She’s the youngest Championship Tour qualifier in history, but Caroline Marks doesn’t want to focus on her age or anything except the waves in front of her. That’s not a metaphor, either.
Marks, a 16-year-old Florida native who now resides primarily in California, became the youngest-ever qualifier for the World Surf League Championship Tour when she finished the 2017 Qualifying Series ranked No. 7 (six surfers per year make the tour, but two above Marks had already double-qualified, opening up a spot for her). She comes with serious bona fides: National Scholastic Surfing Association titles in the girls and women’s divisions, two Vans US Open Pro Junior titles and the International Surfing Association World Title. All of that came before she launched out on the Qualifying Series in 2017 at the ripe-old age of 15.
Now that she’s formally competing on the Tour, Marks is showing signs again that she is fully capable of raising her level to her elite competition. The Champions Tour is two events in, both in Australia. The first, the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, finished with Marks in fifth place. The second, the just completed Rip Curl Women’s Pro Bells Beach, saw Marks finish third. She fell just short of eventual champion and currently top-ranked Stephanie Gilmore in the semifinals, on Gilmore’s home turf.
Caroline Marks, age 16, is currently ranked third in the world on the Champions Tour.
If that sounds impressive, that’s because it is. Marks has no business being here. While other kids she grew up alongside in Florida are in their first year of high school, Marks is being homeschooled on the other side of the world, attempting to win international surfing opens (her father spoke in the comments section of a prior interview with World Surf League about the family’s homeschooling plans). Yet no one on the World Surf League Champions Tour thinks that Marks doesn’t belong, because she surfs with such incredible skill and instinct.
Case in point: This was the first time she took to the water at famed Australia surfing locale Bells Beach:
In fact, if Marks didn’t look like a clear teenager, one might be forgiven for thinking she was a seasoned surf tour pro.
Naturally, there are still all kinds of improvements that Marks can make as she continues to climb the ranks, some of which will come naturally as she becomes familiar with the ebbs and flows of the traditional Champions Tour locations, in a literal sense.
That’s all to say that she’s not Kelly Slater yet, but perhaps in time she can be. At 16 she feels and performs as if anything is possible. That’s what makes her both so dangerous and impressive all at once.