It's a day for the history books in Florida surfing, as Caroline Marks and Evan Geiselman kept the inaugural Ron Jon Florida Pro pres by Sunshine State Florida Lager QS6,000 and Florida Pro QS1,500 event titles at home. The pair's small-wave knowledge paid off, giving the hometown crowds a lot to cheer about as both earned chair-ups the beach.
Marks' astonishing career keeps blossoming as she claimed her first-ever Qualifying Series victory over Bronte Macaulay at a break she grew up surfing nearly every day. The 15-year-old finished 2017 as the youngest surfer to qualify for the Championship Tour (CT) and has now started 2018 with a huge statement. It was an emotional win for Marks, who had her entire family and close friends on hand to witness it.
"This is definitely the best day of my life and to just have everyone down here was incredible," Marks said. "It puts a tear in my eye just thinking about that horn going off and my whole family here to celebrate with me. You come into the event with the idea that you can win one at home, but there's so much that needs to go into it and everything needs to go your way. I feel like I earned it and I've worked so hard for this -- I'm just over the moon."
The Floridian-turned-California transplant looked unstoppable after her Quarterfinal comeback win over an in-form India Robinson. Marks then went on to eliminate Tatiana Weston-Webb in the Semifinals and taking a big win over Bronte Macaulay in the Final.
"To start like this is something I dreamed of," Marks said. "It was a goal of mine to win a QS6,000 and I want to win the QS this year. Going into the CT, I'm just expecting to learn this year. I know it's going to be a huge learning curve, but I'm going to enjoy it. Now I'll enjoy this win with my family and friends before trying to carry this momentum into Australia."
Macaulay, meanwhile, is off and running with a keeper, runner-up result here at Sebastian Inlet and will head back to Australia to prepare for the QS6,000 events lined up there before the Championship Tour season kicks off. The Gracetown, Australia, native overcame a hard-fought road of her own with Silvana Lima in the Semis and fellow Australian Macy Callaghan in the Quarterfinals.
"I wanted a third or better, and it was definitely worth coming to this one," Macaulay said. "The crew here made the best of conditions and the calls were spot on all week, so I'm really thankful for that. Of course there's that desire to win the Final, but if you can get a few keepers right away it relieves that stress. My goal is to finish in the Top 10 of the CT this year, but if I can keep this up on the QS I'll be really happy to put a full year together."
The first men's Qualifying Series (QS) event title at Sebastian Inlet since 2009 stays in Florida after New Smyrna Beach's Geiselman took home the inaugural Florida Pro pres by Sunshine State Florida Lager QS1,500 win. This marks Geiselman's third East Coast QS title with wins in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Cocoa Beach, Florida already under his belt.
It was a battle to the end between two event heavy-hitters Geiselman and Jake Marshall that concluded with Geiselman taking his first-ever QS victory. Marshall's quick start earned him a 15.33 total, which put the Floridian in a combination situation (meaning he needed two new scores to match Marshall's total). But, Geiselman fought back, and earned a 7.67 and excellent 8.87 on his last two waves to steal the victory from Marshall.
"I got really fortunate in those last two heats and it feels really good to get the win -- that was the goal coming here and always is at every event I enter," Geiselman said. "In hindsight, C.J. [Hobgood] was saying it was a blessing to lose priority because if I didn't, I may not have gotten that 7.67 which got me back in the heat. That's what's crazy about that priority and luckily it went my way with Jake surfing as well as he did, that was a pleasure surfing with him."
"That was my goal to keep the heat totals up so to come out in the first event of the year and complete that goal is great," Geiselman added. "It's something I'm setting in my focus this year at the top of my priorities. I'm really looking forward to getting over to Australia now and just keep this momentum up as much as I can."
Marshall's amazing run at the Florida Pro ended with a runner-up result, matching his best finish so far on the QS level, and he'll now prepare for the Australian leg ahead. But, this also marks the Encinitas, California, surfer's first event back to competition in over three months. He can take confidence with him moving into a big 2018.
"I'm super psyched to make that Final and really wanted to win it, but to have it against a guy like Evan, who's always in the qualifying conversation, is great," Marshall said. "It's reassuring to know I can hold my own against them and what I want to get more of this year. I've worked so hard the last few months and trying to get bigger, knowing the guys I'll be competing against are grown men. This just gives me more motivation and it's a bit of a letdown for myself, but I'll just learn from this and come back stronger."