Surfing’s first-ever U.S. Olympic gold medal went to Moore—and Hawaii
By Andrew S. Lewis
Back when she was a young girl growing up on Oahu, Carissa Moore stood before the family video camera and announced her desire to become a pro surfer, so she could chase amazing waves around the world with her friends. You could be excused for thinking that such pronouncements were merely the stuff of childhood fantasy. You would be wrong.
In the ensuing years, Moore racked up nearly every junior surfing title that mattered, until at 17 she had nothing left to do but become the pro she’d long dreamed of being. In 2010, she joined the World Championship Tour, won two out of eight events, and took Rookie of the Year. The following season, at the age of 18, she became the youngest surfer, male or female, ever to win a world title. Her ascent was dizzying. Before she’d even finished being a teenager, she had secured a place in the sport’s pantheon.
From her earliest days on a board, it was clear that Moore had a special relationship with the ocean. That is to say, her surfing style is distinctly Hawaiian—a rare signature that mixes power and grace in conditions that range from small to huge. She came of age surfing Waikiki, the incubator of modern surfing and home of its godfather, Duke Kahanamoku. The original Big Kahuna, Kahanamoku represented the United States in swimming at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, where he set a new world record in the 100-meter freestyle and took the gold.
Of course, Kahanamoku was a surfer first. His legacy looms over all Hawaiian surfers, reminding them that the sport is theirs more than anyone else’s; surfing was practiced throughout Polynesia, but in Hawaii it was enjoyed by royals and commoners alike. That history is honored at professional competitions, where Hawaiians surf under the Hawaiian state flag rather than the American flag.
Kahanamoku always wanted to see surfing in the Olympics, but he died in 1968, a half-century before the International Olympic Committee announced that the sport would make its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Unlike the World Surf League, the IOC required Hawaiians to surf under the American flag. Activists pushing for Hawaiian sovereignty petitioned the IOC to allow a Hawaiian Kingdom national team to compete at the Games, but were denied. “Olympic surfing exposes whitewashed Native Hawaiian roots” read an Associated Press headline shortly before the Games. Native Hawaiian blood courses in Moore’s veins. Wouldn’t it be poetic for one of the islands’ own to take gold?
Sadly, for Moore, the timing couldn’t have been worse. By 2016, after dominating the women’s tour for five years and winning two additional world titles (in 2013 and 2015), life had become difficult. Sponsors and media had molded her into a symbol of carefree perpetual girldom, but that was no longer the image she saw staring back at her in the mirror. She was a woman now, engaged to be married, and thinking about building a future that was bigger than surf contests.
Competitively, Moore had also “hit rock bottom,” she says. Once a shoo-in for most event finals, she was washing out in the early rounds. I’m going back to the drawing board to rebuild myself, she remembers thinking. She bought a stack of self-help books, hired a life coach, and took the time to talk through things with her family and her husband, Luke Untermann, who she wed in 2017. Before long she was stripping away the layers of expectation that the outside world had piled onto her. “I was able to say, ‘I may not be how everybody else imagines me to be,’ ” she says. “I had taken my power back, felt comfortable in my own skin, and had learned how to listen to my intuition.”
Then she took surfing back, too. In 2019, going into the final event of the season on Maui, she was within striking distance of a fourth world title—and Olympic qualification. The Maui Pro is the tour’s only stop in Hawaii; the wave itself, Honolua Bay, is considered to be Moore’s home break. As the contest dawned, the ocean delivered heaving, raw swell, and in quick succession Moore sealed both her place at the Tokyo Games and the title.
After a yearlong pandemic delay, in July Moore traveled to Japan. Accustomed to shorelines packed with hordes of fans, she and her fellow Olympians found themselves looking across an empty expanse at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach, two hours east of Tokyo. The Pacific Ocean was a chaotic mess, the result of a tropical storm spinning offshore. “One of the things I was struggling with earlier on was making sure I was doing everything to make everybody happy,” says Moore, who is now 29. “What was so beautiful about the Olympics was that there was no one there—it was just about surfing.”
