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Surfing World Champion Caroline Marks on Life, Competing, and Staying Inspired

Caroline Marks took the surfing world for a ride as a 19-year-old Olympic competitor, qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 games at age 17. She won her first surfing world title last weekend in San Clemente, California at the Lower Trestles wave break for the Rip Curl Finals, defeating Olympic champion and five-time world champion Carissa Moore.

With her win, Marks became the fourth women’s world champion in the last 15 years, after Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright, and Stephanie Gilmore—all major players in the sport.

Coming from a family of six children, Caroline spent her childhood surfing the waves in her Melbourne, Florida beach backyard. At 15 years old, she became the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the women’s championship tour. She attributes much of her love for surfing competitions to spending days at the beach competing with her brothers.

We caught up with the world champion for a Q&A, and here’s what she had to say.

Outdoors.com: Why do you love surfing?

Caroline Marks: No one can tell you what to do on the wave, and you just have this open canvas to do whatever you want. And everyone’s got such a unique style and such a unique way to approach the wave, and I think that’s what’s so special about surfing, you can just do whatever you want. It’s such a free feeling, and there’s just nothing like it. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s just such a beautiful feeling to ride a wave and ride it until it stops, breaking into oblivion. It’s pretty cool.

Outdoors.com: Tell me about your outlook on life.

Caroline Marks: Look, I’m still trying to figure out life. I’m 21, and I think I’m still learning every day. I forever will be. The thing I try to do every day is just have a positive outlook on life and surround myself with good people, and I think that is really important. I just try to look through everything with a good lens, and I think that’s definitely a better way than looking at it through a negative lens. So, I just try to look at everything in a positive way. I also believe things do happen for a reason, so be a good person, be honest, all that good stuff.

Outdoors.com: What are three things about you that would surprise us?

Caroline Marks: I used to be a horseback rider. I feel like a lot of people don’t know that. I’m one of six. So, I’ve got a big family. And I was born on Valentine’s Day.

Outdoors.com: What is your most memorable competition and why?

Caroline Marks: Wow. I feel like I have a couple of different ones. My first-ever contest was really special. It was in this wave I grew up surfing called Melbourne Beach, and it was put on by my neighbor. It was an open division, so I surfed against boys and girls. Just surfing against my brothers, I remember that being such a cool feeling. I was like, wow, this is my first contest, and I surf out here every day but now if you make the final you get a trophy, and I thought that was so cool. Another one that really sticks out was the Gold Coast in 2019. My first CT [Championship Tour] win and the first event with equal pay, which was really special. So those two events really stick out to me.

Outdoors.com: What is your greatest fear?

Caroline Marks: My greatest fear is probably losing somebody I love.

Outdoors.com: What things do you think contributed to you becoming an Olympian in 2020?

Caroline Marks: I think, obviously, a lot of hard work, the right people around me, and just my love for surfing is a huge one. And just tons of hours in the water. Also my family. They’ve been just my rock. I was pretty young when I made the Olympics, so I think just having their support, being super young on tour, it was just so helpful. So yeah, my family, a lot of hard work, and my love for surfing got me there.

Outdoors.com: What trait do you most love in yourself?

Caroline Marks: I think I’m pretty funny. I don’t know if a lot of people really know that, just my inner circle, kind of, but I do think I’m pretty funny. I keep things pretty light-hearted, which I’m sure people like, hopefully.

Outdoors.com: Who is your biggest rival and why? 

Caroline Marks: I just feel like there’s a bunch of new girls on tour, and I think we’ll probably all be battling for a long time and that’s really fun. When I first qualified on the tour, the age gap between me and the next person was pretty significant, so I think now it’s really cool to have girls that are younger than me and girls that are my age. We still have Carissa, Stephanie, and Tyler who have been dominating for so long, so I feel like within the next few years there’s gonna be some really good battles between me, the younger girls, and the girls my age. I think it’s gonna be really fun.

Outdoors.com: What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?

Caroline Marks: There’s been some cruel things out there, that’s for sure. I honestly don’t really read the comments that much anymore. I think that was a big mistake I made in my first couple of years on tour. I would read everything, and I am a people pleaser. I do care about what people think, so I’ve just learned it’s pretty impossible to please everybody and that’s okay. And there’s gonna be some keyboard warriors out there that don’t say the nicest thing about you, but I feel like when people say mean things it’s most likely their own insecurity, and you just have to remember that. No matter how strong-minded you are, it definitely affects you. It definitely affects me, so I don’t really read the comments that much anymore.

Outdoors.com: What is your craziest surfing story?

Caroline Marks: I’ve definitely had some shark encounters in Florida. Growing up in Florida, I think it’s one of the shark-bite capitals of the world. I remember I was surfing in this local event, and two people got bit by a shark, and they continued to run the event. That’s just Florida for you. There are just a lot of sharks. They’re not the biggest, but they bite a lot, so that’s a pretty crazy surfing story. The bites weren’t too bad, but still, that’s pretty gnarly.

Outdoors.com: What advice would you give someone trying to improve their surfing?

Caroline Marks: I’d say spend a lot of time in the water. Obviously, in surfing there’s never the same wave, and it’s just a constantly moving environment. Sometimes, it can be a little discouraging if the waves are bad or it’s crowded and you don’t get many waves that session. All of that’s gonna happen. I think just spending more and more time in the water and just being consistent is key. And just having a love for it, I think, is the most important thing. If you love it, you just kind of keep going, no matter how bad of a session you had.

Outdoors.com: What is the most important piece of advice you give to young girls like those in Rising Tides?

Caroline Marks: It’s been really cool to have Rising Tides at every different event this year. It’s been really special. You see new faces, you see familiar faces, and a lot of the girls are ripping. It’s crazy. I’m like, dang you guys don’t need our help. I tell younger girls the reason why I’m continuing to surf is because I just love it, so do what you love, do what makes you happy. Go grab a buddy, go grab a friend. To me, surfing with my brothers is the most special thing ever. It’s the people you love, and you’re doing what you love. So, find what you love and dream big, because it’s pretty amazing when you put your mind to it, what you can accomplish.

Outdoors.com: What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Caroline Marks: I mean, there are things that I’m learning every day. I’m still 21. I definitely do not have it figured out at all. I do think, especially growing up, always competing my whole life, whether it’s in horseback riding or now surfing, I always was basing my happiness off results, and I think you can’t do that. You have to realize there’s more to life than just that and enjoy the people around you. Don’t let results define your happiness. Obviously, when you win, it’s the best feeling ever, but don’t let that define your happiness. And also, good things come to good people, so just be a good person, be honest, and be nice to everyone. People remember how you make them feel, so I think that’s been a really important thing. No matter how cool you are or what you’ve accomplished, people are going to remember how you make them feel. Be you, because no one’s you. That’s what’s really cool, there’s only one of you, so just be yourself.

Outdoors.com: Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Caroline Marks: Billie Eilish, for sure. I would love to have dinner with Billie Eilish and just pick her brain. She’s super inspiring to me, and I think it’s really cool how she’s done a lot of work with her brother, because I’m really close to my brothers. I got into surfing because of my brothers. She seems like a legend.

Outdoors.com: Who inspires you and why?

Caroline Marks: I feel like my family has just been so inspirational to me. Everyone’s just got such a great work ethic and a good outlook on life, and we all really support one another. But we also want to be better than one another. It’s pretty cool. It’s a little competitive, but we also really want to see everyone in our family doing really well. I feel like my whole family is just inspiring. My parents and how they brought us up and the lifestyle they gave us is just so rad. 

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