NewsRip Curl Women's Pro Bells BeachCaroline Marks

High Marks at Bells for Newly Cemented Rookie

Once you're able to accept that a 16-year-old from Florida is among the Top 17, you then have to comprehend that the rookie has been taking down Tour vets since she made her debut on the Championship Tour (CT) last month.

Rookie Caroline Marks (USA) advances to the Semifinals of the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach after winning Quarterfinal 3 at Winkipop, VIC, Australia. Caroline Marks is chasing history at Bells Beach this week, hoping to become the youngest winner of the event ever. WSL / Kelly Cestari

After making the Quarterfinals at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Marks is now looming large at Bells Beach, where she's chasing history on several fronts, but most notably by hoping to become the youngest surfer ever to win the legendary event. On Wednesday she advanced to the Semifinals with another commanding heat win -- her third straight -- over Johanne Defay.

Over the past three heats Caroline's average margin of victory has been a whopping 3.68 points, and Keely Andrew and Lakey Peterson have also fallen victim to her vicious backhand attack. While tricky conditions at this year's event have been confounding surfers across the board, Caroline has been one of the bright spots all week.

Caroline Marks of USA won Heat 3 of the Quarterfinals at the Rip Curl Pro, Bells Beach, 2018. Caroline Marks WSL / Ed Sloane

Those in the know figured her surfing might be a good match for Bells. Her extended backhand bottom turns are eerily similar to Mark Occhilupo's, so much so that if you squint your eyes when she's surfing you'd swear you were watching some kind of rewind. And those turns are essential to getting your timing right at Bells. Caroline surfs low, loading her springs off the bottom while choosing her next lip target wisely, and unloading those springs with fervor.

She's also dangerous because she's surfing with nothing to lose, and she knows it. Her primary goal this season was to gather wisdom. Although she's rising fast, she wants to be around for the long haul which takes perspective, patience and perseverance. She's old enough to understand that only time will tell. For now, she's going heat by heat and hankering for her next challenge: Stephanie Gilmore. The two will meet in Heat 2 of the Semifinals.

Caroline Marks (USA) will surf in Round 2 of the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach after placing second in Heat 6 of Round 1 at Winkipop, VIC, Australia. Marks' beautifully extended bottom turns are the perfect fit for the Bells Bowl. WSL / Kelly Cestari

For hardcore fans it's a match that has DNA evidence linking it directly back to the Curren vs. Occy heat in 1986. Marks has been indoctrinated with the Occy gene. Gilmore's got the sultry Curren-esque style thing down pat. The Occy vs. Curren match of 1986 was a Semifinal battle for the ages, and if the waves are good, this one could be equivalent.

"We're like polar opposites," Gilmore says. "I'm old and she's young. She's like four-feet tall and I'm a behemoth. It's going to be fun."

Rookie Caroline Marks (USA) advances to Round 3 of the 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach after winning Heat 1 of Round 2 at Winkipop, VIC, Australia. Caroline is gathering fans quickly with her gritty approach. WSL / Kelly Cestari

For her part, Caroline is taking it all in stride. Smiling. Soaking. Learning. When describing her cool head, Ronnie Blakey put it best during the Post Show: "She's more competitively stable than some of the World Champs."

If Caroline can win at Bells Beach, she'll beat out Australian Nicky Wood as the youngest ever to win by about five months. It would also shoot her to the top of the Jeep Leaderboard -- meaning she'll be the first rookie since Stephanie Gilmore to be involved in World Title conversations.

Caroline Marks of USA won Heat 3 of Round 3 at the Rip Curl Pro, Bells Beach, 2018. Marks puncuates hard off the top, which is not an easy thing to do in the tricky conditions. WSL / Ed Sloane

Win or lose, Marks is already coming out ahead here.

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