The Case of Carissa’s Wildcard

Does the world's best female surfer have a place in men's events?

| posted on December 01, 2011

Carissa may be a champion among the ladies, but should that grant her a pass into men's events?

Before I even get started, it’s imperative that I get one thing clear: Carissa Moore is the best female surfer of all time. The best tuberider, the best aerialist, and the best at putting it on a rail. And she’s getting better every day. Her surfing has what the top women of yesteryear dreamed of having—flare that transcends gender. But she’s also the humble, perpetually smiling sweetheart of the surfing world, which is why I like her, why you probably like her, and why this is difficult to write.

No female surfer is more deserving of comparison to male counterparts, and I’ve personally witnessed Carissa laying hacks into overhead walls at Rocky Rights that left me feeling instantly and utterly emasculated. But—and this is a pretty big but—should her rising star in the world of women’s surfing outshine the ability of an entire field of lesser-known rippers in the men’s competitive surfing sphere? Should she have been granted a coveted wildcard into a men’s contest over a sea of aspiring and capable candidates? I am, of course, speaking of the golden ticket granted to her for the Haleiwa and Sunset Triple Crown events, and her subsequent showings at both.

I didn’t watch every heat of both events. The surf at Haleiwa looked less like the stuff of North Shore legend and more like an impersonation of the beachbreak down the street from my house when the swell is nil and the wind is like a kiteboarder’s wet dream. However, the surf at Sunset thus far has had enough size and scattered barrels to pique my interest. But strangely enough, while I occasionally dodged my ever-growing workload to watch heats, I was honestly biding my time, waiting for Carissa Moore to paddle out and face off against Alain Riou, Mitch Coleborn, and perhaps the most dangerous competitor at Sunset over the last two decades: Sunny Garcia. I don’t know why I was so giddy with anticipation, but that was the one heat I refused to miss that day. What happened was obviously anticlimactic if you, like me, wanted to see David (err…Daisy?) throw the proverbial bucket of spray at Goliath. How amazing would it be, I thought, if Carissa won that heat, and perhaps went on to win more? It would have been the upset to end all upsets. It would have been monumental for Carissa, and monumental for women’s surfing as a whole.

Unfortunately, the fairy tale unraveled in the shifty peaks, and the sobering waves of reality crashed onto the reef at Sunset. I began to believe what many already had—that throwing Carissa into the mix was a concept novel enough to give the event some extra attention. Controversial and with enough potential for massive upset that it would attract thousands of eyeballs to the webcast, including two of my own.

Gender aside, Carissa is an immensly talented surfer by any standards. Photo: Heff

But wait a second, she has won against the men before, right? As a junior, didn’t she take down the boys with frequency, and in a WQS event in San Miguel back in 2007, did she not post a 10-point ride to win her heat against seasoned male competitors? I pondered these things for a moment, and began to convince myself that she hadn’t been given a proper chance at Haleiwa and Sunset. That in the right waves, she would make heats against the men. But then the obvious dawned on me: Everyone is at the same disadvantage. That’s what being a well-rounded surfer is all about and why competitive surfing is so ripe for upsets in the first place. It can be awful for an entire heat, and a single perfect wave can line up in front of anyone, like a lump of golden fate ready to carry them into their next heat. Sunny, Mitch, and Alain all dealt with the same wonky rights, heaving seemingly at random before backing off into an unrideable dribble of foam.

By that logic, if the level of talent was equal, Carissa should have had an advantage given that local knowledge tends to pay off when conditions falter. But the field wasn’t equal. I’m not sexist, but I’ve also never seen the best WNBA team face off against an NBA team. Nor have I seen anything similar in skateboarding, snowboarding, tennis, soccer, baseball, or football (that one would be brutal). It happened once in 2003 when women’s golf superstar Annika Sorenstam played against the PGA men in the Bank of America Colonial, but that also ended in tears, quite literally.

So I ask, with respect for the Women’s World Champion, was giving Carissa the wildcard to a men’s event a sincere act, offering a worthy competitor a shot at earning a podium appearance? Or was it a novel one, aimed at grabbing our attention?

