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Newly-crowned world surf champion Caroline Marks reflects on year of growth

Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer of 2024.

In an interview in August, Caroline Marks listed out three goals for the coming year: qualify for the Paris Olympics, win Olympic gold, and win a world title. A month later, she had done two of the three already.

The 21-year-old won her first world title on Saturday, defeating five-time world champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore in the final match of the WSL Rip Curl Finals in San Clemente, California.

Marks is the youngest women’s world surfing champion since Moore won her second title in 2015.

“I think it was a dream scenario to do that against Carissa,” Marks said on Sunday. “She’s always been a huge inspiration to me.”

Marks, Moore, and Caitlin Simmers all qualified for the five-woman field in San Clemente, a manifestation of American dominance in women’s surfing. All three will represent the U.S. at the Olympics next summer, when the surf contest will be held at Teahupo’o in Tahiti.

In addition to Moore, Marks also defeated Simmers and two-time world champion Tyler Wright of Australia on her way to the title Saturday. She reflected that everything just seemed to go her way.

“I had an amazing board. And I felt really in tune with the ocean and really confident on what waves to select. And I just felt really in a flow state.”

It didn’t hurt to have a large group of supporters at the beach for the contest. Marks is a native of Melbourne Beach, Florida, but now resides in San Clemente. Her local friends and family were there, and family from Florida made the cross-country trip to support her as well, showing off blow-up gators on shore as they cheered her on.

“If I could write in my journal when I was younger, for a dream scenario to happen to win my first world title, that would have been it.”

Caroline Marks WSL champion

LOWER TRESTLES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 9: Caroline Marks of the United States after winning the 2023 World Title at the Rip Curl WSL Finals on September 9, 2023 at Lower Trestles, California, United States. (Photo by Pat Nolan/World Surf League via Getty Images)

Pat Nolan/World Surf League via Getty Images

These days, Marks says she gets back home a few times a year – always Christmas, with some extra trips thrown in when she can. But the Florida connection remains a point of pride for her as she competes around the world.

“There’s not as many surfers that come out of Florida, but the ones that have been successful [at making it] have done really well,” Marks said.

Kelly Slater – the 11-time world champion often considered the greatest of all time – is from Cocoa Beach, 15 miles up the road from Marks’ hometown. Slater posted about Marks’ win on Instagram, celebrating another world title for the Sunshine State.

“I still have friends there that I went to school with and grew up surfing with that were texting me [after I won] and it’s just so incredible,” she said of Saturday’s contest. “I feel like I have the best support crew ever.”

That support was crucial as Marks worked through a difficult time last year. In 2022, she missed half of the World Surf League Championship Tour while she took some personal time away from the sport.

Looking back on that time, Marks reflected, “Even though every moment felt like an eternity away from the tour, I am really grateful I did that. And I needed to do that.”

While she says she knew she was doing the right thing for herself at the time, that view has solidified with her success this season. Marks finished in the top three at six tour stops this season, including wins in El Salvador and Tahiti (the Olympic surfing venue next summer), before her world championship victory. In 2024, she’ll have the chance to accomplish another dream, surfing the uniquely thrilling waves in Teahupo’o for a shot at Olympic gold.

“I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to find that place of happiness and joy that I had before, and so just to feel that again was a win in itself,” she said. “We’ve got such a rad life, and we’re surfing amazing waves with awesome people and in these beautiful countries. I think having that little reset away from it just made me really appreciate it so much.”