Team Japan may have bested Team USA for the gold medal at the World Junior Surfing Championships, but California phenom Caitlin Simmers walked away with the tourney's biggest buzz.
Simmers, 13, won the gold medal for the girls' under-16 division, earning one of the highest scores at the entire International Surfing Association tournament held at Huntington Beach, Calif.
Team USA coach Joey Buran said Simmers' surfing was both "amazing and historic."
"There is a collective sense of awe and respect from the entire international surfing community regarding her surfing, competitive skills and general demeanor," Buran said. "Without putting pressure on (her), the collective agreement from the global surf family is that she is the best we have ever seen at this age and is destined for greatness at the highest level for the sport of surfing."
The World Junior is the world's largest junior surfing competition. It draws more than 300 surfers from roughly 40 countries. Simmers, who goes by the nickname "Caity," said before the tournament that her goal was merely to finish in the top 10.
Simmers was one of 12 members selected this fall for Team USA's junior team. Buran said he thinks she might be the youngest team member ever.
Last year, the team won the gold medal. Buran said this year's team surfed even better than last year, but this year's competition was fiercer.
"The level of surfing at this year's ISA Worlds was simply next level," Buran said. "These athletes will be storming the Championship Tour and Olympics faster than anyone realizes. I am extremely proud of Team USA's performances and stoked about surfing's future."
Officials with USA Surfing have nicknamed Caity "2028," a reference to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles when they expect the sixth-grader to be a strong contender.
Caity 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 children — 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 "above-the-lip" stunts she performs on her board above the waves. She credits those skills to many years of practicing tricks on skateboards.