Well, it happened again. Carissa Moore came into the World Surf League finals as the top seed and lost. This time it was number-three seed Caroline Marks wreaking havoc on the bracket to take out her first world title. A celebration on the beach ensued.
“This is so incredible,” Marks said after. “All the support I had from both Florida and San Clemente.”
Moore talked openly this past year about how hard it was to get over last year’s loss at the Finals where she was also the one seed, even going so far as to say she went through a time of mourning after losing to Stephanie Gilmore. This one will be tough to come back from as well. She had an insane year (historic, given how many events she placed highly in?), winning three tourneys including Pipe, Margaret River, and the Surf Ranch. She also had three third-place finishes. Of course in the old format she would have run away with the world title. Instead she exited with a serious gripe against the new setup and the Final Five showdown.
But Marks, to her credit, surfed with an extra bit of oomph today, taking down Caitlin Simmers and Tyler Wright with a her precise backhand, before beating Moore in the final (“This one’s for the goofies,” she told Strider after). It seems like Marks has been on tour forever. She’s only 21.
It was redemption for the Floridian, who took time away from tour for personal reasons that haven’t fully been explained. But there have been references from Marks the past few months. “I haven’t won since 2021,” she said after winning in El Salvador. “This really was my first years back after coming out of one of the hardest times of my life. I’m really stoked.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I think we’ll hear more about those tough times now that she’s a world-title winner. Something about reaching the top just seems to make professional athletes open up more. I’ll be interested to hear her story.
On the men’s side, Filipe Toledo captured his second world title on a wave his surfing is absolutely built for. He beat Ethan Ewing in two straight heats, and as the number one seed, looked ready for whoever he would face that came through the bracket, having spent so much time at Lowers.
Toledo essentially won his 2023 title the way most surfers on tour would want to win it: by taking down both the season-long points total and then winning the WSL Finals. Toledo’s surfing is fantastic, explosive even, unlike any other surfer on tour, but the one knock against him would have to be his lack of wins at heavier waves like Teahupo’o and Pipe. But he didn’t really need wins at those places as the tour is currently constructed. So he walks away with his second straight world title and builds on an already impressive legacy. (Note: he’ll likely get two cracks at Teahupo’o in ’24, having made the Brazilian Olympic team.)
Changes to the tour schedule will remain a point of interest as the World Surf League heads into the offseason.
Ethan Ewing was a story himself, recovering from a broken back suffered at Teahupo’o. The man looked so dialed in, and with his powerful rail work and quiet upper body making for one of the best styles on tour, he’s a traditionalist’s dream. There was even subtle rooting for him in the announcers’ booth, as Mick Fanning openly wished Ewing into another wave at the end of the second set with Toledo to force a third-heat surf off.
But it didn’t happen and Marks walks away with her first title, while Toledo takes home an important second world championship trophy.