Carissa Moore Reflects on 'Incredible Journey' to Gold at Tokyo Olympics — and Dance Party with Husband

"Honestly, if you overthink it too much, that's when it goes wrong," surfer Carissa Moore tells PEOPLE. "You just need to let it go and have fun"

Right before you win an Olympic gold medal, it helps to have a dance party.

Just ask surfer Carissa Moore.

"Sometimes you just need to lighten up. Sometimes, I'm so serious that I'm just like, 'Okay, all right, let's dance it out. Let's dance it out,' " she tells PEOPLE in Tokyo, still wearing the gold medal from her women's surfing competition days earlier.

Picture this: Moore, 28, in the locker room last week before she got into the water, shaking off her nerves to Ed Sheeran's "Bad Habits" with her husband on the phone.

"Honestly, if you overthink it too much, that's when it goes wrong. You just need to let it go and have fun," she says.

Competing here in Japan, on this stage as surfing made its debut at the Games, would have seemed impossible to a younger Moore — even as a teen when she first broke onto the international circuit.

"It wasn't even on my radar," she says, calling it "an incredible journey to have surfing represented at the Olympic level."

Carissa Moore
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Carissa Moore
Photo by Jackson Van Kerk/World Surf League via Getty Images

"I hope people can just sense the joy," Moore says. "I hope it inspires them to maybe get out on a board themselves, or just chase after a passion that they are into themselves."

Still, the mantle of "role model" — the idea that, in a few years' time, a younger surfer might mention to Moore that they are in the water because of her example — feels strange.

"I don't know if I've ever said that out loud about myself, but I definitely know that I have a platform," Moore says. "I'm very grateful for that platform, and I hope that I can make a positive impact."

Since 2018, she has been working with her foundation, Moore Aloha.

"The goal is just to create an environment and create events where girls can come together, feel comfortable sharing, inspiring [and] being vulnerable together," she says.

"You can find so much strength in being vulnerable together and lifting each other up and being able to relate," the Honolulu native says of her group, which she says is focused on "encouraging [girls] to step outside their comfort zone, chase their dreams, using surfing as a platform to do that and encouraging them to be compassionate individuals and live with that Aloha spirit."

She says she's "so grateful" for a recent donation to the foundation from P&G, through their Athletes for Good Fund. Moore says the brand "really appreciates our values" and she is "excited to get to work and put that donation to good use."

First, though, she's going to luxuriate a bit in being back home after being separated from her family while competing.

"The very first thing I'm going to do when I get home is just give my husband a big bear hug," she says. "That's all I want to do. And take a shower."

Athletes react to winning gold

COVID-19 protocols barred Moore's husband, Luke, from joining her in Tokyo. But he was never more than a FaceTime away. (When the pair, who have known each other since they were teenagers, married on Oahu in 2018, he playfully vowed "to hug and kiss you every time you walk through the door even if it's only been five minutes," as she told him, "I'm not sure I can give you the small football team of children you're dreaming for, but I promise to be the best mother and the best wife.")

"He's been just such a rock and constant for me and a great sounding board," Moore says of Luke, who co-founded a Hawaii food company.

"There's many times this past week, the past 10 days, that I've called him and maybe been a little shaken up and he's just been solid and grounded for me," Moore says. "I would call him probably 20 minutes before I paddled out just for the 'I love you and good luck.' And usually, I get to give him a good luck kiss before I paddle out, but I got the good luck FaceTime, so that'll do."

While Moore's final surfing competition was a "constant battle" — a typhoon brought them waves but also brought challenging weather — she triumphed over South Africa's Bianca Buitendag.

After she earned gold, Moore was lifted into the air with the American flag wrapped around her.

"I think that's what's so special about surfing is that you are working with Mother Nature," she says. "And if you don't let go and surrender to the ocean, it's really hard to find that rhythm. And I think that's with life, too."

To learn more about Team USA, visit Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.

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