All the distractions that came with the life of a world champion disappeared. It was as if she were that little girl smiling in front of the camera again, still unknown and running on dreams. A rainbow appeared over Tsurigasaki in the final minutes of the gold-medal heat, just as it became clear that Moore had won. For a long moment, she bobbed alone in the gray ocean and cried. The next day, she took to Instagram: “Guys, we did it! This is for all of you. For the USA. For Hawaii.” When she got back to Oahu a few days later, she went straight to the nine-foot bronze statue of Kahanamoku that sits on the beach at Waikiki. She draped the Duke’s outstretched arms in a handful of flower necklaces, giving thanks to the ambassador of aloha.
The snowboarder on a mission to defend giant trees
This summer, a group of activists camped out in the forests of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to stymie a logging company’s efforts to chop down old growth. They dug trenches, erected wooden tripods, and blocked access roads using cement, chains, and PVC pipe. Among them was 37-year-old Canadian pro snowboarder Marie-France Roy. “It felt good to be doing something physical that was actually stopping the logging,” she says. The so-called Fairy Creek blockades are now the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, with more than 1,000 arrests. The government responded by putting a two-year halt on all logging in the headwaters of Fairy Creek, but not in the old-growth forests surrounding it. Roy and the rest of the activists say they aren’t going anywhere until the remaining old growth in B.C. is protected, and until First Nations sovereignty over the forests is restored. —Jayme Moye
The athlete who switched sports and still won gold
While serving in Afghanistan in 2011, Brad Snyder stepped on an explosive device that launched shrapnel into his eyes, leaving him blind. Although his loved ones fretted about his sightless future, he turned the elation of simply being alive into two swimming golds and a silver at the 2012 London Paralympics. “I didn’t want pity,” he says. “ I wanted to show that I am the same person.” He won four swimming medals at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro; then, in the run-up to Tokyo, he and his sight guide, Greg Billington, opted for a new challenge: the paratriathlon. “It was ripe with opportunity to start at the bottom and go all the way up,” says Snyder, 37. But his pool savvy didn’t immediately translate to open water, and he and Billington only figured out how to be efficient on the bike a few weeks before the Games began. Ultimately, after months of tinkering with their tactics, Snyder became the first American man to win a triathlon in either the Olympics or the Paralympics. —Ted Alvarez
A minnesotan making the outdoors welcoming for all
Born in India and adopted when she was five months old by a woman in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Asha Shoffner grew up fishing on a nearby lake with her adoptive grandpa. Those simple forays planted a seed that would lead to her position as the environmental and outdoor education program coordinator for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. In that role, 37-year-old Shoffner’s mission is to encourage underrepresented communities to get outside in ways that feel supportive and affirming. “When we think about stewardship of the land, we have to feel connected to it,” she says. “In order to connect, we have to feel safe.” Shoffner created activities like Latino hiking trips led by a Spanish-speaking guide, and a park-ambassador program that provides training and certification for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds interested in a career in the outdoors; she also fostered BIPOC participation in the Phalen Freeze Fest, an annual Minnesotan celebration in which upward of 700 participants kicksled, snowshoe, and ice-fish in mid-February. In 2020, after George Floyd was murdered in neighboring Minneapolis, Shoffner started the BIPOC Outdoors Twin Cities Facebook page, which includes a calendar of events led by and open only to residents of Minneapolis and Saint Paul who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. One of the most powerful meetups was a hangout along the Mississippi River during the Derek Chauvin trial; participants set down their phones and chilled out, to “let their nervous systems settle a bit,” Shoffner says. Her efforts haven’t been lost on Melvin Carter, Saint Paul’s first Black mayor. “Amid the many challenges of the past 19 months, safe outdoor spaces are critical to our collective health and well-being,” he says. “Asha’s leadership has been vital in realizing this vision.” Shoffner still fishes, mostly along the Mississippi. When COVID-19 struck, she used a park along the banks as a field office. “The river is such a beautiful and sacred place, especially for Indigenous folks,” she says. “It’s an important place to honor and recognize.” —Stephanie Pearson
Lo Phong La Kiatoukaysy
A through-hiker fighting hate
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Learn more about why Lil’ Buddha chose a life on the trails in this Outside TV video
