Watch: Olympic qualifier Caroline Marks of Melbourne Beach surfs Typhoon Lagoon
Treasure Coast Newspapers
Literally speaking, Marks laughs at the comparisons.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a supermodel,” she says, humbly. “I’m just really honored.”
The Melbourne Beach native, preparing for the 2021 Tokyo Games and her third season on the World Surf League, is featured in a four-page spread in the 2020 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, available now in newsstands.
Two pages show her surfing in ROXY swimwear (her primary sponsor), while the other two pages feature her modeling swimsuits by the likes of Gucci and Versace, many of which she’d certainly wear to surf and, more importantly, some she got to keep.
“They sent me four copies of the magazine, but I’m sure my dad and mom will be out there buying all they can get their hands on,” Marks said.
Just a couple weeks after her 18th Valentine’s Day birthday trip to surf the waves of Teahupoʻo, Tahiti, she was on the islands of Turks & Caicos, just southeast of the Bahamas, modeling under sunny, blue skies with aqua-colored water around her.
“It was such a beautiful place,” Marks said. “Sports Illustrated was like a dream to do that, and to do it at 18, that was the magazine I wanted to be in. It was on my bucket list.”
Soon, she is going to need a much deeper “bucket.”
After all, this is the little girl who, at 15, became the youngest surfer — male or female — to qualify for the major surfing tour. At 16, she earned Rookie of the Year honors and by 17 she already was winning the historic $100,000 in the 2019 season opener in Australia, the first equal prize money awarded to men and women on the prime circuit.
After cashing in on another $100,000 payday, she finished second in the 2019 world rankings to earn a spot for Team USA in the Olympics (with No. 1 Carissa Moore).
In between all that, a huge sand sculpture reflecting her surfing ability was erected in front of the world’s largest surf shop, Ron Jon, in Cocoa Beach; she passed her driver’s license test; and she graduated high school by way of virtual learning.
Then this came along.
“I remember when we got word; my manager (Mike “Snips” Parsons) — who’s also my coach — got an email … we were driving back from having surfed. I think we just looked at each other … I was so stoked.”
It took two flights from California to reach the tropical paradise. And it was special.
“Me and my mom (Sarah) went and we had so much fun,” said Marks, who now spends most of her time at her family’s primary home in Orange County, Calif. “We really had a good time.”
Her shoot day — the final model among “what was it, like 50 girls?” — began with a 3 a.m. wake-up call. Thirty minutes later, the makeup and wardrobe process began. She changed in and out of swimsuits during the day in a cabana set up on the beach.
Sand often was wiped off her body with a big glove, “like a mitt, but it wouldn’t take off the makeup underneath.”
The shoot lasted until after sunset.
“And we got waves somehow,” said Marks, who took a couple of her own surfboards along for the trip. Some of her stunning photographs included underwater shots as she paddled in the crystal clear Atlantic off the coral islands.
This year’s magazine, like in recent years, includes plus-sized women and even the oldest model in the 56-year history of swimsuit editions, fittingly, 56-year-old Kathy Jacobs.
“The coolest thing is they (Sports Illustrated) support so many diverse women and body types, and it’s cool to represent that,” said the 5-foot-4 Marks.
Marks, whose guilty pleasure is Goldfish crackers, finds it difficult to describe her physical features in just one word.
“Let’s just say, I’m built more like a woman and definitely not a stick,” she said, laughing. “I have curves, more of a very strong body with a lot of muscle, and curvy. It’s just awkward to explain.”
She said she vividly remembers when those “curves” came to be.
“For me, I remember at 15, I started to grow into it from a little girl to a woman … one day I woke up, looked in the mirror and it was like, ‘Whoa!’ “
In a recent interview with Red Bull, she said there were instant, harsh critiques of her body, which first offended her, especially when she knows she’s performing in bikinis on a global scope.
“Absolutely, now I feel that need to embrace my body,” she said. “Being only 18 now, it’s hard to be confident in your own skin no matter what your body looks like.”
Like just about all sporting events in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release of the swimsuit issue.
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It also wiped out the entire 2020 WSL season, and the Olympic Games are now set for late July in 2021. This weekend, however, Marks will compete in the WSL’s first major preseason exhibition, Sunday’s winner-take-all Michelob ULTRA Rumble at the Ranch, on Kelly Slater’s designed wave pool in Lemoore, California, at 3 p.m. ET.
“I can’t wait to get back in a (surfing) jersey,” said Marks, who usually surfs twice a day. The 2021 season is planned to begin in late November in Hawaii.
Did you know?
• Elle Macpherson holds the record for most swimsuit issue covers, with five.
• Germany’s Babette March was the magazine’s first cover model, in 1964.
• The youngest “model” honor actually goes to Christie Brinkley’s daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, who was 3 in 1989 when she appeared with her mom in one cute pose.
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