Over the course of a 30-minute heat, Caroline Marks went from an exuberant, super-stoked teenager to a full-on World Title threat. The 17-year-old, 2018 Rookie of the Year paddled out for her quarterfinal heat against 7x reigning World Champ Stephanie Gilmore. By the time the heat was done and dusted, Marks dropped a performance that put every surfer on the women's Tour on notice.
Not only did Marks beat the World Champ on her home turf -- Steph grew up a bike ride's away from Snapper -- she smashed her. With three excellent 8-point rides in her scoreline, Gilmore simply didn't have an answer.
"As long as I put up a good performance, I'm happy with myself. But I really wanted to win that one," said Marks when it was over. "I even claimed a couple of waves and I never do that, but I was so fired up and it came out."
As exuberant as Marks was, Gilmore was equally disappointed. Her standard of excellence is already exceptionally high, and a win on the Gold Coast where she grew up seemed like a logical conclusion to the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast.
"I guess the positive of this is that I was sitting out there and I was reminded how much it stings to lose," Gilmore explained back on the beach. "Those are the key moments throughout the year that remind you how much you want to be here. The sting is the worst, but it's also the best. It kicks things into gear. My next heat is at Bells, so I get another chance. Here we go again."
Watching from the sidelines was Marks' coach, big wave legend Mike "Snips" Parsons. An analytical, calculating competitor himself back in the day, Parsons has worked with a number of the world's best, including Kolohe Andino and Lakey Peterson. It's currently his job to help channel Marks' prodigious talent.
"I absolutely think Caroline can be a Title contender this year," said Parsons. "The thing I'm trying to reminder her is that she's young and she doesn't have to do that yet. Obviously, she's hyper aware that that's a possibility. She's not afraid to take that challenge and go for it. She believes she can do it, but she's got a lot to learn and a lot of venues to get used to."
But age is relative when it comes to success on the World Tour. In the early ‘80s Mark Occhilupo jumped on Tour when he was 16, and Martin Potter was only 15 when he set out around the world. Both Occy and Pottz would go on to become World Champs, but not until some years later in their respective careers.
"Even though you didn't have the digital age of the Internet, you heard about people pretty quick. Like I heard of Pottz when he was 15," recalled former World Champ Damien Hardman. "He did well at a contest and it was in the papers in Australia. I knew straight away there was some 15-year-old surfer from South Africa coming."
Kelly Slater's first World Title came when he was 20 years old, making him the youngest male surfer on Tour to win a title (he's also the oldest, winning his 11th Title at the age of 39). The closest comparison to what Marks' is doing right now may be Carissa Moore, who claimed her first of three Titles when she was just 18-years-old.
"There's no pressure on me so I have nothing to lose," explained Marks, who's powerful backhand hacks in the hook are very reminiscent of a young Occy. "I'm pretty humbled to come away with that win."
Last season, Marks posted three third-place finishes, meaning that by advancing into the semifinals she's already matched her best result of 2018. She'll now go on to face Hawaii's Malia Manuel in Seminfinal Heat 1. When asked about her thoughts on winning the contest, Marks was as coy as a seasoned veteran.
"I'm taking it one heat at a time. Step-by-step, working on improving my surfing and myself and go from there," said Marks. "I've looked up to Steph since I started surfing. I still do. It's crazy just sharing the lineup with her. I don't even know what to say, I'm just really stoked."
Notable and Quotable from Day 4:
-2x World Champ John John Florence is back and he is on fire. After an injury plagued winter, his knee is looking strong. His confidence was on display, the only surfer of the day finding and exiting barrels with ease. He took out current World No. 3 Filipe Toledo in the day's first Superheat: Round 4 Heat 1.
-Seth Moniz is still climbing. His goal was to make it to the Quarterfinals his first event on the Championship Tour. Now that he's done that, the pressure is off -- which can be a dangerous thing for his competitors. He's now eliminated Griffin Colapinto and Reef Heazlewood from the event.
-The last World Champ in contention for the event win at Gold Coast, Carissa Moore gave an explosive performance with two 8-point wave scores against Johanne Defay and the only completed women's aerial of the day in Quarterfinals Heat 4.