Born in a Thai refugee camp, Lo Phong La Kiatoukaysy—who goes by his trail name, Lil’ Buddha—narrowly survived the spillover of the Vietnam War. In 1976, his mother took the family and fled the country, and the Kiatoukaysys eventually resettled in Kansas. Lil’ Buddha soon discovered a love of the outdoors on backpacking trips to Colorado. After college, in 1997, he moved to New York for a marketing job, which was located next to the Twin Towers. Then 9/11 happened, and Kiatoukaysy escaped as the buildings collapsed. It motivated a change in his life: he left the corporate world and set out to through-hike America’s long trails. Forty-five thousand miles later, he’s a double triple crowner and still going. Recently, the 45-year-old Hmong American began speaking out against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate. After the rise in violence directed at those groups during the COVID pandemic, Lil’ Buddha vowed to hike the Continental Divide Trail for a third time in 2021 to raise money to support the Shared Liberation Network—an anti-racism response organization made up of over 40 nonprofits committed to education and ending racial discrimination—and to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. “My goal is simple,” he says. “I want to engage with the through-hiking community, the larger trail community, and anyone willing to listen to my message: we’re better than this, and together we can stop AAPI hate.” To date he’s raised $5,000 through social media. —Jeff Garmire
An entrepreneur devoted to designing plus-size performance apparel
Forces of Good: Getting All Bodies Outdoors
Meet the innovators and activists who are making their favorite sports more accessible to plus-size adventurers
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In her late twenties, Raquel Vélez, then a software engineer living in the Bay Area, went skiing for the first time. She wore rain pants layered over sweats. Subpar gear notwithstanding, the experience was life changing. “I had dreams of the wind in my face as I flew down the mountain,” she says. But when she visited a local sporting-goods store to buy proper ski pants, none fit her size 16 frame. (The largest size stocked by most stores is 12.) Luckily, she had recently taken up sewing, and the combination of her new hobbies sparked an idea. In April 2021, Vélez’s brainchild, Alpine Parrot, launched on Kickstarter. The brand’s Ponderosa pants promised well-crafted women’s hiking bottoms in sizes 14 to 24, and it reached its fundraising goal in just a few hours. Part of the buzz was due to Alpine Parrot’s radical approach to pattern making and fit testing. “When you get past certain sizes, the juicy bits are in different spots,” says Vélez, 36. “Some people have more in their belly, some have more in their booty.” She fit-tested the pants herself, then sent them to dozens of people across the country, resulting in two cuts for two different body types: Mountain, for a curvier fit, and River, for a straighter one. Vélez has big dreams for Alpine Parrot. Shorts and flannel shirts are in the works, and the company plans to expand its range up to size 30. And yes, Vélez also intends to make ski pants. “I want to be as big as Patagonia for plus-size,” she says of her business’s future. “I want to be able to cover every single activity that people of size do. Which, it turns out, is all of them.” —Maren Larsen
Bike sales continued to skyrocket in 2021, making it a busy year for mechanics, who cheerfully kept our rides working safely on roads and trails, often for little pay. Thank you.
In April, for the first time in the 246-year history of the U.S. Marine Corps, a group of women recruits completed the grueling, 54-hour Crucible—a test of physical strength and mental fortitude—in San Diego alongside men. Fifty-three women finished the challenge, which includes negotiating a notoriously steep 9.3-mile hike, called the Reaper, under the weight of a 70-pound pack.
A tree-planting official takes on outdoor equity and climate change
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Watch as Los Angeles comes to life with trees in this Outside TV video
When Rachel Malarich became Los Angeles’s first city forest officer in August 2019, she faced a daunting task: making one of the country’s largest urban forests—spread across a demographically diverse, drought-stricken region—more equitably distributed. A fifth of its trees are located in four of its wealthiest neighborhoods, home to just 1 percent of the city’s population. Malarich was hired as part of mayor Eric Garcetti’s Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to improve L.A.’s climate resilience. Her initial mandate was to plant 90,000 new trees in areas that lack enough shade by the end of 2021. Over the next seven years, Malarich wants to double the number of trees in those parts of the city. These new trees will provide relief from heat waves, increase rainwater capture, and sequester carbon. Data scientists from Google’s Tree Canopy Lab and researchers at the University of Southern California are helping the city decide where to focus its efforts, and a new Tree Ambassador Program is paying community members to become urban forestry experts. While the pandemic halted large-scale planting, a mix of essential city workers, nonprofits, and residents have been plugging away, crossing the halfway point over the summer. The goal is to create cooler neighborhoods and to improve quality of life for all Angelenos. “There are so many great things that trees do for us,” says Malarich. “They’re really our superheroes.” —S.S.
