Sean Doherty: Carissa Moore Wins the 2019 World Title, Steph Bests Tyler in Final at Maui

3 Dec 2019 5 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Carissa Moore overcome with emotion after winning her fourth World Title. Photo: WSL/Sloane

Carissa Moore overcome with emotion after winning her fourth World Title. Photo: WSL/Sloane

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

Finals Day at the 2019 lululemon Maui Pro

Carissa wears her current mood on her face. When things are going swimmingly, she radiates and that’s most waking hours. She is pro surfing’s sweetheart. But when the clouds gather and she finds herself in trouble she can’t hide the distress. She’d be terrible at poker.

This morning she fell on her first wave. She got caught in two minds on her final turn between a snap and a carve… and in the end did neither. She popped up and there it was. The grimace. The crumbling self-belief. A loss in the quarter against Niki Van Dijk would open the door for her opponent, Caroline Marks to steal the world title. Carissa is the best female surfer on tour. Steph picks her moments for a grace note, but across all waves Carissa is imperious. There’s just a gnawing doubt that gets her at crucial moments… and this morning looked like one of them.

The waves for the first two quarters  this morning had been slow and burgery, which worked against Carissa. She wins a shootout every day of the year, but a slow, close heat gives her too much time to think. Nikki locked in sixes. Carissa trailed.

Honolua woke up. The sun popped. Carissa dropped into a square one and threaded it clean. Her layback jam returned. She smiled. Suddenly surfing Honolua was as dreamy as it sounded in theory. Carissa won easily and climbed back up the red mud track to watch Caroline Marks surf.

The Grommet drew Steph Gilmore, needing to win to keep the title alive. As the quarter played out, it actually looked like it was Steph surfing for the title, not Caroline. Steph nursed turns, fell on final turns and never got near her fluid best. For Caroline Marks, well the grommet just surfed, unaffected by the whole scene. At just 17, she was never expected to be here anyway and appeared to be just rolling with it. On her backhand though she need to find steep sections, but with so much water on the reef the waves turned into rolling foamballs instead of vertical walls. She fell pushing a crucial turn but then Caroline took the wrong wave with priority just two minutes from the end. That cooked it. Steph took the heat, Carissa Moore took the world title.

Up on the cliff the WSL were ready.

The ghosts of John John’s world title reveal back in 2017 still haunt the WSL. When that moment dropped and John John officially won the title at Pipe, he was in the Johnson’s backyard a hundred yards up the beach with a crew of family and friends and the gate firmly locked to everyone else… including the WSL’s camera crew. The best they could do was a drone shot from 200 feet overhead. It was a pivotal moment. It was just John being John, privacy a premium, but it put the sport in its place. The WSL were pissed and they’ve made a point of never repeating the episode.

They handled today with a bit of class. With the minutes ticking down Carissa was in the locker room alone, pacing, already on the verge of tears. They gave her some space but kept a camera on her. The heat ended but there were scores still to drop. The moment came, Carissa whooped and… hang on… how did BL get there? Barton Lynch had suddenly materialised in the locker room, having been hidden in a corner behind a curtain. It was hugely comical and even BL himself couldn’t help but laugh.

I really like the new Tyler. After a year on the couch she doesn’t have the same physicality and power that was once her trademark, and has swapped it out instead for a cleaner line and a poised bottom turn. The still images of her bottom turns from yesterday were stunning. Today she pushed it harder and was too much for Tatiana Weston-Webb in semi one. 

A Steph-Carissa semi was a big bill, but much of the oxygen had been taken out of it with Carissa already claiming the title. Carissa never lifted, but Steph seemed liberated and finally opened up. By this stage, the inside bowl at high tide Honolua was starting to act a bit like low tide Bells, a wave Steph knows how to deal with. The secret is a little high-line drift until the thing horseshoes and demands to be smacked. Carissa wasn’t in the heat until the final seconds when she snagged a bomb, chasing a mid-nine and almost getting there. It mattered little. Carissa Moore was world champ again and the idea of that sits comfortably with me and surfing punters everywhere. She’s a gem.

There were a lot of feelgood vibes in the bay, and while I don’t want to be the one to kill the vibe here but maybe the only criticism of the women’s tour generally is that the vibes are a little too feelgood, all the time. The platitudes have been laid on thick at the lululemon Maui event, with everyone on a journey and everyone was being the best versions of themselves. If the WSL want to connect with real people then their events need to feel real, and the women’s tour often falls down here. It feels like a sugary diorama with little relevance to the big bad world out there. 

That’s why the re-entry of Tyler at Maui has been so damn intriguing. She’s always been famously unfiltered in her interviews, thought bubbles going live with a generally happy, goofy, unpredictable conversation entailing. She’s only done a couple of interviews in Maui and she’s clearly still a little rattled from the illness. She hasn’t had much to be happy and goofy about this year, but yet here she is. We don’t know a lot about exactly what Tyler’s year has been like, how tough it’s been but we’ll get a better sense of it in time.

After Owen Wright won his return event, coming back from a brain bleed to win Snapper in 2018, I interviewed him for an hour the following day. He was still trying to make sense of the Snapper win and trying to make sense of the whole year for that matter. He was still coming out of the fog, and you get the same sense with Tyler in this event. The parallels are strong. She’s surfed quietly through the event here at Maui, and maybe the most she had to say was in the water during the final with Steph, the two of them alone, Tyler animated with some jazz hands, the pair sharing a laugh. It was probably the realest moment of the day and we had no idea what they said.

Unlike Owen, Tyler didn’t win her return event but it didn’t matter. Steph won, consolation after a reasonably disappointing year. It certainly meant something to her. She banged her board in delight, Strider put a microphone in front of her, and her initial response summed it up pretty succinctly. 

“Fuck yeah!”

Stephanie Gilmore, 2019 lululemon Maui Pro Champ. Photo: WSL/Miers

Stephanie Gilmore, 2019 lululemon Maui Pro Champ. Photo: WSL/Miers


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