Meet Caitlin Simmers, Teen Surf Phenom Heading to the Olympics (Exclusive)

You’re going to want to remember this name.

Caitlin Simmers, who prefers to be called “Caity”, is an 18-year-old surfing phenom who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world as the 2024 Tahiti Pro stop on the WSL Championship Tour gets underway.

Originally from California, she was born into a family of surfers and grew up in the coastal town of Oceanside, jumping on a board herself from a young age. Since winning her first surfing competition at the age of 10, she has literally made waves in the sport and has continued to do so in the years since.

Simmers spoke with PEOPLE about the remarkable journey she’s been on since qualifying for the WSL Championship Tour at age 15, from beating her idols-turned-competitors to representing Team USA at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s very crazy to think about,” Simmers told PEOPLE ahead of the Tahiti Pro, while reflecting on his career to date. The craziest part? “I didn’t intend to become a professional surfer,” she admits, explaining that it wasn’t until she won her first surfing contest that she realized “maybe I could make it in this (sport).”

Caitlin Simmers of the United States before her race at the Hurley Pro in Sunset Beach, Hawaii, February 2024.

Brent Bielmann/World Surf League via Getty Images

And she found success, dominating the waves and racking up victories at prestigious surfing events that ultimately led to her first major victory at the US Open of Surfing in 2021, making the then 15-year-old the second youngest winner in surfing history. professional event.

The win secured Simmers a spot on the WSL Championship Tour in his very first attempt. However, she chose to forgo the opportunity to hone her skills and spend time with her family, before packing her bags at 16 to compete around the world.

“I really feel like it was the right decision. I’ve never really regretted it,” she says, looking back. “So yeah, that means it was a good thing.”

Today, Simmers’ confidence is at an all-time high as she currently leads the WSL women’s rankings on the Championship Tour.

Caitlin Simmers before surfing in the quarter-finals of the Tahiti Pro in August 2023.

World Surf League/Beatriz Ryder

“The fact that I finished second last year makes me a little more excited,” she tells PEOPLE of her state of mind ahead of her second appearance at the Tahiti Pro. “But for every event, I want to go out there and win. I really want to do that for this one too.”

Despite Simmers’ young age, it was her athleticism and competitive spirit that allowed her to beat her idols – like five-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore and eight-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore – since that she is on tour.

When it comes to her age and how much she was able to accomplish early in her professional career, the rising star tells PEOPLE that she “never really thinks about it because surfing is what I love to do “.

Caitlin Simmers before surfing her heat in the quarter-finals at Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, Australia, March 2024.

World Surf League/Aaron Hughes

As for taking out some of the biggest names in the sport? “It’s just something that happened…I like to compete and I like to beat people,” Simmers says. “I’m very lucky. I love doing it, so I’m going to continue to do my best.”

The Tahiti Pro takes place at Teahupo’o, a wave that Simmers describes as “really beautiful and perfect, but also really terrifying.” In fact, the world-class venue will be the surfing venue for the 2024 Olympics when the Games begin this summer.

“I always watched the Olympics as a spectator and never dreamed of participating in them,” Simmers said of representing the U.S. team before its debut. “That’s a pretty cool idea.”

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit Watch the Paris Olympics and Paralympics this summer on NBC and Peacock.