Caroline Marks riding world’s waves at just 16

AP Sports Writer
Teen surfing sensation Caroline Marks competes in the Corona Bali Protected at Keramas, Indonesia on June 1. Goaded by her siblings at a young age while growing up in Florida, Marks took to the waves with such gusto that at 16, she's the youngest competitor on the World Surf League's Championship Tour.
Kelly Cestari / AP | World Surf League

SAN DIEGO — Caroline Marks showed her older brothers who was the best surfer in the family.

Goaded by her siblings at a young age while growing up in Florida, Marks took to the waves with such gusto that at 16, she’s the youngest competitor ever, male or female, on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour.

While most people her age are in high school, Marks has already made $105,450, attracted top sponsors and is ranked sixth on the women’s tour, which makes its eighth stop this weekend at the Surf Ranch Pro on the artificial waves of the WSL Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, some 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

Marks hasn’t been in a classroom since finishing fifth grade. She’s being home-schooled as she lives her dream of riding waves around the world.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Marks said recently. “I get asked a lot, ‘Oh, you’re missing out on prom, you’re missing out on homecoming, winter formal,’ and I’m just like, ‘I don’t even care.’ I’d way rather be doing what I’m doing, traveling the world and meeting all the people I’ve looked up to my whole life. I’d way rather be in the position (I’m in) than just go to school.”

Marks will earn a high school diploma and go to college, her father, Darren, promises.

Being a phenom, though, has allowed Marks to get a huge jump on her pro career.

“This is my dream, like seriously, yeah,” she said. “You could say, ‘Hey, what do you want to do for the rest of your life; anything you want, your dream job?’ I’m definitely doing it. It’s definitely a dream for sure.”

Marks was still 15 when she qualified in November for this year’s tour. She turned 16 in February.

Marks credits her brothers for pushing her along. She first rode a surfboard when she was 4 but didn’t get serious until she was 9.

Her brothers would criticize her “to the point where I’d come in crying,” she said.

“Now I look back on that, I’m kind of glad I did that because it made me way better,” Marks continued. “Just them pushing me, pushing me, pushing me: ‘Hey, you’ve got to surf like the boys.’ I feel it has made me better at such a young age.”

Marks emerged at 13 when she won the first of two Vans US Open of Surfing titles in the Pro Junior division. Those performances earned her a chance to surf in her first Championship Tour event at Lower Trestles in 2015, making her the youngest surfer ever to compete in one.

Marks has the support of her large family, including her father, himself a surfer.

“My wife and I talked to a lot of close friends just to make sure we were doing the right thing, because at the end of the day you want your children to grow up to be good humans,” Darren Marks said. “You don’t want to push them into something they’re not ready for.”

Marks is always accompanied by at least one of her parents, who look to keep her grounded.

“I want the best for her, to make sure she’s doing the right thing,” her dad said. “My biggest challenge is she’s like, ‘I want to surf all day, I want to train, I want to do all these things,’ and my job is to kind of like, ‘Hey, slow it down, have a good rest day.’ Being older and more experienced, that’s where we butt heads: ‘You’re doing too much. You need to relax a little bit. You’re not going to take over the world today.’ She listens.”

Darren Marks moved the family to San Clemente a few years ago.

“For her it’s been an amazing dream and for us too,” he said. “I’m a huge surf fan. I try to surf as much as I can. I watch all the events. I’m into it. We get to be at an event with people I’ve watched online, get to meet them and I know them. I get to see the other side of them. It’s been really great for us, too, to be part of that. This is a special thing to be a part of.”

World Surf League CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said Marks has made an impact on the tour.

“She is so enthusiastic and happy to be a professional surfer,” Goldschmidt said. “She has an infectious love of life. Every time you’re with her you can’t help but smile. I wish I could bottle her up and take her with me everywhere I go.”

Goldschmidt said Marks’ family has been careful not to overexpose her.

“She’s having a blast. There’s nothing she’d rather be doing. She’s still doing her education in parallel. They know that’s an important aspect of her growing up.”

Current No. 1 and six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore was one of Marks’ role models.

“She’s very competitive,” Gilmore said. “I can see her tenacity in the water. She’s fierce and she’s excited about being 16 years old and traveling the world. You can see her eyes light up and of course she’s incredibly talented on a surfboard.”

Marks’ ascension comes at a good time, as surfing will make its Olympic debut in 2020.

“I’m not putting any pressure on myself to make the Olympics, but that’s definitely a goal of mine, 100 percent. It would be pretty amazing,” Marks said.

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