  • http://none leon

    quite well written. there is no question carissa is the finest woman surfer to date and the competitor most likely to beat Ke11ys record (although medina has raised my eyebrows too of late). her style incredible, her technique almost flawless and her innovation only a few years behind the guys. however i tend to agree that this is actually a reflection on how immature surfing is as a sport. if womens wages, coverage, market were the same or fairly marketed, there would be no need for a novelty stunt like this. the problem lies with the sexist corporate boards and professional surfing oversight. i hope sports companies like nike will help the industry to mature and treat their talent as professional athletes. all that said congrats to carissa for having a dig and looking forward to seeing a lot more of this athlete as time goes on.

  • kurt

    carissa is good for sure, but i can personally name 20 dudes from my home break that can outsurf her, so should these guys be able to surf in the women’s events? if not then it seems like people are just trying to shake things up. i love watching the women rip and the more press for them the better, but in what other sports are the top women performers permitted to compete against the men, when the entire field isn’t offered this opportunity.

  • Wicked Liza

    All I can say is; competitive surfing is ridiculous I mean really what are we comparing? Who gets the “golden wave” who is the oceans chosen one of the day? I mean , I’m glad that surfing is recognized and shared, but pinning groms against each other and men against men and woman against woman, and now oh yes women against men. Carissa vs. Garcia who gets bloodied? I’m glad that Carissa as a surfer has commanded some attention as a woman since there’s a small but growing sum of true woman surfers with HEART and she does a great job representing that.

  • Jessica Trent

    I agree with the above comment. Because the surf and outside corporations that back professional surfing pay & offer prizes for females far less than their male counterparts, and offer the women mostly mediocre locations,  a wildcard into a men’s heat was the only option for Carissa. Its a bummer the waves were not better. 

    The women also have a pretty sad tour as compared to the incredible years of Tavarua, Honolua, & Teahupoo, so they lack the “stage” to really showcase and/or grow their talent and potential to the fullest.

    It’s pretty sad to know how much money the companies make off of women’s clothing and products and how little they contribute back to the sport as compared to the same percentage of marketing  budgets given to their men’s divisions. 

    Most women do not expect to or believe they surf better than the pro men, but the women do wish for and deserve a chance to shine amongst their own. 


  • duh

    Carissa absolutely rips…no question…she’d kick my ass out in the water any day…BUT there are some many more deserving guys that are working their tails off and would kill for the slot she was granted. There is no comparison between her and her male counter parts. Bottom line is women’s market share doesn’t make up the lion share of sales for the Surf companies, their contests do not grab as many online viewers, and their events don’t grab as many sponsors. That is why they surf beach breaks and have a shorter season. It is just the way it goes. It would be great to see them grow and evolve, but there is only a handful of girls who are exciting to watch. I would rather watch a guys pro junior than a girls WT event. Heck even boys NSSA is more exciting. Many of the sponsored girls wouldn’t be paid if they were not good looking.

  • Hayden Rhodes

    Lots of good points raised here and a well written article. THKS. We all seem to agree that Carissa is in a class of her own, perhaps that is why we enjoyed seeing her in the men’s event. We also seem to be more blown away when women surf as smooth and as solid as she does with a hidden agenda to see if she can turn it on to take out some of the men in a competitive contest. That said though, why are we having women in men contests? Is there any real point? What about the local guy surfing and training his guts out for years to try and get a wild card? What we do need is a professional women’s pro tour with good locations, prize money and management so that more and more women have the chance to compete with, emulate and learn from Carissa and her outstanding personality, professionalism and skill set.

  • William

    And the pipe-master???? why there are hawaiian wildcards???? aren´t they americans???? wouldn´t be more fair to have triple crowns contenders ore world ranking ranked surfers in the qualifying cusp, such as kolohe is right now ore Julian Wilson was last year??? isn´t the pipe master a world tour championship??? why change the rules???
    why does a wt competitor who is batteling for qualification should compete against a specialist in the first and third round???? in the other 10 events the wildcards go against the top 2 or 3 surfers to own their spot if they eventually win the heat.

