As the minutes disappear, the announcer's voice, barely audible, wafts over the whitewash, whispering the muffled intensity of the moment. One minute left. The beach is littered with people, onlookers rife with expectation. Carissa Moore, the heat leader, sits outside as a set materializes. She watches as her fellow competitors, seven-time World Champion Layne Beachley and teenage phenom Coco Ho, scratch for position. If Layne can find a six-point ride in that dying minute, she will take the Reef Haleiwa Pro crown, she will prove that this new breed of progressive young surfers are still no match for the tour vet, she can make her last big competitive bang before retirement.
With the seconds ticking down, Layne finds the inside track and gains ownership of it. This is it. But Coco, too, takes to her feet, the top of her head just visible over the back of the wave, she gains speed, and is suddenly airborne, misses the re-entry, and lands with a splash just behind it. With no room to execute any heat-winning maneuvers, Layne doesn't get the score. It will be Carissa who takes the win this year. Coco pulls in her board with a demoralized tug and paddles back to the lineup. They both know that Coco's actions will warrant disqualification, but it's not until later that the magnitude of the moment is fully realized.
By that evening, the photos of young Coco soaring over Layne are splashed across the Internet, a vivid and dramatic symbol of a changing guard, the concrete reminder that a new, progressive breed of women surfers has arrived. The media, consumed by the drama of the drop-in, almost overlook Carissa's win, the fact that she won every heat in the contest (beginning with the preliminary trials round), and that at 16 years old, she'd just become the youngest surfer—male or female—to win a Vans Triple Crown of Surfing event. Scandal and gossip take precedence, the eyes of spectators keenly focused on the dynamic between the other two headline-making competitors, while Carissa's name slips silently onto yet another page in the record books.
She's been compared to Kelly Slater and Lisa Anderson. She's been touted the best girl to set foot on a surfboard. Pundits have projected that her impact on women's surfing will be both extraordinary and long-standing. The word "potential" is one that's thrown around liberally when talk turns to Carissa Moore. It's tossed above her head like a childhood game of keep-away: always looming over her, taunting her, just out of reach. It's her potential that big-buck sponsors are hurling undisclosed—and likely massive—amounts of money around for. It's a word that imposes expectation, a word that, by definition, proclaims incompleteness but prophesizes promises greatness.
All this, and she hasn't even been thrown in the game yet. Carissa has yet to attempt a season on the WQS, let alone the World Tour. Already, her list of competitive accomplishments trumps pros twice her age. She has 11 NSSA National titles (the most held by one person—male or female), she won the King of the Groms in a field of all the top young boys in Hawaii, she scored a perfect 10 in a men's WQS in 2007, and she's beat world champions in Women's ASP World Tour events.
It's this competitive rap sheet that has prompted what's been called the biggest deal in women's surfing history. This past fall, Carissa severed ties with Roxy, the company who's supported her since she was only seven ("It was hard to leave," she says, "It was like my family there, but we just wanted to try something different."), and accepted four-year contracts with both Nike 6.0 and Red Bull. "She should have no problem putting food on the table for the next few years," says Carissa's manager, Byran Taylor, in a carefully worded slice of PR-speak. Rumors have also circulated since early November that a hefty Target paycheck has also been added to the list on her monthly bank deposit slips. As of press time that deal had yet to be finalized, but her manager did admit that "a multi-billion-dollar-a-year national retailer will also be adding its logo to Carissa's surfboard sometime this spring."
Although excited for the possibility of being able to travel more, none of this seems to faze Carissa much. "Luckily my dad and Bryan Taylor and my mom dealt with it," she says. "I don't like dealing with all that. I just like surfing and not worrying about anything else. I want to try to keep things the same—just surf and have fun."