19-Year-Old Prodigy Caroline Marks on What to Expect at the First-Ever Olympic Surfing Event

One of 33 sports set to take place at the Games, surfing will make its Olympic debut in Japan

June 24, 2021 9:18 am
Caroline Marks surfs at WSL Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California.
Caroline Marks surfs at WSL Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California.
Pat Nolan / Red Bull Content Pool

When 19-year-old Caroline Marks secured her place on the U.S. Olympic team at a World Surf League event in Maui in December 2019, there was no way for her to know the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo would be wiped out by COVID-19 and rescheduled for this July. 

While there is still a distinct possibility the Games will not be held due to Japan’s ongoing coronavirus crisis, Marks is preparing with her three teammates — Carissa Moore, John John Florence and Kolohe Andino — to surf 60 miles outside Tokyo in the waters off Shidashita (sometimes shortened to Shida) during a four-day period between July 25 and August 1. One of 33 sports set to take place at the Summer Games, surfing will be making its Olympic debut, albeit a year later than expected.

A surfing prodigy who first got in the water in her home state of Florida and started riding full-time by the age of nine, Marks has her sights set on bringing the first-ever Olympic gold medal in surfing home with her.

“I was really ready to go in 2020 for the Games to happen, but I do feel like this year I am that much better and prepared and even more excited and motivated,” Marks tells InsideHook. “It was such a bummer to have it postponed and have a whole year off, but I tried to take all the positives out of that and come back stronger and better. I feel like I accomplished that. I’m just excited to showcase what I’ve been working on. It’ll be really fun. It’s such a massive honor to be able to represent my country on such a big stage. It’s the first time ever surfing is in the Olympics, so this is making history. It’s something that no one can ever take away from you.”

Caroline Marks surfs
Caroline Marks surfs at Rocky Point in Haleiwa, Hawaii.
Trevor Moran / Red Bull Content Pool

The star of the recent Red Bull film That’s Caroline, Marks will be competing as a member of a team, a drastic departure from the individualized nature of the competition on the WSL tour.

“Surfing is a very individual sport,” Marks says. “On the WSL, you surf your heats, have your crew you’re hanging out with and then you leave. You’re really just there with yourself. I think the team thing will be super cool and really different. It’s also very motivating. You want to do really good for your team and have teammates to root for. Obviously, we are all there to win ourselves, but at the same time, we’re all there as a team and we’re all trying to win together. We all want to be in the final together, two men and two women. That’s our goal going into it. Everyone’s just really excited and is so stoked to have surfing in the Olympics and to show the world our sport. I’m excited to compete against everyone. Whatever comes my way and whoever comes my way. I think it’s going to be awesome.”

Though she hasn’t surfed the waves off Shidashita before, Marks has surfed in Japan in the past, and will have about 10 days to practice in the water in July before the surfing portion of the Games begins. Once July 25 arrives, as is the case with most surfing competitions, the exact days of competition will be dictated by when the waves allow for it.

Caroline Marks poses for a portrait
Caroline Marks poses for a portrait in Laguna Beach, California.
Olivia Doan / Red Bull Content Pool

“Surfing is such a unique sport. right? You never know what the waves are going to do,” Marks says. “We’re relying on mother nature. The Games start on the 23rd, but we might not surf until the 27th because the waves don’t provide. Surfing is a sport you can never really master because it’s always changing and there’s never the same wave. That’s what’s so awesome about it. It’s the coolest sport ever. Every day, the ocean is so different and changes so much. You just don’t really know what you’re going to get. We’re relying on wind, tide, swell, swell direction and all these things. We’re hoping to have great waves to perform on.”

Unlike the reef breaks and point breaks that are common on the WSL tour, Shidashita features a beach break, which means the waves it typically provides are tougher to predict, according to Marks.

“I’ve never been there, but from what I understand it’s harder to get swell at that time of year,” she says. “A beach break’s not quite as reliable as a reef or a point, but I think mother nature is going to provide. It’s known to have smaller waves, but we could have a typhoon and we could get amazing, great waves. You don’t want a nasty one that makes things really windy and crazy and stormy, but typhoons, depending on the type, can bring great waves. I haven’t been to the exact spot, but I think its really similar to where I’m from in Florida. Just a beach break with lots of wind swell and short period waves. Hopefully we just get some nice, clean swell.”

If they do, Marks is fairly confident about what she’ll be able to do for Team USA.

“Everyone’s goal is to win gold and that’s absolutely my goal. But I just really want to put on a good show for everyone I know and I’m aware of how good everyone is,” she says. “I think winning gold would definitely be the biggest accomplishment in my career so far. That’s huge. That’s monumental, especially in surfing’s first year ever. Going for gold would be the best thing in the world. That would be history and hopefully I can pull it off.”

So how will she do it?

“As surfers, we all have to be very good at adapting. If anything, you’re just reacting,” Marks says. “For me personally, I do better when I think less and am just reacting to the moment on the wave and just doing what feels right. What’s so cool about surfing is no one can tell you what to do in that wave. It’s like painting a picture on an open canvas and every canvas is so different. Not really thinking, just reacting.”

Here’s to the seas cooperating, and Marks painting her canvas gold.

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