With the start of the Championship Tour set to kick off in Hawaii in December, we're taking a look at eight of the toughest competitors on Tour. To be the best you gotta beat the best, and these are the dreaded heat draws.
Caroline Marks may be the youngest women on Tour, but with her undeniable backhand and her momentum from last year, could a World Title really be that far off? That's why she's one to watch when the season gets underway on Maui.
Marks finished runner-up for the Title in 2019 and qualified for the USA Olympic team. With those achievements under her belt, this season will be as exciting as ever as she continues to bring her youthful energy and effervescent, ever-present stoke to the game. She's only 18 years old -- she has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Marks first dipped her toe in the Championship Tour as a 13-year-old wildcard at Trestles in 2015. She didn't win any heats, but everyone on the cobblestone point that day, including four-time World Champ Carissa Moore, recognized it was only a matter of time before she made her presence felt. She made her start on the Championship Tour in 2018 and finished seventh in the world during a season highlighted by three Semifinal finishes. It was enough to earn her Rookie of the Year honors.
But 2019 was the real breakout year for Marks. She started the year off strong, beating Moore in the the Final of the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast and taking the yellow Jeep Leader jersey from reigning World Champ Stephanie Gilmore in the process. Marks also had a huge run between J-Bay and Portugal where she made Semis or better for four consecutive events. It's her consistency that makes her lethal. Well, her consistency and her devastating backhand hooks.
Going into the final event of 2019 at Honolua Bay, Marks had put all the pieces together. She made it to the Quarters before going down to eventual winner Gilmore. Ultimately, she finished the year ranked second in the world and qualified for the Olympics, joining Moore, who beat her as a grom back in 2015, on the U.S. national team.
Considered the most powerful goofy-footer on Tour, Marks has drawn a lot of comparisons to Australia's Mark Occhilupo. She has a compact center of gravity and an intense backside hack which sets her apart from the other women on Tour. And let's not discount her ability to charge when the surf is pumping.
While her surfing may remind people of Occy, she could be more on a Kelly Slater trajectory. She's from Florida. She's young enough to be in the game a long time and amass a lot of Titles. And she's only getting better.
She has relocated herself to San Clemente, where she's an e-bike ride away from Lowers. She has been tuning her air game at wave pools such as the one Waco, Texas. And she's also been making trips to the end of the road in Tahiti where she's logged solid tube time at Teahupo'o.
After having a whole year to continue to mature and develop her surfing, Marks will be able to bring all of this to the new season. Fresh and fired up, 2021 may only be her third official year on Tour, but it seems like a World Title could definitely be in the cards.