Filipe Toledo And Caroline Marks Are Your 2023 World Champions Of Surfing - Stab Mag
Filipe Toledo has only lost one time in the WSL Finals format. Photo: Thiago Diz/WSL

Filipe Toledo And Caroline Marks Are Your 2023 World Champions Of Surfing

San Clemente’s adopted children summit Final 5 mountain.

news // Sep 9, 2023
Words by August Howell
Reading Time: 4 minutes

You can read our real-time conjectures on Finals Day, here — best comment wins a surfboard.

Ten storylines became two today.

Filipe Toledo, the world’s best performance surfer over the past 24 months (perhaps ever), made good on a second undeniable year, winning not just the regular season but the “playoffs” as well. Meanwhile Caroline Marks, the young woman who surfed her first Lowers CT heat at 13 years old, brought the title back to Florida (shoutout Lisa Andersen) today, and back to the goofs (shoutout Chelsea Georgeson).

In the glimmering afternoon light, Filipe held off a rampaging Ethan Ewing and third-seeded Caroline Marks melted World Champs Tyler Wright and Carissa Moore in consecutive heats.

While neither of our newly-crowned champs hails from San Clemente, CA, both have made the Trestles-adjacent town their adopted home. And we bet they’re feeling pretty good about that decision right now.

Black and yellow — Wiz Khalifa would be proud. Photo by Cait Miers/World Surf League

Filipe Toledo

This is an obvious statement if you’ve ever seen him surf, but Filipe’s ability in head-high conditions is just different from everybody else. He’s lighter on his feet than the rest of the tour, generates more speed in both flat and critical sections, and yet he manages not to sacrifice any power. As he’s solidified his rail game to match his aerial prowess, Filipe is able to fully maximize opportunities like a stock broker with insider trading tips. The numbers just keep going up. 

His slugfest with Ethan Ewing today (match one) exemplified this. In what was arguably the heat of the year, Filipe edged Ethan out 17.97 to 17.23 — masterfully choosing the right waves and powering bullishly through the windy ribs. Ethan caught cleaner, more perfect waves, but still he couldn’t match Filipe’s air-laden dynamism (in line with the Finals Day criteria).

Though neither caught a wave for most of the second heat, Filipe’s familiarity with Lowers was apparent in his immediate adaptiveness and ability to find waves worth surfing.

In two heats, he became the first back-to-back title winner since John Florence in 2016-2017, and the first Brazilian ever to do so. 

The stars nearly aligned for Ethan, who got five eights and a nine today. Photo: Pat Nolan/WSL

We’d be remiss not to acknowledge how compelling Ethan’s surfing was for the majority of the day. After breaking two vertebrae just over a month ago, it’s incredible that he’s even able to bottom turn, let alone eviscerate Joao Chianca, Griffin Colapinto, and nearly Filipe Toledo at the peak of their powers.

“This style of power surfing has never been done before,” Peter Mel suggested, making a point so many have realized but few have acknowledged. 

Filipe, however, matched the Australian’s commitment on rail and exceeded him above the lip — garnering deservedly better scores on clearly inferior waves. It was suggested that maybe the judges got too familiar with Ethan’s gauges and perked up when Filipe paddled out. Really though, it would have been a crime to score Fil anything but nines.

“Roses” by OutKast could be on repeat tonight in San Clemente. Photo: Pat Nolan/WSL

Caroline Marks

Matt Biolos would have been chuffed with the women’s final — no matter who won, the …Lost founder and lead shaper would add another World Title to the resume.

After a year of waiting for redemption, it felt like Carissa was due to exorcise those Stephanie Gilmore-shaped demons. Like Filipe, Carissa won three events this year (Pipeline, Margaret River and Surf Ranch) — her best season since 2015, when she won four.

But ultimately, a 21-year-old from Florida brought home the gator jerky. By dispatching Carissa, Caroline became the first female goofyfoot world champion in nearly 20 years and the second in 33 years. The last one was Chelsea Georgeson in 2005. Prior to that, it was Pam Burridge in 1990. 

On overhead walls courtesy of Hurricane Jova, Caroline consistently snagged the best rights of each heat, patiently biding her time to detonate lips on her backhand. She delivered three-turn combos to Caity Simmers, Tyler Wright and Carissa (in two heats) in a commanding fashion. Somewhere, her coach Luke Egan sheds a proud tear.

Caroline won two events this year at El Salvador and Tahiti. Regarding Teahupo’o, she’s also provisionally qualified to be the second American woman at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Photo by Thiago Diz/World Surf League

Her teammate in the 2024 Games will be… Carissa. Awkward. 

Though it wasn’t as brutal as last year’s situation, it’s tough not to feel for Carissa again. She’s been the most consistent surfer in the regular season for the past three years and has had two titles snatched from her at the finish line in as many consecutive years.

Four seasons ago, Caroline got her first CT win over Carissa at D-Bah in 2019. Today at Lowers, she went straight at the five-time world champ from the horn. Like pretty much everyone else today, she opted for rights. Between Caroline’s incredibly drive-y backhand — as predicted by Snake — and her intimate knowledge of San Clemente’s cobbles, she snatched the trophy from under Carissa’s nose.

The 2024 WSL calendar will be dropping on Sept. 20th, and there’s been no word of yet whether the WSL will be keeping the Finals at Lowers, or moving them to somewhere much drier/chlorinated.

Pray for lefts.


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