By Pam Kragen

The San Diego Union-Tribune

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Just weeks after helping Team USA win a bronze medal at the World Surfing Games in Japan, 12-year-old Oceanside surfer Caitlin Simmers may soon add some gold to her trophy collection.

Earlier this month, USA Surfing announced she was one of 12 young American athletes chosen for Team USA, which will defend its 2017 gold medal at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championship on Oct. 28-Nov. 4 in Huntington Beach, California.

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 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 train and compete to determine the final roster.

On Oct. 8-9, 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 Oct. 10.

Caity performed very well, Buran said, and her performance at the World Surfing Games played a big role in her selection for World Junior.

He called her surfing 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.

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.

Caity’s fellow female teammates are La Jolla, California, resident Alyssa Spencer; San Clemente, California, residents Kirra Pinkerton, Samantha Sibley and Sawyer Lindblad; and Ventura, California, resident Makena Burke. The alternate is Zoe Benedetto of Palm City, Florida.

The male teammates are Encinitas, California, resident Levi Slawson; San Clemente residents Cole Houshmand, Kade Matson, Jett Schilling and Taj Lindblad; and Taro Watanabe of Malibu.

The alternate is Owen Moss of Wilmington, North Carolina.

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 the University of California, 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 the NSSA nationals, a first in contest history.

Caity is home-schooled three days a week, which allows her to surf once or twice a day at Oceanside Harbor 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 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.”