Oceanside teen Caitlin Simmers on Saturday propelled herself to the top spot among fellow youth surfers in the first day of competition in the Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro.
The 14-year-old outsurfed Brianna Cope of Hawaii in the semifinals and Zoe Benedetto of Florida in the finals with a score of 14.77 in the youth Qualifying Series category south of Oceanside Pier.
“I’m really happy with my performance and felt like I just got the right waves,” Caitlin said. “It’s supposed to be a little bigger tomorrow, so hopefully it’s still really peaky and fun so I can get a couple good ones” in the team competition.
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Caroline Marks of Melbourne Beach, Florida, rated No. 2 in the world, earned first place among the Championship Tour surfers in the 13th annual event sponsored by The Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro World Surf League.
The world’s top female surfers include Marks, Lakey Peterson and Tatiana Weston-Webb alongside Simmers and Benedetto.
Nearly all the competitors hadn’t donned a contest jersey since the season halted in March due to COVID.
Sunday’s team format will see Team California face Team US with 16 world-class surfers from California, Hawaii and Florida.
Team US has a 9-5 lead over Team California – earning 14.17 of a possible 20 points.
“It feels good after I’ve gotten so close to winning here so many times and to come out on top is great,” said Marks.
“I was definitely getting frustrated with myself after Tatiana (Weston-Webb) started off really well and then I took off on a closeout which wasn’t ideal — I swear I had wave repellent on me,” she said with a laugh.
“But I knew it could turn around any moment – especially being a beach break and those waves finally came to me.”
Weston-Webb and her teammate Cope made their way into Sunday’s action, third on the team leaderboard after helping deliver 4 total points for Team US.
“I was super excited to get back in the jersey even though it was a little nerve-racking and Courtney (Conlogue) just rips, so I tried to not make any mistakes,” said Weston-Webb. “I just love being in the jersey and thank God we’re able to get in one here and just so thankful for all the effort going into this event from everyone involved to get some heats under our belt.”
The weather and surf created a challenge, though. A fog bank moved in shortly before noon and delayed surfing for 45 minutes.
Surf was in the 2-foot to 3-foot range and several competitors had to sit on their boards for extended periods during the heats, waiting for rideable waves.
Team California started strong with two early heat wins, but Team US was quick to respond to tie it up and take the lead back with four straight heat victories.
Team California’s Alyssa Spencer eliminated four-time WSL Champion and 2018 Super Girl Surf Pro winner Carissa Moore.
But Team US’s Vahiti Inso, 13, beat defending event winner Samantha Sibley.
Competition also continues Sunday with adaptive women including 2010 Paralympic Sportswoman of the Year Alana Nicholes, 2020 Women’s AMPSurf ISA Para Surfing World Championships Gold Medalist Olivia Stone, and first-ever ISA World Championship female medalist, Darian Bailey Haynes.
Spectators aren’t permitted on the beach near the competition. A fence blocks views from the pier.
But the event will be webcast live via several partners, including supergirlsurfpro.com/LIVE, worldsurfleague.com and twitch.tv/supergirlsurf from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It will also be broadcast on FOX Sports throughout November and December.
— Chris Stone contributed to this report.