"I get scared all the time for sure… the reef's scary, the sharks are scary, getting held underwater is not fun at all," Marks tells PEOPLE during the WSL Championship Tour
Unlike many, fear fuels Caroline Marks.
Between big barreling waves and dangerously sharp reef (oh, and the obvious potential shark encounter), the sport of surfing has its fair share of uncontrollable factors — and while many would rather watch from afar, the 21-year-old professional surfer dives in head first.
As Marks vies for a spot in the World Surf League Final 5 during the 2023 Championship Tour, the young charger took time out of the water to chat with PEOPLE about using her fears to fuel her chances at a World Title.
"I get scared all the time for sure," Marks — who made history as the youngest female surfer to qualify for the Championship Tour at age 15, ranking 7th in the world that year — tells PEOPLE. "Obviously the reef is scary, the sharks are scary and getting held underwater is not fun at all," she admits.
But Marks' mindset is what gets her through those daunting thoughts. "I just tell myself, 'Okay, I got this and I've trained hard for this,' " she says of what she reminds herself in moments of doubt. "Just really believing in yourself... I think that self-belief has really helped me get over those fears."
Overcoming the mental obstacles is a barrier that Marks has managed to put at ease, especially as someone who finds a way to "enjoy" those fears because she "loves an adrenaline rush." However, there are certain factors that are out of the pro's control.
"What we do... it is Mother Nature," Marks says on behalf of the other surfers on tour, who've competed at places like the Banzai Pipeline on Hawaii's North Shore (known as "one of the world's most deadliest waves").
"There's a lot of uncertain things," she says. "You don't really know what's going to happen."
But the optimistic Marks is sure to note, "That's the beauty of our sport!" She adds, "I guess that self-belief and not doubting yourself helps you get over those fears."
Compared to the uncertainty of Mother Nature the surfers must contend with each time they paddle out into the ocean, the next stop on the WSL Championship Tour couldn't be more opposite. Now, Marks — who is currently ranked No. 4 on tour — is gearing up to compete at Surf Ranch, a 600-meter human-made wave pool located in Lemoore, California.
Designed by 11x-World Champion Kelly Slater, the competition at Surf Ranch on May 27-28 is a highly-anticipated event because it brings together the best surfers in the world to face off on a "perfect wave" for a spot in the WSL Final 5.
"You can't really blame the wave or anything if you don't do good," explains Marks, who described the technology-backed barrels as a "massive machine" that produces faces up to 8ft. high. "So in a way, that takes off the pressure because you know you will get equal opportunity as everyone else."
"With [Mother Nature], you don't know if you're going to get the same amount of waves." The pro explains, "Sometimes, you can be surfing better than your opponent, but you lose because they get way better waves."
"So that is definitely not the case at this event," Marks says. "There's a lot of room for error... it's super nerve racking."
Not only is scoring well at Surf Ranch an essential component in making the WSL Final 5, but this season as a whole includes 2024 Olympic qualification, and performance at this stop will be crucial in athletes’ endeavor to represent their country in Tahiti next year.
"This year in general is just a really big one... the Olympics adds a whole other aspect to this year, it adds a whole other added pressure," says Marks — who made history as the youngest female surfer to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games. "And the Surf Ranch is a pretty pressured event because you only get a couple of chances."
As for her mindset ahead of competing, especially with such high stakes? "I'm nervous, but I'm also stoked. It's exciting nerves," she says with a smile. "I do feel it's a really good wave for me and I've done good there in the past."
She continues, "I practiced up there a couple nights ago and I felt really good... I feel like I'm surfing the pool better than I ever have. So there are a lot of positives!"
But of course, despite the excitement doubled with nerves, the professional athlete has a familiar strategy in mind: "Staying solid, staying strong, being confident and not surfing the wave with fear."
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Read the original article on People.