Professional surfer Caroline Marks, 21, has been tabbed as a future world champion since she was 15 years old, bursting onto the scene as the youngest ever surfer to qualify for the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT).
Six years later, Marks made those expectations a reality when she won the World Surf League Finals at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, California—Marks’ adopted home after her family relocated there from Florida, where she was born, so she could pursue professional surfing.
The win also provisionally qualifies Marks for the second women’s spot on the U.S. Olympic surf team, alongside fellow Red Bull athlete Carissa Moore. The two are not only ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the U.S., but also in the overall world rankings, making Team USA the heavy favorite for gold at the Paris 2024 Games.
In the women’s final, Marks defeated Moore—the defending Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion. To make the final, Marks also had to triumph over fellow American Caitlin Simmers and Australia’s Tyler Wright.
That made this victory a “full-circle moment,” Marks told me via phone from San Clemente. “At my first-ever CT event I was a wild card in the Lowers when I was 13, competing against against Carissa and Tyler,” she said. “We still lived in Florida at that time, but we had a summer vacation rental [in California]. Then eight years later I was against Carissa and Tyler again to win my first world title. It’s really cool to look back on all that.”
“Carissa’s my biggest inspiration,” Marks added. “My first-ever CT win was against Carissa, and now my first world title, so that just shows you how long she’s been dominating the sport.”
Sharing a major sponsor, Marks truly feels like Moore and her fellow Red Bull athletes are all one one team, even as they compete against one another in an individual sport.
“When you’re part of the Red Bull team it’s like a family; everyone’s very connected,” Marks said. “It’s very cool and pretty unique. Red Bull’s been a dream sponsor for me. Since I was 13 they’ve put me in air awareness camps and taken me to wave pools and set me up with filmers and with my trainer I work with now.”
Marks’ story of growing up doing competitive horseback riding in Florida and eventually following her brother Luke into surfing was covered in the 2021 Red Bull documentary That’s Caroline , which came out just as the teenager qualified for the Olympic debut of surfing at the Tokyo Games.
At those Games, where Moore won the first-ever women’s surfing gold medal, Marks finished just off the podium, in fourth.
“That is the toughest spot to finish, just missing out on a medal,” Marks said. “I felt like I was in such great form that whole event, had a really dominant performance up until the heat I lost, but that’s just kind of the beauty of our sport. There’s never the same wave; you gotta go out there and catch the waves and be sharp in the mind and confident and a lot of stars have to align to win. It definitely lit a fire in me. I do not want that to happen again.”
When it comes to headspace, Marks is in a great place now, which wasn’t the case this time last year when she stepped away from the Tour due to recurring medical and health issues. After missing half the season, she didn’t qualify for the WSL Finals.
“It definitely gave me perspective and a lot of appreciation for what I do,” Marks said. “I’ve been blessed to be able to do what I love and every day I wake up with a passion for it. When all that got taken away from me for a little bit and I had to take a step back, every moment away from the Tour felt like an eternity. It was definitely really tough, but it’s crazy to think last year around this time was probably hardest moment of my life mentally and physically, and now I’m at the highest point of my life. It shows you hard work, dedication and good support crew around you can get you through anything.”
“What’s one year when I have my whole life and whole career ahead of me?” Marks added.
Though next summer’s Games will be held in Paris, the Olympic surfing venue is at Teahupo’o in Tahiti, part of French Polynesia—and 10,000 miles away. Marks just defeated Simmers to win the Shiseido Tahiti Pro at the venue in August, setting her up nicely for the Olympics.
“Tahiti’s one of the most beautiful, terrifying, machine-like waves in the world,” Marks said. “It’s definitely very exciting. Someone’s who never seen surfing before might tune in and be like, ‘This is unbelievable.’ Winning that last event there gave me a ton of confidence.”
Given the distance between Paris and Tahiti, Marks isn’t sure if she’ll be able to participate in the opening or closing ceremonies, though she hopes there’s time to “pop over” to France before or after her competition.
Preferably with a medal in hand.