It was the rookie against the veteran in a Southern California surf showdown on the other side of the world.
Would it be Santa Ana’s Courtney Conlogue, who has been one of the elite surfers on the prestigious World Tour for 12 years, or the newcomer hailing from just south in Oceanside, 17-year-old Caitlin Simmers, to take the win?
After a heated battle in 8- to 10-foot surf during the Meo Rip Curl Pro in Portugal, it was the youngster who earned the prestigious title, her first World Tour win just weeks after joining the ranks of the world’s best women surfers.
Simmers, who won the U.S. Open of Surfing in 2021, is among a crop of new-wave surfers putting pressure on the older, more experienced surfers on the World Surf League’s pro tour.
When the 35-minute final heat started, Conlogue took a strong lead, nabbing a high 9-point ride by charging a big wave, tucking into the barrel and following with a powerhouse carve to secure the score.
She held onto that position for much of the heat, but needed a second score to secure it – no easy task in the messy, chopped up, beefy, unpredictable waves.
The Orange County surfer faltered on several waves, unable to hang on as the wedged-up waves knocked her off her board.
Simmers capitalized on her opponent’s missed opportunities, earning a 7.17 after quickly tucking into a barrel, doing a layback on her first turn and finishing with another hack, barely hanging onto her board as it landed back onto the water.
It wasn’t long before Simmers secured a second needed score, earning a 6.33 with just minutes left on the clock to take the lead.
Conlogue clamored for a wave, but couldn’t find one to ride to the win. The final score was 13.50 for Simmers; 12.83 for Conlogue.
“Are we seeing the new generation, are we seeing the next wave of women’s professional surfing? Is the pendulum swinging?” asked announcer Kaipo Guerrero.
For the Santa Ana surfer, it was a strong finish following two lower 17th place finishes in Hawaii.
“I’m honestly just so grateful to get a result finally,” Conlogue said in a World Surf League interview. “Tricky conditions, but I was very grateful to share the final with Caity (Simmers). And off to Bells now. I’m just going to keep manifesting good results.”
She’ll need good results at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach next month to avoid a mid-year cut – only the Top 10 women surfers advance to the back half of the competition year with a chance at the finals at Lower Trestles in September. Following Portugal, she’s 12th in the rankings.
The next two stops are in Australia, where Conlogue has claimed several wins through the years among her 13 championship titles.
It’s been a strong start for Simmers’ first year on tour, which just kicked off in February. She qualified for the World Tour last year, but opted to wait a year before joining to earn more experience traveling and surfing.
She earned a ninth place finish at Pipeline at the start of the tour, followed by a strong quarterfinal finish at Sunset Beach.
“I really just can’t believe it, honestly,” Simmers said in the post-heat interview about her first championship tour win. “Honestly, I have to wait until it feels real.”
Now taking the second spot in the rankings, there’s a good chance she could be one of the final five to battle for the world title at Lower Trestles just south of San Clemente.
The waves in Portugal reminded Simmers of the beach break she grew up on in Oceanside, she said.
“This is my favorite kind of wave,” she said. “This is what I surf everyday.”
Simmers became the first rookie to win an event on the women’s tour since Lakey Peterson, of Santa Barbara, at the 2012 Nike US Open of Surfing, according to the World Surf League.
Brazilian Joao Chianca earned the men’s title after beating Australian Jack Robinson in the finals, his first World Tour event win.