OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Just weeks after helping Team USA win a bronze medal at the World Surfing Games in Japan, 12-year-old surfer Caitlin Simmers may soon add some gold to her trophy collection.
USA Surfing announced that she was one of 12 young American athletes chosen for Team USA, which will defend its 2017 gold medal at the World Junior Surfing Championship Oct. 28-Nov. 4 in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Coach Joey Buran said Simmers, who goes by the nickname "Caity," may be the youngest athlete to ever compete for Team USA at the World Junior championship.
Caity said she's happy about making the team and she's in it to win it.
"I'm really excited," she said. "My goal is for us to win as a team, but I'd love to make the finals and be in the top 10."
The World Junior is the world's largest junior surfing competition. Last year, 306 surfers from 41 countries competed in the tournament. Over the next few weeks, these 12 team members, plus two alternates, will continue training and competing to determine who makes the final roster.
Recently 16 U.S. competitors took part in two days of surf-offs and competition in Huntington Beach so USA Surfing officials could have a final look at the athletes before announcing their picks.
Caity performed very well, but Buran said her performance last month at the World Surfing Games played a big role in her selection for World Junior. He called her surfing there "not only outstanding, it was historic."
"For an unknown 12-year-old girl, by far the youngest athlete in the event, to go to Japan, eliminate former world champions, current elite top-ranked women from the World Surf League and then finish in the top 10? Amazing," Buran said.
"I doubt we will ever see anything like that again," he said. "She was a crowd favorite and the 'buzz' of the event. The general consensus from within the surf world is that she is headed for greatness and it is more likely to come sooner rather than later."
At the World Surfing Games, Japanese spectators swarmed Caity on the beach for autographs and photographs. Caity said she was surprised by the crowd reaction, but she thought it was fun.
While she enjoyed the trip, Caity said she's looking forward even more to the World Junior because it's not far from home, her teammates are closer to her in age and many of them are good friends.
Officials with USA Surfing have nicknamed Caity "2028," a reference to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles when they expect the now-sixth-grader to be a strong contender.
Caity, who will turn 13 on Oct. 26, is the eldest child of Jesse Simmers, an electrician at UC San Diego, and Ali Simmers, a hospice nurse. Jesse has surfed most of his life and got his kids — Caity's 11-year-old brother Tim also surfs — started in the sport on Boogie Boards when she was about 6.
Caity is known for the aerial stunts she performs on her board above the waves. She credits those skills to many years of practicing tricks on skateboards.
Making the team for World Junior is a nice capstone in a big year for Caity. She is ranked No. 1 in the girls Under-16 West Coast Prime, was named National Scholastic Surfing Association's 2018 Rookie of the Year and scored three perfect 10s at nationals, a first in contest history.
Caity is home-schooled three days a week, which allows her to surf once or twice a day for sessions of 90 to 180 minutes apiece. She trains once a week with her coach John Daniels, does surf-based workouts twice a week and meets at least once a month with Buran for training sessions.
Ali Simmers, who accompanied her daughter to Japan last month, said her daughter has been "quite cool, calm and collected" in approaching the World Junior.
"I know she's super excited to do it," Ali Simmers said. "Usually, she's surfing alone, so being able to be part of a team is a nice change for her. It's more fun when you're rooting for people on your own team."