The chef restoring Native foodways
When Nephi Craig eyes a basket of corn or squash, he sees a path to healing. A history of violent removal from Native lands, followed by forced assimilation, separated many Indigenous people from their ancestral foodways. Craig, who is Diné and a member of the White Mountain Apache tribe, believes that growing, eating, and sharing Native foods can help mend generational trauma. After all, it’s what helped him get sober a decade ago. The 41-year-old spent years honing his craft at restaurants around the world. But it wasn’t until he returned to Whiteriver, Arizona, as executive chef at a ski resort on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, that he became fully immersed in food sovereignty, a movement that seeks to restore cultural foods from seed to table. His newest endeavor, Café Gozhoo, located in Fort Apache and featured in the documentary Gather, provides the community with traditional foods and vocational training for people recovering from substance abuse. Craig also plans to resurrect the Native American Culinary Association, an initiative he formed to connect chefs, farmers, and others interested in Indigenous cuisine. “Food sovereignty is really about liberation, spiritually and nutritionally,” Craig says. “Food sovereignty is freedom.” —S.S.
The Team that Cleaned Up Everest
2.2 tons: The amount of trash that Dawa Steven Sherpa and other Nepali climbers removed from Mount Everest Base Camp during a lull in visitors caused by COVID-19. Dawa Steven’s organization, Eco Everest Expedition, partnered with the Bally Peak Outlook Foundation, a Swiss company committed to cleaning up fragile mountain habitats.
The woman who crushed the field at RAAM
When a dozen cyclists lined up in June in Oceanside, California, for the start of the 3,037-mile Race Across America, no woman had won the overall title in the event’s 39-year history. Leah Goldstein, a 52-year-old Israeli Canadian from Vernon, British Columbia, was a long shot to become the first. But brutal heat—temperatures hovered around 120 degrees for the first three days—punished the field, and her toughness kicked in. “I got burned right through my jersey,” she says. “People’s bike computers were melting. It felt like your face was going to explode.” Goldstein, a former kickboxing world champion and the first woman to train Israel’s elite commandos, traded leads with favorite Mark Pattinson until he withdrew in the Appalachians with a knee injury. On day 11, Goldstein charged toward the finish in Annapolis, Maryland, collapsing on someone’s lawn with a mile to go. “My body just gave out,” she says. “I’d never experienced anything like that.” She started walking her bike, taking an hour to cover the final stretch. When she pedaled through the finish, she’d beaten the fastest man by more than 16 hours. For Goldstein, whose grandmother survived Auschwitz, the fact that her time was slower than some past winning times didn’t take away from her feat. “You know what? When you have conditions like that, I want to see how fast you can ride your damn bike.” —Devon O’Neil
The climber breaking barriers
A Pro Climber’s Coming-Out Story
Jordan Cannon found the courage to share his true self in an unlikely place: on the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan, with his hero
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In May, in an Outside Online article, 27-year-old Jordan Cannon came out as the first openly gay male professional climber. The next month, he completed Yosemite’s triple crown, which comprises big-wall routes on El Capitan, Half Dome, and Mount Watkins, in under 24 hours, an objective that only a dozen others have accomplished. We caught up with him about how the past eight months have changed him as a person and an athlete.
OUTSIDE: What was the reaction to your story?
CANNON: It was positively overwhelming. I had assumed that whenever you put something personal on the internet it would likely garner some hate, but I got not one negative comment. That was encouraging. You could also say it was a great privilege that I didn’t get any hate when perhaps others have.
You said that you didn’t want coming out to make you “the gay climber.” Has it?
Definitely not. For example, this season my friend Scott Bennett and I climbed the triple crown in Yosemite and talked to a few journalists about it. None of them mentioned it, they were so focused on my climbing.
You talked about not being out as a weight you’d been carrying. How do you feel now?
Much better. I don’t feel like I’m hiding anything, and that has made me less stressed and less anxious. It’s also made climbing more fulfilling and led to better connections with people. I want to give back and do good for the gay climbing community, and I’m in a position to think about how I can have a positive impact. —M.L.