It's been 16 months in the making for the North America Regional Qualifying Series (QS) to crown event victors, and that long-awaited day came to fruition.
Young, 30, and Simmers, 15, put on a showcase from start to finish on finals day in three-to-four foot, inconsistent swell from their respective Quarterfinals through to Final showdowns.
This marks Simmers' first-ever QS victory after earning a Pro Junior victory in the very same lineup at the 2019 Vans US Open Pro Junior. The Oceanside, California, competitor battled through a hefty order of in-form surfers including event standout Bella Kenworthy in the Quarterfinals and recent Olympian Leilani McGonagle in the Semifinals.
But, it all came down to one last showdown against fellow 15-year-old talent Sawyer Lindblad. (Full interview in video)
"It feels really good to win and the waves were really fun the last two days," said Simmers. "I'm not in any rush [to get into the bigger events] and we'll see what happens."
Simmers' Final performance was the best of the women's event with a 15.65 (out of a possible 20) with a 7.90 (out of a possible 10) to all but solidify her breakthrough victory.
A long-awaited QS victory in Huntington Beach came to fruition for Young, already boasting a Pro Junior victory, and conquered a stacked field along the way.
The Santa Cruz, California, competitor overcame event threat Josh Burke in a back-and-forth Final affair by unleashing his forehand attack in the last eight minutes to garner an excellent 8.25.
The lineup then went quiet for the remaining time limit as Young was hoisted to victory with a bittersweet win being the first since his mother, Rosie, passed away in February. (Full interview in video)
"My fiance was here, our baby Rocky was down here and it was her first contest she's been to," said Young. "It was hard for me because this was the first contest I've done not having my mom around. I'm used to getting texts from her and her being on the beach and so that was difficult, but I was happy to win the first contest back."
Young had to overcome San Clemente, California's, rising star Cole Houshmand in the Semifinals after dealing with Florida's talented Chauncey Robinson to start his finals day run and now takes this momentum into the US Open September 20 - 26.
Burke Maximizes on Big Opportunity
Burke shook his nerves early in his Quarterfinal heat and posted a solid 6.75 before launching himself into the flats with a tail-high reverse for an excellent 8.25 to leave Kei Kobayashi in a combination situation -- securing a Quarterfinals win and Challenger Series spot.
The Barbados representative left everything he had in the water each heat, battling Cam Richards to the very end in the Semifinals before coming just short against eventual winner Young.
A highlight affair, Richards and Burke went blow-for-blow with Burke's 8.50 start eventually being tossed out for an aerial showdown - landing an 7.85 before a massive 8.70. Richards' 8.20 got him right back in the heat and his final attempt dropped at an 8.65 needing a near-perfect score. Both heat totals - Burke's 17.20 and Richards' 16.85 - were the top two of the event.
"It feels really good to solidify a spot into the Challenger Series and I'm happy with how I surfed the entire event," said Burke. "That was one of the hardest regional QS events in North America and, needing a result, I'm confident when I know I have the waves that I can perform. I'll get ready for Outer Banks to back up this result and keep the jersey on before the US Open late next month which I'm really excited to be in now - I've only been in the main event once before."
Lindblad's performance on Saturday was enough to see her into Challenger Series (CS) qualification but she wasn't to be stopped en route to the Final against Simmers. The San Clemente upstart powered through her early heats with a brilliant Quarterfinal win over Sara Freyre before taking on 2019 CT qualification threat Alyssa Spencer in the Semis. Though it wasn't her day to be atop the podium, it marks her third-consecutive QS Final dating back to 2020.
"Getting the word I was in Challenger Series just got me so amped that I wanted to keep surfing," said Lindblad. "Caity (Simmers) and me are really good friends and she pushes my surfing so much that I love competing with her. I'll go to the Outer Banks because I love competing and want to do it so much, then I'll get ready for the US Open."
Noteworthy Semifinalist Standouts
An all-important finals day was rounded off by event standouts McGongale, Spencer, Houshmand, and Richards with Semifinal finishes. The recent Olympian and Costa Rican McGonagle secured her place well within the Challenger Series rankings off a Semifinal appearance and now looks for a massive conclusion to 2021. Also joining the Challenger Series, Houshmand's Semifinal win secured his place within the Top 10 as Richards now prepares for the Outerknown Tahiti Pro trials.
The North America Regional Qualifying Series returns for its 2021/22 season at the men's and women's WRV Outer Banks Pro QS 1,000 beginning September 1 - 5.