For Florida's Caroline Marks, being the "youngest" and the "first" to accomplish a feat in surfing is nothing new. She's been rewriting the record books since she was 11 years old, and her long list of accomplishments could fill this entire page. As of two days ago, with the completion of the last women's Qualifying Series event on the 2017 schedule, we can add a new entry in the history books next to her name: The youngest surfer (male or female) to ever qualify for the Championship Tour, at only 15 years old. We gave Caroline a call and asked her how she’s feeling about it all.
First off, congrats!
Thanks so much. It's pretty crazy.
Did you know what needed to happen at the last event in Australia [The Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro, a QS 6000] to confirm your spot after you lost?
I did, but it was super nerve-racking. I flew back to California from Australia, and I was stressing all day. I knew that, regardless of what happened at that contest, I still had a chance because of how many points I had, depending on what would have happened with double qualifiers at the final ‘CT at Honolua Bay. I got home, and when they put the final day of the contest [in Australia] on hold, I took a nap because I was super jet-lagged, and then I woke up and watched the contest. If Macy [Callaghan] or Paige [Hareb] made the final, they would have passed me in the ratings. When they didn't, I knew I was 100 percent on.
Going into this year, were you just feeling things out on the ‘QS or fully trying to qualify?
At the beginning of the year, I had no idea I wanted to qualify. I wasn't thinking about it at all. Things just happened so fast. I did pretty well in Australia in the beginning of the year, so I kept doing ‘QS events for experience, and I kept doing well in them. I was mainly focusing on my surfing this year — getting better at airs, surfing Cloudbreak, getting experience in bigger waves, and I think that helped me a lot, because I wasn't putting any pressure on myself. I was still doing amateurs and juniors, and the ‘QS was just the fun stuff. But now that I've made it, I'm really stoked. This is what I want to do. I feel like I'm ready for it now.
How does it feel to be the only new face on tour in 2018?
It feels pretty cool. I was pulling for Macy. She's one of my best friends, but she'll definitely get a few wildcards next year, and she's such a great surfer. It's going to be really exciting being on Tour, and hopefully I can take Rookie Of The Year. It's going be a big learning curve, but I'm really looking forward to being a part of it all.
Definitely. But, wait. Isn't Rookie Of The Year a guarantee since you're the only one?
[Laughs] Well, you have to re-qualify first. They don't just give it to you.
Ahhh, that makes sense.
Of course I want to re-qualify. But there really is no pressure. I'll only be 16 next year, so regardless of what happens, it's only going to make me better. Surfing great waves and learning from all the girls on Tour is going to help me improve my surfing and take it to the next level no matter what. That's really my main goal.
I'm sure your past ‘CT wildcards were invaluable. At least you have an idea of what to expect.
Definitely. As a wildcard, you only get one or two chances in an event. When I got the wildcards, I actually put a lot of pressure on myself, which is the opposite of what I should have been doing, but I've learned not to do that anymore. I'm so young, and it's supposed to be fun [Laughs]. Whatever happens, it's all good.
You're living in California now, but how does it feel to represent Florida—and the entire East Coast—on Tour? It's just you and Slater in 2018.
Oh, wow. Yeah, it's incredible. It's exciting. I'm so stoked to do it for the East Coast and so happy to be from Florida. I can't wait to represent.
You're only 15. Are you prepared to spend the next 15 years on Tour?
Yeah. My whole mindset is that the younger I get on Tour, the better I'm going to get more quickly. This is what I want to do for a long time. I know what my end goal. However long it takes me to get there, I'm willing to work for it.
Will your family travel with you next year?
Yeah, my Mom and Dad, my brothers, and Mike Parsons [Caroline's coach] will all travel. That's going to be my crew next year.
I know it's a lot of pressure, but you're used to a lot of pressure. How does it feel to be the next great hope for an East Coast world title?
That's been my goal since I started surfing. I always dreamt of that. I know it's going to be a long journey, but I'm looking forward to it.