The Ron Jon Florida Pro pres by Sunshine State Florida Lager Women's QS6,000 nears finals day one round at a time after an explosive Round Four finished Sunday morning. Some of the world's best continued to impress alongside some familiar threats at Sebastian Inlet, but it was a day the hometown crowd could really get behind after Caroline Marks went to work.
Marks is a product of the Melbourne Beach, Florida, surfing community and she gave them something to cheer about with an astounding Round Four performance. The 15-year-old blasted the event's highest heat total of a 17.17 (out of a possible 20) after unleashing her deadly backhand attack to earn a near-perfect 9.17 (out of a possible 10). Marks shut down her future Championship Tour (CT) competitor Coco Ho and rising talent Brisa Hennessy by putting them into a combination situation, meaning they needed two new scores to equal that of Marks.
"I felt really good and feel like I have really good energy here, and I'm also just keeping it simple," Marks said. "My board's feeling good and I've talked with my dad looking at the waves, deciding where to sit, but there's not too much of a game plan other than to figure it out in the lineup. I know this wave so well and I'm just stoked to be home while feeling a lot of positive energy and that's carrying into the water."
Former CT Rookie of the Year Tatiana Weston-Webb continued her formidable run at Sebastian Inlet with a commanding performance of her own to start Round Four action. Weston-Webb came into Florida with a new mindset to start the season and it's working in the Kauaian's favor. The 21-year-old is looking recharged for a big 2018 with her explosive backhand ready.
"It feels really nice to be an enjoying this event and just taking it really mellow while hanging with my dad," Weston-Webb said. "We're down here every morning before my heats and every evening just to stay in the water, but I feel really relaxed in my heats. I feel like my surfing is there, but it's just a matter of waiting for the waves and just getting in two good turns or one big one. Usually I'm pretty nervous and feel the pressure of having to do well, but I'm not feeling any of that and it's amazing."
Isabella Nichols looked to be on her way to a solid 2017 with her first-ever QS win early on, but faltered toward the back half of the year. A stellar Junior Tour career culminated with a World Junior Championship win in 2015 and is looking to find a way to translate that into QS success. Now, the Australian is set for another go and has her own fresh outlook to help guide the way.
"I've been working really hard in the off-season to shake off that horrible run I had at the end of last year and it's good to see it paying off," Nichols said. "After winning at Burleigh I had a good run of making a few heats, but then after Mexico I just dropped off. This is great to be in a new place and it's totally different to anywhere I've ever been, so it feels good to get off to a good start here. I'm just taking it as it comes and not getting caught up in results, but I'm really just trying to have fun and enjoy it all."
A few more breakthrough performances from QS grinder Mikaela Greene and young gun India Robinson led the way alongside some big names. Also advancing into Round Five are CT competitors Bronte Macaulay, Keely Andrew, Silvana Lima, and former CT surfers Pauline Ado and Claire Bevilacqua.
The Ron Jon Florida Pro presented by Sunshine State Florida Lager Women's QS6,000 and Florida Pro Men's QS1,500 will run January through 18.