Carissa Moore arrived on the World Surf League Championship Tour in 2010. The 27-year-old has seen the WSL and sport radically transform over the past decade, and she hopes that will continue as surfing makes its debut on the world’s biggest stage next summer at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Moore, a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2020, and 17-year-old Caroline Marks will represent Team USA in Japan after finishing as the top-two Americans on the Championship Tour this season. Moore, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, earned her fourth world title, while Marks, the youngest surfer to ever qualify for the women’s Championship Tour, finished No. 2 in her sophomore season.
“It’s a huge honor to be able to be part of an event like the Olympics that has been around for so long and has so much history,” Moore said. “It’s cool to be respected on that level. I think surfing has come a long way from the stereotype it used to be.”
According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the sport’s global governing body, more than 35 million people surf. The ISA itself has seen membership grow from 32 nations in 1995 to more than 100 today, including non-traditional surfing countries including Russia, Iran and Sierra Leone. Surfing has also become more popular in the United States with 2.874 million surfing participants, an increase of more than 7.3% from 2017-18, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate will all make their debut at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Surfing has also been included in the program at the 2022 Youth Olympic Games in Dakar and at the 2022 Central American and Caribbean Games in Panama.
“I’m super honored to represent my country and share it with my family and friends,” Marks said. “Hopefully it touches an audience that’s bigger than our industry bubble and it brings more attention to the WSL and to the sport.”
Founded in 1976, the World Surf League has evolved into a worldwide organization in charge of more than 180 events across the globe featuring the top male and female surfers. WSL content and live coverage is digitally available in every market and more than 100 linear broadcasters cover its events.
The WSL has been championing the sport since its inception, particularly making waves on September 5, 2018 by announcing prize money equality for every WSL-controlled event beginning in 2019. The announcement, which solidified the WSL as the first and only American-based global sports league and among the first internationally to achieve prize money equality, increased women’s Championship Tour prize money by 153% per event starting this season.
“It’s huge,” said Moore, who earned $466,000. “It’s great the WSL is taking the initiative and making it part of the norm while inspiring other leagues and companies to do the same. For us, it’s more than just the money. It’s a huge statement.”
Being featured in the Olympics will only increase the visibility of the league and sport, particularly on the women’s side where there’s a lot of opportunity, according to Moore. The 2016 Olympics in Rio drew an audience of 3.6 billion viewers.
Regardless of the pressures of being the top-two ranked female surfers in the world and all of the extra eyeballs on them next summer, Moore and Marks are looking forward to making history as the first American surfers in Olympics history.
“Maybe I’ll feel pressure right before the event happens but right now I’m just excited for the experience,” Marks said. “I think it’s so cool for the sport and it’s really cool to be part of. I’m enjoying this year and enjoying that I qualified for the Olympics, and trying to soak all that in now.”
While each would love viewers to be enthralled by the sport enough to continue watching after the Games and maybe even pick up a board themselves, Moore is hoping for something a little different from the global audience, whether they’re watching the sport for the first time or the hundredth.
“I want them to feel something; that’s what is really special about surfing,” she said. “When you watch someone surf it’s an expression of themselves and I hope they realize how fun it is. It’s a really special sport and I hope they can feel that, not just see it.”