Jake Marshall knows two things well: how to read a break of a wave and the heartbreak that can accompany them.
“Sometimes you fall and you have to pick yourself back up,” Marshall said. “It’s hard, for sure, but you end up being a better competitor by learning from it.”
Marshall, of Encinitas, is riding high via his work on the waves as he begins his rookie season on the World Surf League Championship Tour.
But his trek to the globe’s best surfing circuit was hardly as smooth as glass.
“I’ve definitely had an interesting road,” Marshall, 23, said.
It started when Marshall was 7 and his father, John, introduced him to surfing. They shared waves at Cardiff’s Seaside Reef and soon Marshall was shredding competitors as easily as he did clean sets.
“My dad surfed and he just loves being in the ocean,” Marshall said. “It was something that was fun that we could do together. Then I figured out pretty quickly that I loved surfing and that I wanted to do it all the time.”
Marshall began climbing the professional surfing ladder with his goal of going against the sport’s very best. That meant earning his water stripes in the qualifying and the challenger ranks. Toward the end of 2019 on the challenger level, which is one step below the championship category, Marshall was poised to advance.
The top 12 surfers shed their challenger status to move up and Marshall, who knows all about positioning, was sitting pretty going into the tour’s last two events.
Ever hear of an endless bummer? Marshall has, and he’s been there.
After two first-round eliminations in Hawaii with a shoulder injury compromising Marshall’s form, he finished at No. 13. The luck of the draw, waves and heath had found someone else as Marshall just missed making the champions tour.
“That was brutal and I was so disappointed in myself,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Is this what I really wanted to be doing?’
“I knew it was, so it made me work harder and appreciate the grind even more. It seemed like I was doing it more for myself than anybody else.
“It kind of made me grow as a person and it was a life lesson in becoming more of a man. I’m still learning, but I now know it’s a long road to achieve something that you are striving toward.”
Armed with a reinvigorated want-to, Marshall ran smack tap into a can’t-do. COVID-19 derailed the 2020 season, so Marshall’s clear vision of his future was clouded again.
He went from surfing to salsa and come again?
With events on hold, Marshall started serving Mexican food at Municipal Taco in Oceanside.
“It was cool and all,” he said. “But it also made me appreciate my surfing even more and that had me really wanting to get back out there.”
When surfing returned in 2021, Marshall wasted little time. He finished fourth overall as a second-place finish at the US Open in Huntington Beach was among the results that elevated Marshall to where he is today: a card-carrying member of the WSL.
“You have your end destination and how you picture it in your head,” Marshall said. “But it hardly ever goes that way.”
What doesn’t go away is the sense of satisfaction of crossing off one goal, with an eye toward the next one and that’s performing well.
“It definitely took a little time to sink in that I made it,” Marshall said. “I’m just ready to put the jersey on, paddle out and when I do that, it is going to be pretty cool. All of a sudden, it’s like this is it and I’m on the big stage.”
But only after Marshall persevered after a few wipeouts that didn’t dunk his dream. Marshall held on so one day he could hang 10 while going against the world’s top surfers.