  • maddy

    everyone has a point but i think putting carissa in a men’s event was still a good idea because this is a perfect example of a good opportunity of how far someone (may it be a he/she) can push it. it may seem out of the box, unnecessary & ostentatious to some but it’s usually the out of the ordinary risk taking things/situations that makes a mark and opens up a milestone to a new beginning. that said, she was worthy of that wildcard because unlike the typical male surfer (who may surf better than her), she is pushing and can push boundaries. this says a lot.

    The out of the box person may be scorned/questioned/opined at his/her day & age (just like in this article), but it is that out of the box person who will go down in history… & it will be the mundane people (who may or may not be forgotten in the future)who will be the one writing about it on the sidelines (just like this article). so, kudos to the people who took the RISK in giving her the wildcard slot. you helped made history happen.

  • Kevin

    If you can surf the surf……..

  • rice

    Of course it’s a publicity stunt, but I still think it’s great. If she would have got another wave as good as her first…? As far as worrying about somebody more deserving that’s trained and worked so hard, etc…it’s called a wildcard. Wildcards get chosen for all kinds of reasons; local status, sponsors, etc. I agree that the women need a way better tour, especially with the level of women’s surfing right now. Either way, I think putting Moore in as a wildcard was good for women’s surfing.

  • dgb

    Let her surf and again show the world just how far behind the ball women’s surfing is. Let’s have a vote: women’s surfing or paint drying? No, I’m not sexiest. It is what it is and women’s surfing just isn’t good. Yeah, yeah, it’s getting better blah, blah, blah. In a competitive arena where surfers that make you say ‘Who the hell is that guy’ when you see them blowing up at your local can’t even get off the grind, the reality is obvious. It just doesn’t cut it. If it did, the big 3 would throw a shit load of money at it. Women’s surfing is a marketing tool. This is just another stunt to get free publicity from the main stream press.

  • maddy

    she deserves the slot. sure, other unknown male surfers may or may not be better than her. however, unlike them, she tries to push boundaries and that says a lot. that’s what makes her better & that’s what makes her deserving. this article and other people may question such a decision but such people will be just that- COMMON THINKERS. it is those who take the RISK & think OUTSIDE OF THE BOX who are the true innovators of progression. so kudos to those who gave her the wild card and kudos also to carissa for taking up to the challenge & facing the consequences of such actions.

    Past greats were controversial during their time but they are highly respected & REMEMBERED now (einstein etc).

  • Mik

    1. She is very good, but Silvana Lima is equally as radical, and had she not suffered from the chronic anti Brazilian ASP scoring system, she would have been world champ too. (Or does Silvana have to gain 30 pounds so she displaces as much water on turns?) 2. Also as good is Malia Manuel, and there are others in the same realm, so I think that the entire premise is kinda skewed. 3. I think it was really cool that everyone treated her with such genuine respect and admiration. 4. Bottom line is that she did not deserve a wildcard entry… Not even close. She did not have to work her way into the event by surfing against men. It is uncool that she took the opportunity from another guy who deserved a chance. 5. I hope that this is the first and last time this ever happens, unless the women are willing to let Ke11y Slater wildcard into their events. 6. The women’s tour is rad. I hope they get more sponsorship, and get to surf better venues. 7. I don’t think Teahupoo should be on the women’s tour schedule. The idea of women being seriously injured doesn’t resonate with my world-view.

  • Duc

    The real question to measure the legitimacy of the move is, “What next?” Put the top performing women on the men’s tour? If not, and the ASP really has no next step, this is just a sensationalistic move to garner press. No point has been proven. We already knew that Carissa rips and that competitive surfing has a huge luck aspect to it in variable conditions. So what?

  • id

    This very article grabs our attention… So she didn’t do well but great surfers have horrible seasons and suddenly go on to do extremely well and win contests. Nobody really needed to surf that well to win in her heat – just catch one good wave and do a turn or two. Sunny got them, then didn’t later in the comp – it’s normal and everyone knows it. There is an element of luck in surfing which makes it fun and unpredictable. A novel act can remain novel even if it also aims to grab more attention, so, no big deal… it was fun to watch and I hope it happens again. I like kurt’s comment about the 20 dudes from his home break who could beat Carissa – now that could be a fun contest to watch and something tells me a lot of dudes would go home pissed.

