A Florida native, Marks made history at just 15 years old as the youngest surfer (man or woman) to qualify for the World Surf League Championship tour. Now, the 2018 WSL Rookie of the Year has become one of the first women to ever qualify for Olympic surfing, alongside Team USA teammate Carissa Moore. And while it'd be comforting to say Marks is just like the rest of us, that would be far from the truth — the now 17-year-old lives a life that's far from conventional and she wouldn't have it any other way.
"The bottom line is, I don't want to be normal," Marks said. "I guess I don't really know the difference, but why be normal when you can make a difference in the world? I don't really want to be a follower, I want to be a leader. I want people to do what I'm doing."
A professional surfer's life is anything but ordinary, and the typical person watching Marks travel from beach to luxurious beach may think she's on a constant vacation — an assumption that drew some social media backlash. Internet commenters would surmise about her education and often assumed that all she did was surf.
All the while, Marks was being homeschooled and, as her dad told me when he borrowed the phone in the middle of our interview, she is unable to travel if she gets lower than a B on her assignments.
"She doesn’t like it sometimes, but that's my job as dad," Darren Marks said. "It's unfortunate that they would judge without really knowing what the truth is."
The judgments make no difference to Marks, who has developed her own way of dealing with the haters.
"I just kind of learned to not even read what they say and not even worry about it," Marks said. "Look, there's always going to be haters no matter what you're going to do. You can't please everyone and everyone's going to have an opinion. I love my life and that’s all that matters."
In reality, Marks starts her days early and does little else besides surf, study and spend time with her family.
"Seriously, all I like to do is surf," Marks said. "Everyone's like, what else do you do? Well, all I want to do is surf."
As surfing gears up for some of its most exciting years yet — 2019 brings equal prize money for men and women in the WSL and 2020 will be the first year surfing joins the Olympics — Marks continues to fearlessly and graciously ride the wave of her life.
"I wasn't even thinking about going on the tour. But it's so hard to make the tour and it's such a privilege," Marks said. "I thought, the worst case is I have a tough year but at least I’ll learn a lot and surf all these incredible waves and surf against my heroes. So yeah, let's give it a shot."
For Marks, giving it a shot resulted in a Rookie of the Year title. But even with such a promising future, she said she's not putting any pressure on herself to be one of the top two Americans who will make history as the first to attend the Olympics — a strategy that has seemed to play in her favor thus far.
"No one even knows who I am yet, there's no pressure on me," Marks said. "The only pressure put on me this year was from myself because I know what I can do and I know how good I am and I have high expectations for myself."