For the first time ever, get ready to catch some waves at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Surfer Caroline Marks sure is. The 17-year-old will be part of the upcoming — and first-ever — Olympic surfing team in the sport's debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. And though the games are still half a year away, the teen athlete is already thinking big-picture. "[Having surfing at] the Olympics is going to touch such a bigger audience," Marks tells Elite Daily. "That’s what I hope. That it brings a lot more attention to the sport."
Back in 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved five new sports for the 2020 Olympics, with an eye to appealing to younger people. Included in the upcoming games are skateboarding, baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing, and — of course — surfing. The sports were intended to acknowledge the increasing urbanization of sports, as well as include sports that appeal specifically to younger athletes. For Marks, who at 17 is the youngest athlete to qualify on the Olympic surfing team, it's a chance to prove to the world that, yeah, surfing is a real sport, stereotypes and Point Break be damned.
"I feel like a lot of people think — surfers, our stereotype is kind of like, ‘cruising, smoke weed, sleep in, not really train that hard,’" Marks says. "That’s totally the opposite of what surfing is, actually. We all get up early, we all train super hard, we all eat healthy." She says she and the surfers she knows work with trainers and other professionals, and they deserve the respect their hard work has earned. She hopes the Olympics will bring that. "I think now that it’s at the Olympics, people might take [surfing] a lot more serious," she says. "We are high-level athletes, and I think people will look at us more like that instead of the cruisy, surfer [stereo]type."
Marks, who lists her hometown as Melbourne Beach, Florida, has been surfing most of her life. At age 8, she started surfing with her brothers — and never stopped. At just 15, she made history as the youngest person ever to qualify for the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour, and earlier in 2019 won the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast trophy. But she never expected to be heading for the Olympics. "All I wanted to do was win world titles, 'cause I didn’t really think of surfing to be in the Olympics," she says. "Now, surfing in the Olympics, it’s like, oh my god. That’s such a bigger platform." On Dec. 1, 2019, she beat out the competition to land one of only two women's spots on the upcoming Olympic surfing team. She'll join Team USA surfers Carissa Moore, John John Florence, and Kolohe Andino in Tokyo this summer. "It’s crazy how fast all of it happened," Marks says.
No matter what happens at the Games, Marks will always know she was one of the first to represent her country in surfing. "[It's] something that no one can ever take away from me, and it’s going to go down in history," she says. "I can tell my kids one day, they can tell their kids. It’s pretty cool."
It's unsurprising she's thinking about the next generation of potential surfers. As a partner with American Girl, Marks helped with the launch of the 2020 Girl of the Year doll, named Joss Kendrick — a surfer, just like her. Marks says it's "super rad" to hear, and to share, a story that feels so relatable. "This is my chance to show girls it’s possible to achieve your goals, no matter how high they may be," she says. Joss, who uses a hearing aid, is also the first-ever doll who has her disability as part of her story.
Being the youngest woman to qualify for the Olympic team means Marks is super aware of how others may view her. "I think a few people definitely doubted me, like ‘Oh, she’s too young, she still has to finish school.’ All these things," she says. "For me it’s like, don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t."
As far as the sport's come, there's still a long way to go. But Marks thinks it's on the right track. In April 2019, she was the first woman ever to win equal prize money to her male counterparts from the WSL. "I think it’s all moving in the right direction," she says. "As far as equal pay with men and women — as a female, I think we’ve been taken a lot more serious." Between the equal pay news and the Olympics, she thinks women athletes are getting more recognition than they used to. "People are tuning in to watch girls, [and] it used to be people would tune in just to watch the guys," she says. "Once the Olympics does happen, people will take us even more serious[ly] because they’ll realize how hard we work."
In the meantime? Marks is here to remind girls they should be taken seriously. "If you're passionate and willing to work hard for [your dreams], you can achieve anything," she says. "Dream big. You only live one life."