that's pretty cool."

If it sounds like the humble expression of an 18-year-old, well, it is. It could also be the voice of someone even more rare in women's surfing — a millionaire.

The speed with which her sponsors — Nike 6.0, Red Bull and Target — capitalized on her victory, putting up 20-foot window wraps, turning out caps and T-shirts and posting promotional videos of surfing's youngest ever pro world champion is testament to her soaring marketability.

"She is not just a great female surfer or the women's world champ, she is just an epic surfer," said Ian Yee, a local businessman who surfs Kewalos. "She surfs strong, smooth and with great power. (She's) new-school airs, old-school carves — something for everyone."

In that, Moore has become a stereotype-busting leader of a new era in the sport, where she is celebrated for her blend of talent, daring and showmanship. Moore is not bound by the old dictum of "three to the beach," meaning three cutbacks and pau as she busts tailslides.

But her appeal extends beyond surfing, sponsors say.

"Carissa is really relatable to young females," said Ryan Snyder, a spokesman for Red Bull. "She is just so down to earth. She is someone I think they can relate to. It is like, ‘Hey, she is just like me.' She's very open about what she likes and what she doesn't like on her website. She's very vocal, much more than a lot of other athletes, and revealing. Because of that she is able to transcend even surfing."

Ask Moore if being atop the surfing world has hit her yet and she says, "I guess it is starting to sink in with each day that goes by, but I still feel the same. I had this weird idea that if I became world champ that things would be different, but much hasn't changed. (I'm) still the same dorky Carissa who gets to surf Kewalos with her dad and little sister every day."

The self-deprecating attitude is part of what makes her refreshing, people around her say.

"Carissa represents the unique balance of drive and grace, competitiveness and kindness, dedication and fun, focused and generous," said Debra Friedman, global brand manager of Nike 6.0.

When Red Bull signed Moore to an endorsement contract at age 15, "she was one of the youngest — if not the youngest — on our roster," Snyder said.

Moore had already held a contract with Roxy since age 9 but was looking for wider possibilities with the other companies that came along, said her father, Chris, who works in graphics and advertising. He taught her to surf at age 4, and not too many years later she was given the tag of being the next big thing in the sport.

"Ever since Carissa was little, everybody knew she would probably be a world champion; she was that good that early," recalled Kauai's Margo Oberg, whose 1981 championship was the last won by a woman from Hawaii.

From an early age, when Moore would come out to Kewalos with her dad and sister Cayla, the acknowledgement among the old-timers in the lineup was, "the best surfer in the world just paddled out," Yee said.

Moore, a 2010 Punahou School graduate, was barely out of cap and gown when she began realizing the potential, winning two contests and rookie of the year honors on the ASP Tour in 2010 with more than $100,000 in prize money.

This year she's made the finals of all six ASP events — a record— to date and won three of them along with $107,000 in prize money. She could sit out the final tour event of the year, the U. S. Open, eating tacos across the street at Fred's and still lead the tour's money standings by a wide margin.

Citing contract restrictions, her family and sponsors have declined to disclose the value of her deals. But her combined sponsorships have been reported to be worth as much as $750,000, and with incentives, bonuses and ASP prize money she could hit $1 million by some estimates.

That is monster pay in women's surfing, where some women on tour lack for sponsorship packages. So disparate is the difference between purses that the top female ASP money winner has often received a third of what the leading male gets.

Many in the sport are hoping that Moore and the rest of the new, young crowd, can elevate popularity, sponsorships and purses. "She will do for women's surfing what Kelly Slater did for men's," Yee predicted.

When Moore went to Biarritz earlier this month it was with the knowledge that she could clinch the world championship there even with this week's U. S. Open remaining.

"She had a significant lead at that point, so the sponsors were starting to plan for celebrating a win and do a campaign around her win," Chris said. "With that there was a little bit of pressure (building), so I told them, ‘OK, do what you want to do, we just don't want to hear about it.' "

Not that it was easy to ignore the presence of videographers and photographers and the buzz of sponsors.

Carissa had long posted the goal of becoming a world champion on her door at home. And going down to the end at Biarritz, Chris said he told her, "That's part of winning a world title; at some point you're going to have to surf for the world title.' "

When she clinched the world title with a second-place finish, the exultation was huge. And so, too, is the burden of expectation that comes with being the world's best at such a young age.

"This is definitely an honor to have people say that I am the face of women's surfing and can be someone who can take it to the next level but I truly believe that this progression has been a group effort pushed by my peers today as well as the women before us," Moore said. "I have looked up to women like Lisa Anderson and Layne Beachley growing up, and without aspiring to be like them I wouldn't be doing what I am doing today. Now I have Steph Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons and Coco Ho, just to name a few, who are pushing me every heat, every event. We all want to win, all want to be the best and that is driving our sport to a new level."

But these days the face that smiles back at the surfing world from store windows and YouTube is Moore's.

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