On a bright sunny day at Duranbah beach, with her family huddled together to support her, Caroline Marks' first Championship Tour Final and first Championship Tour event victory arrived with a wave of tears.
"I'm really emotional right now," said Marks on the beach after outlasting 3x World Champ Carissa Moore in a back-and-forth final at the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast. "I can't believe it. I'm speechless. It's incredible to be a part of this sport. It's actually my Dads birthday today. So happy birthday Dad. Hope this is a good present."
Additionally with this win, Marks, the youngest surfer on Tour at 17-years-old, has not only won the first event of season, also for the first time she's in possession of the Jeep Leader Yellow Jersey and is now the first woman to win an equal amount of prize money as the men.
While the birthday victory was unique, seeing her family on Finals Day wasn't -- Marks' family has been there on the beach with her every step of the way.
From her first experience as a 13-year-old CT Wild Card competing against Moore at Trestles, to her breakout U.S. Open Pro Junior win in 2016, to her last NSSA National Title in 2017, Marks' rise has been meteoric.
"I was actually laughing because the first time I came to this event I was in the Trials and I just lost in the first heat every single time, so to now win the event is amazing," Marks continued. "This has been the best event and best week of my life. There's still a lot of work to do for the rest of the year, but I'm definitely going to enjoy this moment."
Her win isn't just a culmination of all her hard work and sacrifice, it's also the beginning of another journey. And her victory over Moore -- the first person she competed against at a CT level -- brings her full circle from that Round 1 match-up in 2015.
"Carissa has always been my hero and she still is. To have my first win over her is incredible," said Marks.
But she didn't just take the Final, she swept the contest.
She was the best surfer from Day 1 until she was chaired up the beach. In the Quarterfinals she caught Gilmore with her gloves down, landing a haymaker against the World Champ. Marks had Gilmore up against the ropes before she even knew what hit her. In the Final she out-jabbed Moore all the way to the dying seconds. To borrow from Muhammad Ali, she was floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.
"This event was a real whirlwind. I can't believe we started a few days ago and we're already done," said runner-up Moore. "I had some great matchups throughout the week and I knew coming against Caroline was going to be really tough as she is a really amazing surfer."
Marks' Florida roots played a huge role in her ability to apply her powerful approach in challenging beachbreak conditions. On what would have been an all-time day in Melbourne Beach -- her home beach in Florida -- Marks was able to position herself on the waves that allowed her to exploit her talents.
She froths on doing airs, but her true talent lies in her backhand 1-2, off-the-bottom, off-the-top combination.
Her blistering rail work has shades of Mark Occhilupo's under-the-hood hooks. It's that ability to get low, drive off the bottom and straight up into the lip that sets her apart from the rest of the field. Just like Occy -- who is sometimes referred to as the, "Raging Bull" -- her impeccable timing and precision in the pocket allows her to absolutely destroy the top of the wave.
It's classic, traditional power surfing at its best.
But what may be the most exciting nugget as we look ahead, is that there are other waves on the Tour that suit her approach even better, like the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, the CT's next stop. Like Occy, Marks has made a name for herself on the Bells Bowl. Last year, in only her second contest on the CT, Marks made the Semifinals, where she lost to Gilmore.
Marks' victory at the Boost Mobile Pro has put everyone on notice -- this young Floridian is playing for keeps. She laid the lumber on reigning World Champ Gilmore and handled her hero, Moore, in the Final.
She's going to be a threat all year long. And with her family, friends and Coach Mike "Snips" Parsons by her side, she has the support and strategy that will allow her to take her as far as her explosive talent can take her.