It was day seven of Caroline Mark’s Australian quarantine, and the tribe began to feel real. “The hardest part,” the surfer said to POPSUGAR, “is just not being able to go out.”
Marks went into a two-week quarantine at her hotel on March 11 in accordance with Australia’s COVID-19 protocols. All World Surf League (WSL) Champions Tour surfers did the same and prepared for the Australian stage of the trip and their first competition in four months: the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup, which began on April 1 and was packed last Friday.
But before that, before Marissa finished in third place behind eventual winner (and fellow Team Team teammate) Carissa Moore, Mark spent 14 days in her hotel room. She could not walk. To get fresh air, she went out on her balcony. She was also completely alone; the athletes were not allowed to stay with anyone other than a partner, so she was isolated from the one friend she took on the trip. It was a change for the 19-year-old, who is one of six siblings. “I have a huge family, so if I FaceTime them all for an hour, it takes up to eight hours of my day,” she said, maybe just a joke.
It was the biggest task to fill the hours. Marks said that helping to write a daily schedule. She did a Zoom workout with a trainer in the morning through Red Bull, one of her sponsors. She mapped out her meals and did a yoga class a few hours later. If she was ready for it, she took another workout just before bedtime; if not, she relaxed or watched a movie. She read books and colored. She had exercise bands, a yoga mat, some Pilates balls, a stationary bike. It was far from her normal gym, but “if anything, quarantine has taught me that I can do so much” with so little, Marks said.
Of course, surfing cannot be replicated in a hotel room. “I miss it so much,” Marks said. Usually she surfs for four hours a day, sometimes more if the waves are good. She has always been grateful to surf (“it’s my favorite thing in the world”), but even more so after the entire 2020 season was canceled.
“My goal was just to come back much stronger a year later.”
And in a few days of panic, Marks thought she might as well miss the Australian leg in 2021. Her bags were packed when Marks, nine hours before the trip’s chartered flight to Australia, tested positive for COVID-19. It left her “the most shattered and shattered I’ve ever been” – and in limbo. She would certainly miss the flight, but would she also lose the entire Australian leg? After four months without competing, the news almost lowered her. “I shut down my phone for a few days,” Marks recalled.
She had tested negative several times before the positive test came in, and after three days of several negative tests plus no symptoms and tests on everyone around her, the original test was finally considered a false positive. Marks was given another flight to Australia and quarantined “a few days later” by its competitors. “I’ve been crazy about coming here,” she said. “I was like ‘I don’t care if I have to quarantine in a tent. I just want to compete. I just want to be there.'”
Marks saw Australia as a fresh start to her season. December’s Maui Pro in Honolua Bay was the one women’s competition held by WSL in 2020, and Marks came in ninth place – a bad showing for a surfer who became number three in the world in 2019. After she bowed out, the competition itself was derailed by fatal shark attack on a recreational surfer and had to be moved to the Banzai pipeline on Oahu for a restart nearly three weeks later. In January, another Hawaii event was canceled. “A lot of things happened,” Marks recalled. “[The Maui Pro] was a really difficult event and then we had a few months off. It feels like we are starting all over again in Australia. Marks is also preparing for the Olympics in Tokyo, where she and Moore will represent the United States when surfing makes its Olympic debut.
As for Australia, Marks said it felt “amazing” to finally complete quarantine and get back in the water. “I was stoked to get a third place finish,” she said. Looking forward to the next event, Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic, Marks said her goal was simple. “I have a strong momentum,” she said. Now is the time to learn, improve and get back on the podium.
“As a surfer, you have to be so good at adapting,” Marks said. At sea, conditions change day by day, hour by hour; sometimes surfers only have hours to prepare for a competition when the swell comes in unexpectedly. Marks is proud of its ability to stay in the zone everywhere. “If you stay ready, you never have to get ready,” she said. “I think it kind of helped me get through this whole process.” Competitions postponed? Olympics postponed? “My goal was just to come back much stronger a year later.”
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Olympics in Tokyo this summer on NBC.