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Sittin’ on top of the world

    “Being in the position of No. 1 on the tour, it was kind of weird at first. For me, it’s a place I’ve wanted to be, a goal that I’ve wanted to achieve, ever since I was a little girl.”
    Carissa Moore
    The world’s top-ranked surfer
    Carissa Moore won the Billabong Rio Pro last month in Brazil, defeating Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia in the final.

Carissa Moore is just enjoying the ride.

Never mind that she can become the first Association of Surfing Professionals Women’s World Champion from Hawaii in 30 years. Or that she can be the youngest champ the tour has ever seen — men or women — at not even 19 years of age.

“Even now, all that I’m doing and making a living off of it, I’m still enjoying it and I think just having fun enjoying it is the biggest thing I need to stay focused on,” said the cheery Moore, a 2010 Punahou graduate, who still lives in the islands when not competing.

Pressure doesn’t even enter the conversation, even with her rival, Australia’s Sally Fitzgibbons, locked with Moore in a season-long duel. Moore has won three of five ASP events so far in 2011, including the opener and the past two — the Commonwealth Bank Beachley Classic in Australia and the Billabong Rio Pro. Fitzgibbons defeated Moore in the final of the other two events.

All that’s left in the ASP season are two events, the Roxy Pro in France next month and the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach, Calif. If Moore wins just one, she’ll have a strong chance to make history. She leads Fitzgibbons in season points 47,000-41,650, with no one else within striking distance. A first-place finish is worth 10,000 and second place 8,000, so the title is Moore’s for the taking if she, well, does what she does — tear it up.

Moore does her best to insulate herself from all the title talk, as much as she’s envisioned it from when she first picked up a surfboard.

“Being in the position of No. 1 on the tour, it was kind of weird at first,” Moore said. “For me, it’s a place I’ve wanted to be, a goal that I’ve wanted to achieve, ever since I was a little girl. It’s been tough because you have a lot of people talking about it and to be able to handle people talking and not getting complacent … just keep your head down and keep paddling.”

That’s what she still does every day at Kewalo Basin while she’s at home, often with her dad and coach, Chris, and little sister, Cayla. Not one to take her success for granted, Moore says she’s added a strict diet and workout regimen to her practice.

But it’s never been a job.

After surfing part-time through high school, Moore made a strong impression last year, when she finished third in her first full ASP go-round with wins at the Rip Curl Pro in Portugal and TSB Bank Women’s Surf Festival in New Zealand.

She’s picked up right where she left off, and added non-traditional surfing sponsors Target, Nike and Red Bull, adding considerably to her career surfing earnings of $266,917.

Her father accompanies her to most of her competitions around the world, a familiar face and voice at each exotic locale.

Chris Moore equated his daughter’s success in her second full tour to playing a golf course better with repetition, knowing the breaks and swells at each beach. Carissa puts it on, embracing the life of a pro athlete last December after at first struggling being away from friends much of the year.

“Her growth has been steady for a number of years. It has accelerated this past year,” Chris said. “I think one of the things that I think that takes time is learning how to win.”

Combine that with her innate talents, and Moore should be a threat to contend for the ASP title for years to come.

“She’s got a really strong power carve that she really lays her body into that really demonstrates her technical ability,” Chris said, “and then she has a spin move that she can pretty much pull off, whether it’s the start of a wave and continue on, or at the end of a wave to finish it off.”

Moore can be the first Hawaii champion since Margo Oberg in 1981, but won’t be able to finish off a championship at home. Carissa, one of four Hawaii women on tour, is disappointed that the ASP’s customary finish in Hawaii, the Women’s Triple Crown, won’t take place this year because of lack of sponsors.

But right now, she’s not concerning herself with that. The same praise that Carissa offers of Fitzgibbons — “she’s a great person … but when it comes to surfing a heat, she brings all that she has, and she’s a fiery competitor” — is often said of Moore.

When prompted, Moore reflected on her own success. For the briefest of moments.

“When I think about it, it would be pretty cool to be a part of surfing history,” she said with a smile.

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