  • un-toured

    So Target and Nike combined can’t come up with enough money to fund the Hawaiian leg? Hows that Sponsorship (sellout) treatin ya Cariss??

  • Carly

    In 1973, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in tennis.

  • duc chau

    “In 1973, Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in tennis.”

    And is still a big “so what” years later. Billie Jean King was a great tennis player regardless of that meaningless publicity stunt.

  • bob

    But, but, didn’t Arwen save little Frodo from the ringwraiths? I remember many many years ago I was at Carlsbad and the waves were incredible. It was just perfect conditions on five foot waves and there were two ladies and myself sharing these perfect waves and they were ripping the place up. I do not know who they were but I do know that on that particular day in that place they owned it.
    Don’t tell your momma that it is a man’s world.

  • Max

    Wow what responses from this article, Kurt must live at Snapper Rocks or somewhere very competitive to make that claim of 20 dudes better than Carissa at his home break, or he’s a tripper with no grasp on reality. Thankfully most guys were able to see though the sexist cloud crafted by the writer and appreciate the real reason for Carissa getting the wildcard which had nothing to do with the ASP. It was the Hawaii locals that saw a Hawaiian world champ denied the chance to perform in her home waves and do a victory lap of sorts for her home crowd. With no women’s events in Hawaii they were let with no choice but to give her a run in the men’s events. As for the haters (sexist blokes) imagine what pressure she experienced with all those negative comments. As usual Carissa ripped when a wave came her way in two very wave starved heats and she showed her grace and class by her actions and humble words. Kurt could learn something about humility from Carissa and I don’t believe his claim is anything more than jealousy. I dare him to personally name those 20 dudes from his home break that can outsurf Carissa. Come on Kurt step up to the plate and be a man, name away. Unlike Kurt I can surf pretty well and have a couple of Aussie titles to my name. All the guys I respect all like Carissa’s surfing and respect the top female surfers in the world for what they are: amazing surfers not just amazing female surfers. Of course Carissa deserved a chance to compete in her home waves, so good luck to her and all the other girls that rip, ignore jealous guys like Kurt and shred on.

  • Local808

    Carissa rips no doubt. But she took the spot of a WQS surfer who could have used the points and money. If I was first alternate and didn’t get in, I’d be bummed. I think the definition of a Wildcard, should be someone who has a LEGITIMATE shot at taking out the entire contest. Carissa realistically did not have a shot at winning the event. Everyone was hoping for her to simply make a few heats. Carissa is the best female surfer in the world. But if she competed full time on the men’s QS, it’s more than likely she would not crack the top 200. The level is that high.

  • Les

    “So Target and Nike combined can’t come up with enough money to fund the Hawaiian leg? Hows that Sponsorship (sellout) treatin ya Cariss??”

    The sponsorship she got is treating her just fine. She just got her own house at 19. The US Open became a WT event too. Don’t bark too blindly. Target has sponsored older male surfers but never had an event. Nike is intelligently taking it slow.

  • hugo yo!

    GIRL POWER, men have more arm strength and i’m hundred percent sure ladiez have got some crusher skills in the legs, times are changing oh, dude surf bros are so l8er, run up or shut up

  • Kawika

    Carissa’s more modern maneuvers may not be as powerful, high, or tweaked as many of the men competitors, but her traditional moves are fluid, precise and styled. I’ve seen her surf terrible town waves for years and there were times when she’d ride so smooth, almost like Curren. Idk if she had any rides like that in contests as I haven’t watched any this year, but she does posses that style. As new school as the ASP is now, I think the judges could appreciate that timeless approach.

    She’s still so young, too, I think it’s just a matter of time before her airs and tailslides impress the masses.

    However it goes, I already think she is the best woman surfer I’ve seen, and one of the most genuine people.

  • ccru

    If the wildcard spot wasn’t given to Carissa, it would have likely gone to a high-ranking junior competitor, not a “hard working” QS soldier. I think the argument that the next person in line may have deserved the slot more isn’t relevant because the next person in line would have probably been a jr pro anyways that isn’t a top ranked competitor.