Hawaiian natives ‘get back’ surfing with Moore’s Olympic gold
PA – Carissa Moore wore a white and yellow plumeria pinned next to her ear for her victory interviews after making history as the first Olympic gold medalist in the historical beginnings of surfing.
Her mother – crowned Honolulu Lei Queen in 2016 – gave her the flower hair clip before she left for Tokyo to remind the only one Hawaii native Olympic surfer where’s she from.
At this climax, Moore is still in disbelief when compared to Duke Kahanamoku, the godfather of modern surfing who is commemorated in Hawaii with a treasured monument.
“I don’t think I’ll have a statue,” Moore said, grinning from ear to ear as her body laughed softly at the suggestion. “My God, there are only a few people in Hawaii who I think deserve this.”
As celebrated at home as it is loved by fans and peers around the world, it was a distinctly modest statement from one of the world’s greatest surfers after winning gold in the first Olympic competition in the sport.
Methodical Moore has found her rhythm with the ocean to deliver the kind of powerful surf performance that has defined her career. The perfect ending even included a rainbow that popped into the sky as she shredded the waves in the final against her South African rival Bianca Buitendag.
Moore has now become a fulfillment of Kahanamoku’s dream, both a symbol of the best in sport and a validating force for an Indigenous community still grappling with its complex history.
“This is a recapture of the sport for our Aboriginal community,” said Kūhiō Lewis, chair of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, which hosts the largest annual gathering of Native Hawaiians.
Lewis said all the locals he knew were texting each other during the competition, glued to the TV and delighted, if not relieved, by Moore’s ‘surreal’ victory. He called it a “homecoming moment” for a community that may never come to terms with its dispossession.
After centuries of colonization by various European settlers, Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898 following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by US-backed forces in 1893.
“Sometimes we are an invisible people. We are grouped into other ethnic groups. Our sport is defined by other groups. It puts things in perspective, ”Lewis said. “It sounds like the emergence of a people, an indigenous community that has been invisible to many.”
All eyes were on Moore when the Tokyo Games began, not only because she was the medal favorite as the reigning world champion, but also because she was competing for the United States. Until then, Moore had always surfed for Hawaii in the professional World Surf League, which recognizes it as a “sovereign surfing nation”.
Moore is biracial and grew up in the only predominantly Asian and Pacific Islander US state in the United States. His white father, of Irish and German descent, taught him to surf. Her mother is of Hawaiian and Filipino descent and was adopted and raised in a Chinese-American family.
“I’m proud to represent the United States, but more specifically the Hawaiian Islands, because there are so many different types of people out there, and I feel like a connection to all of them,” said Moore said. “And I wouldn’t be where I am today without the community of people who really raised me.”
US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii this week honored Moore and Kahanamoku in the Senate.
“There is a saying that the best surfer is the person who has the most fun and that is definitely the case with Carissa,” said Schatz. “She’s an intense competitor who wants to win every event she participates in, but also one who wants to see her opponents – and more importantly the sport of surfing itself – succeed.”
Kahanamoku was among the first athletes to break through the sport’s color barrier as an Olympic swimmer who won five medals. It was at the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm that he first pushed the International Olympic Committee to include surfing, although it was virtually unknown outside of his native Hawaii at the time.
Hawaii’s most famous son went on to dedicate his life to promoting surfing and his homeland, introducing the sport through exhibits in locations ranging from California to New Jersey, Australia and Europe. Kahanamoku was the ultimate waterman: his legacy includes popularizing floating kicks and spreading the concept of water rescue and rescue to the masses. On top of that, he dabbled in Hollywood movies and was the Sheriff of Honolulu.
A century later, Moore was very accomplished in the sport before her Olympics. She became the youngest champion in history at age 18 and now has four world titles in addition to being the first Olympic gold medalist in her sport. She also recruits young girls to practice a sport that once men have a high priority, and has spoken publicly about her struggles with body image and eating disorders as a teenager.
With this new global platform, Moore says she is proud of what she stands for and wants to spread positivity like her idol did.
“It was his dream to surf at the Olympics,” said Moore. “I hope I made him and my people proud.”