There have been two main stories on the women’s tour this year—a battle between veterans for the world title (Steph Gilmore is searching for her seventh, but Lakey Peterson has her own thoughts about that), and the explosive start to Caroline Marks’ rookie year. But with the ladies only halfway through the season—and with the poise and talent Marks has shown thus far in 2018—the rookie could soon be mixing it up for the title as well.
As the tour heads to South Africa to start the back half of the schedule, we caught up with Marks to chat with her about her first year on tour, her stellar results so far, and the pressure of being the youngest world tour surfer in history.
Thanks for chatting with us, Caroline! Halfway through your rookie season, you are ranked seventh in the world. For your first year on tour, did you think it would go this well?
Coming into the year, I was pretty confident with my surfing. But I did not put any pressure on myself to get results.
You've cracked the quarters three times already this year, have essentially the same amount of points as Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons, and just won the QS event in Cabo—you have to be feeling pretty good right now.
Yeah, I’m really happy where I'm at. I have enjoyed every stop, surfing amazing waves and learning a lot. I'm getting more confident every event I surf in, so I'm really excited for the rest of the year.
It has become sort of trendy to compare your backhand approach to Mark Occhilupo's, and to say that you are the female Occy. What do you think about that? Is your backhand something you have focused on specifically over the past few years, or are people noticing just because there are a lot of rights on tour?
That's a big privilege to be compared to Occy. He is one of my favorite surfers. I am a goofy footer so going left is one of my favourite things in the world to do, but I defiantly don't mind all the amazing rights on tour.
J-Bay is next on the forecast, and is a spot that is typically dominated by the regular foots. But then again, Occy was pretty lethal there on his backhand. Is South Africa a stop you have been looking forward to?
I have always wanted to go to South Africa, so to surf Jay Bay with a few other ladies is going to be amazing. The forecast is looking good, so that gets me really excited.
There has been a lot of hype around you this year, and everyone especially loves to talk about how you were the youngest person to ever qualify for the world tour. But then it almost feels like a minute later they are putting tons of pressure on you, and forgetting you are still just 16 years old. What has it been like to be so young, and to be on the road all the time, away from home and working what is essentially a full-time job as a world tour competitor? What do you miss the most when you are on the road?
I'm super stoked to be on tour. It's exactly where I want to be. I think that there is always going to be pressure no matter what, whether it’s you putting pressure on yourself or other people having high expectations. But all that matters is that I know that I'm 16, and all I need to worry about is surfing my best and having fun.
I assume you are home schooling? How have you managed to find a balance between your studies and tour life?
Yeah, I’m doing a program called Lighthouse Christian Academy. It’s a great program because I can just travel with books and not worry about Wi-Fi. And there’s tons of down time on tour, so I’m able to find time to study.
All we ever hear about is your surfing and competitive results, but as a teenager you must have lots of other interests and hobbies. Who is Caroline Marks when she's not in a jersey?
I love to fish and ride motocross. I grew up in Florida, so fishing is one of my absolute favourite things to do. We also had a motocross track built in our backyard growing up, so I would always race my brothers [laughs].
You are the only full-time rookie on tour this year, and even if you weren't, your results thus far this year would pretty well have clinched rookie of the year already. You've made the quarters three times and the semis once--have you already accomplished your goals for this year, or were you looking for even more when you started your first season?
A lot of my favourite surfers and world champions have won rookie of the year, so winning that has always been one of my goals ever since I started surfing. But as far as goals for my first year on tour, I haven't put pressure on myself to get any results. My main focus this year is to get better at surfing, learn as much as I can, and have the most fun.
We have five more events left on tour this year—J-Bay, Huntington Beach, the Surf Ranch, France, and Honolua. Which event are you looking forward to the most?
I think J-Bay and Honolua are going to be really fun events for me because I've never been. The US Open has always been one of my favorite events as a junior. The crowd is awesome, the waves are fun, and it’s close to where I live.
Well we look forward to seeing you back in the jersey. Good luck in South Africa!