Teen surfer Caroline Marks talks self-care and being superstitious about swimsuits: 'It's just like a mental thing'

Erin Donnelly
·7-min read
Surfer Caroline Marks talks eye health, self-care and being superstitious about swimsuits. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Surfer Caroline Marks talks eye health, self-care and being superstitious about swimsuits. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Like many teens, 19-year-old Caroline Marks has had some major milestones disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. In her case, however, it's not prom or Spring Break; it's the 2020 (now 2021) Summer Olympics. After qualifying for the USA Surfing team back in 2019, the teen sensation will at last be competing in Tokyo this summer as the sport makes its Olympic debut.

The Florida native is breaking new ground in other ways, too. She's the youngest surfer to qualify for the women's Championship Tour, an experience she calls "the coolest thing ever." Still, she's not taking her success or her health for granted.  

While Marks doesn't wear eyeglasses or have any vision problems currently, she and the USA Surfing team are promoting the American Optometric Association's (AOA) “Eye Deserve More” campaign encouraging people to be proactive about their eye health by getting comprehensive eye exams each year.

"My eyes are great and, you know, kids my age, their eyes are great too. And they probably don't even think about eye health. But I think that's the whole point: Preventing what could happen in the future," explains Marks.

It's all part of her broader interest in health, both physical and mental. Here, Marks tells Yahoo Life why surfing is her "happy place," what healthy snacks she turns to for energy and why you might see her competing in the same swimsuit. 

You're the youngest person to qualify for the women's Championship Tour. How does that feel?

It feels amazing. It's been such a fun journey so far and this will be my third year on the tour. It's been the coolest thing ever — surfing against my heroes and traveling the world and experiencing the world. Surfing's led me to meet so many amazing people and it's been incredible. I feel like I'm just getting started, so it's exciting.

You've talked about being proactive about maintaining your eye health. Do you have a proactive approach when it comes to mental health and keeping yourself in a calm place?

Honestly, surfing is the most therapeutic thing that I do; it kind of is my happy place. But when I'm on the land — and I'm in quarantine now — I've actually been journaling a lot. I used to not really journal that much, but I think something as simple as writing my days down, like, what I need to do throughout the day [helps]. I'm stuck in a hotel room and I think it's important to have those things that you write down just so you don't really get lost throughout the day. And I think that's been great for me, just kind of writing down the highlights of my days, the lows of my days and things like that. So journaling has been huge. 

I used to never really read, but now I'm in quarantine, so I'm reading. I've actually been coloring too and drawing a little bit, so things like that have been great. It just passes the time and it's nice not to be on your phone. 

Do you have any sort of self-care ritual or a routine that makes you feel brighter or more focused?

I love candles. My mom, I call her the candle queen because she always picks out the best candles. So that always makes me feel like I'm with her or at home. When I'm on the road — I don't usually travel with one, I just buy one at the store — it just reminds me of her and it makes me feel at home. And I actually brought my little sister's coloring book here, which is kind of random, but it makes me think of her. 

I do actually get up every morning and make my bed. I think it's a great start to the day. You wake up in the morning and it already makes you feel accomplished.

Do you have any superstitions when you're about to compete?

I don't have any crazy ones, but I am pretty funny [and] a little bit superstitious about the same swimsuit I wear. It's kind of the only thing I'm really superstitious about actually; I think when surfing you have to be good at adapting, and things change so fast. But I think wearing the same swimsuit for me is kind of something that I like to do and I don't know why. I'm like, "Hey, I surfed really good with this swimsuit last time. If, if I wear it again, I know I'm gonna start getting it." It's just like a mental thing. 

The surfer shares how she bounces back from a tough loss. (Photo: Gari Askew II,)
The surfer shares how she bounces back from a tough loss. (Photo: Gari Askew II,)

When you compete for a living, how do you focus if you're having a bad day? How do you maintain that game face?

I think if I'm having a bad day, the best thing for me is surrounding myself with people that I feel good around. For me, that's my family and my friends or my coach — people that make me feel good and that are really, really good energy. I think who you surround yourself with is super-important. That is 100 percent the main thing for me, that I surround myself with good people. 

And if you've had a rough competition, how do you push past that? How do separate yourself as a person and yourself as a sportswoman?

Getting over a tough loss or something like that is [helped by] surrounding myself with good people and just being like, "Hey, it's all good." And I do think it's important to let yourself be bummed for a little bit; that means you care. But I think the quicker you can get over that, the better... Me being bummed and me being sad for a long period of time is not gonna make it better; it's going to make it worse. My favorite thing to do after a loss is just to go surfing and just do the things that make me happy: go get my favorite food or go see my best friend or something like that. Those are some of the things I do to make [myself] feel good and just kind of make that loss get a little bit easier. 

What are some of the other ways that you stay healthy and feeling your best?

I'm really dialed in with my nutrition. I love food and I love learning about food. I'm not too educated on it, but I'm starting to learn about it, and I think that's really, really fun. I'm starting to try and cook a little bit more and just learn about it, you know, because what works for me might not work for you. And I think it's really fun to just see what works for me and what gives me energy, what doesn't, what works best for me when I'm on competition days... 

And obviously I spend a lot of time outside and I think that makes me feel really good. [Doing] a lot of training and obviously being in the ocean a lot, things like that — those are all things that make me happy. 

What are some of your go-to snacks?

It sounds kind of weird, but I love carrots. I'm obsessed with snacking on carrots, which is, like, super-random. I love bell peppers, like stuffed bell peppers with feta and ground turkey, things like that. Those are my favorite things to eat. I love avocados and pretty much just [all] veggies and fruits. I love fruit. I'm obsessed with apples and bananas and things like that. I love granola too. That's like my kryptonite.

Do you have any mantras that help you hustle a bit?

What I've always kind of stuck by is "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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