How surfer Caroline Marks learned to love her body

Surfer Caroline Marks
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When surfing makes its debut at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, one on the top contenders will be American Caroline Marks.

Ahead of the Olympics, Marks made an appearance on “My New Favorite Olympian” – an NBCLX podcast that is hosted by Olympic fencing medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and NBCLX storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo – to discuss her start in surfing and how she learned to be proud of her body. 

You can listen to the episode of “My New Favorite Olympian” via the audio player embedded below or by subscribing to the show on your favorite podcast app. 

Growing up in Melbourne Beach, Florida, as one of six kids, Caroline Marks knew her family’s house was the “fun house.”

“We were that house in the neighborhood that every kid went to,” Marks explained on the latest episode of “My New Favorite Olympian.”

The family’s backyard featured a motocross track, quarter pipe, pool, and hot tub. “And we were right across the street from the beach,” Marks adds.

Marks’ first passion was horseback riding — specifically barrel racing: a rodeo event where riders attempt to complete a set pattern in the fastest time. But her older brothers loved to surf and Marks was drawn to the water as a way to earn their approval.

“I just really wanted to impress them,” she said. “And in order to do that, I had to start surfing.”

At age nine, Marks won her first “contest,” a neighborhood competition that took place on the beach across the street from her house. Over the next few years, she made a name for herself at National competitions. To keep up with Marks’ momentum, the family decided to move across the country to California, where there were more opportunities for her to train and compete.

Caroline Marks’ Championship Tour breakthrough

When Marks was 15, she became the youngest female surfer ever to qualify for the World Surf League Championship Tour. That’s when she started dealing with a new challenge.

“At 15, [you’re this] little girl that becomes a woman,” Marks said. “Your body is changing… and it’s like, ‘Woah, what’s going on?'”

As she went through puberty, Marks and her mom Sarah began hearing – and reading – comments about her changing body.

“As a surfer, someone can look at every inch of your body,” Marks said. “You definitely have to have thick skin and a lot of confidence.” 

The sexualization of women in sports is certainly not a new phenomenon.

“Women athletes are likely to be portrayed as sexual objects in media,” Elizabeth Daniels, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, explains. “Their physical appearance is highlighted instead of their physical competence.”

As Marks has established herself as one of the top surfers, she has also learned to embrace her body.

“Everyone comes in different shapes and sizes. I think just owning it and loving yourself and doing it makes you feel good,” she said. 

That attitude has helped her solidify her status as one of the best female surfers in the world. She finished the 2019 season ranked second in the world to qualify for the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics. So far in 2021, she has reached the podium at two stops on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC