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    Teen surf phenom Simmers, of Oceanside, named “Rookie of the Year”
    • October 21, 2023

    Oceanside’s Caitlin Simmers earned a spot on the coveted World Tour and spent the year surfing against the best of the best.

    She dominated against more experienced surfers, with strong enough results to have a shot at a world title.

    Not to mention the 18-year-old surf phenom landed on Team USA and will compete at the 2024 Olympics.

    With those feats, it’s no surprise Simmers was named “Rookie of the Year” by the World Surf League.

    While she wasn’t able to clinch the world title during September’s finals at Lower Trestles in north San Diego County, she put the surf world on notice that she’s a contender. If Simmers is able to claim a championship in coming years, she’ll be the only other San Diego surfer since Debbie Beacham, of La Jolla, in 1982, to claim the prestigious title.

    “I don’t know if it’s soaked in yet,” Simmer said while on a rare stint home a few weeks ago.  “It still doesn’t feel real.”

    Simmers’ love for the sea came from childhood beach trips to Oceanside with her parents and younger brother Timothy, first starting off on a bodyboard before graduating to a surfboard, she said.

    “They didn’t really force anything to happen, we were just always at the beach,” Simmers said.

    It was her sibling rivalry with her brother, just one year younger, that helped light her fire, she said.

    “That’s probably part of the reason I’m so competitive, because of my brother. We always competed and wanted to be better than each other,” she said. “Even today, he’s so good at surfing and pushes me. I want to be better than my brother.”

    Simmers was about 11 when she started entering competitions, she said.

    “The first contest I did, I made one heat. I lost the second one, but I really was so happy I made the first heat,” she said. “I definitely fell in love with competing then for the first time. I just started doing competitions and then it worked out for me. It was never what I needed to do. I loved to do it, so I kept doing it.”

    She never had dreams of making the world tour, or aspirations to be a world champion, she admitted.

    “It was never like, I don’t know, my like one destiny or whatever. I just really liked to do it,” said Simmers, also an avid skateboarder.

    Her love for skateboarding translated onto the waves in competition and soon she was winning – a lot.

    It was in 2018 that the surf world took notice. She was named the National Scholastic Surfing Association’s Rookie of the Year and earned a national title.

    In 2019, she became a key member of Team USA, earning gold in the under 16-division at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Huntington Beach.

    Caitlin Simmers takes first place in the girls under 16 division during the ISA World Junior Surfing championships in Huntington Beach on Sunday, November 4, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Then, she started entering pro contests on the WSL Qualifying Series, the minor leagues of the sport, and there, too, dominated at events. In 2021, at just 15, she won the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach alongside San Clemente’s Griffin Colapinto, a mega surf event considered the world’s largest action-sports contest.

    Her results were so strong she earned a spot at age 16 onto the prestigious 2022 World Tour to compete against the sport’s best women, some who have been on the tour since she was a toddler.

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    But she did something only one other surfer,  Australian Taj Burrow in 1997, has done: She passed.

    “I guess I just did that so I could enjoy being at home. I wanted to make a surf movie (which she edited) and focus on being a better surfer, just enjoy being at home with my friends and family before I sacrificed my life to competitive surfing,” Simmers said. “I guess that was the reason. I just don’t think I was ready. I still don’t think I’m ready.”

    This year, she was ready for the elite level.

    In March, she won the Rip Curl Portugal Pro and later the Rio Pro. She earned second place at the Tahiti Pro, all results that allowed her to secure her spot in the WSL finals.

    “It’s been a long year, but also a really fast year. It’s weird thinking back on it. I wasn’t expecting to do this,” she said. “It wasn’t even really in my head. It doesn’t feel real. I’m just thankful surfing has taken me here.”

    She’s earned fans that span generations, appealing not just to the youngsters with similar surf dreams, but older surfers excited to see the new wave of female surfers dominating in competition.

    When four-time world champion Lisa Andersen met Simmers for the first time in September, she greeted the youngster with a gushing compliment.

    “I’m such a fan,” said Andersen, who revolutionized women’s surfing in the ’90s, an icon who was the inspiration for the surfwear brand Roxy.

    “She’s incomparable, there’s no one who surfs like her,” Andersen said. “She’s her own, unique self.”

    Simmers is often described by surf commentators as having a rock-star style, a nonchalant attitude that allows her to surf relaxed, yet fierce, drawing inspiration from her skateboarding and being comfortable both in bombing barrels and above the lip doing aerials.

    When Simmers recently joined a gathering of young girls to give advice before having a surf session with the youngsters, she spoke with wisdom beyond her years.

    “Be grateful. If you’re stressed about something, remember that you have the basics. You have a house and a home and family and people who love you,” she told them. “And that makes everything better.”

    And one other piece of advice: Listen to your mom.

    Simmers hasn’t quite settled into her fate as a role model, but is nonetheless soaking in the moment.

    “It doesn’t feel like I should be, because I still don’t have anything figured out,” she said of being a mentor. “It’s really sick to see when a little girl comes up to me and thinks what I’m doing is cool – that’s what makes me keep doing it.”

    Simmers is set to join Hawaii’s Carissa Moore and Florida’s Caroline Marks as a third competitor on Team USA for the Olympics at Teahupo’o, Tahiti, provisionally qualifying, awaiting official NOC nomination.

    “We are incredibly proud of Caity’s outstanding performance in her rookie year. For her to win an event in her rookie year and finish fourth in the world is a fantastic achievement and cements her status as one of the best up-and-coming talents,” WSL Chief of Sport Jessi Miley-Dyer said. “She’s pushing the progression of women’s surfing both in and out of the jersey.

    “Her journey inspires and sets a shining example for young surfers worldwide,” Miley-Dyer said, “and we look forward to witnessing her future successes.”

    ​ Orange County Register