Midway through her breakout 2018 season, then-16-year-old surfer Caroline Marks took a moment to reflect on her position.
“I’m just having the time of my life,” she said. “I’m having so much fun.”
Her life is about to get even more exciting.
Marks, who is now 17, overcame the odds — and one of her compatriots — to clinch a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where surfing will be contested for the first time at that level.
The teenage phenom came into the World Surf League Women’s Championship Tour season-ending Maui Pro ranked third, behind fellow Americans Carissa Moore and Lakey Peterson. With the top eight finishers in the CT earning bids to Tokyo, but a maximum of two per country, that meant Marks would need to leapfrog one of her teammates to earn the spot.
That’s exactly what she did, qualifying on Sunday by advancing to the quarterfinals as Lakey Peterson lost her round of 16 heat to two-time world champion Tyler Wright of Australia. Moore, who competes under the Hawaiian flag in the WSL, also secured her Olympic berth hours prior.
Both Moore and Marks are also still contending for the world title, which is based on cumulative results across the CT season.
The Olympic surfing competition in Tokyo will feature 40 athletes – 20 men and 20 women. The competition will the held at Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan, from July 26 through Aug. 2, 2020.
Kolohe Andino qualified for the first U.S. men’s spot on last month in Portugal. He will likely be joined by John John Florence, Kelly Slater or Seth Moniz based on the results of the season-ending men’s tournament later this month.
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A native of Melbourne Beach, Florida, Marks followed her older brothers Luke and Zach into the sport when she was 8 years old.
“In order for (my brothers) and their friends to accept me I had to surf and surf better than them,” Marks explained to TeamUSA.org. “They’ve pushed me more than anyone. They’ve been my biggest supporters, and they definitely gave me a lot of constructive criticism. I came home crying a lot, but it made me the surfer I am today.”
That surfer is a pretty darn good one.
Marks competed on the WSL Qualifying Series in 2017 before making the jump up to the top-level Championship Tour last year. When she qualified for the CT at age 15, she became the youngest surfer ever to qualify for the league’s top tour.
Competing against the top names in the sport—and as the tour’s youngest rider, Marks finished among the top five in half of the 10 competitions, good enough to place seventh on the season and win the rookie of the year award.
She’s taken the next step this year. After opening the season with a win at the Pro Gold Coast, her first on the Championship Tour, she went on to finish among the top three in five of the next eight competitions. That included a win in the most recent event in October in Portugal.
Shortly after that competition, the teenager stopped in at Huntington Beach, California, where USA Surfing was hosting a barbecue for the Japanese team competing at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship.
“For sure I’m thinking about the Olympics, and I really want to be in the Olympics,” Marks told TeamUSA.org. “But at the same time, I’m not really putting that pressure on myself because I have so much time and I’m so young. But of course, I definitely want to be in the Olympics and to represent America would be incredible. Yeah, it would be super cool.”
In just a few months, she’ll get to find out just how cool.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic movements for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.