LIHUE — Most athletes can pinpoint when they discovered a passion for a sport.
That is not the case for Kilauea’s Sebastian Zietz.
“There was never this moment where I discovered surfing,” Zietz said. “For as long as I remember, it has just been there. I have never really wanted to do anything else.”
It is that passion for the sport that has allowed Zietz to burst onto this year’s world surfing scene.
In 2012, Zietz battled at the World Qualifying Series, which culminated in a win at the Reef Hawaiian Haleiwa Pro. Zietz had to battle some of the best surfers in the world, including fellow Hawaiian John John Florence in a four-man final, which earned him qualification for the 2013 World Championship Tour.
In his rookie season, Zietz has turned heads and surprised some, including himself.
“I’m honestly surprised about how good I have done,” Zietz said. “I haven’t made a semis yet but two quarterfinals, which is pretty good.”
Zietz is fresh off of completing the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, Calif., where he reached the round of 24 of a field that included 124 surfers before finishing 17th.
Zietz’s best performances came at the Volcom Fiji Pro and the Billabong Rio Pro where he finished fifth in the both. Those two outings have helped position himself in a tie for 11th place in the world rankings.
His performance is not the only thing that has surprised Zietz — he has also had to adjust going from the WQS to the WCT.
“I think it’s a lot different than the QS in the way that there is a lot more people surrounding it and a lot more pressure,” Zietz said. “I try to tune it out because I surf the best when I’m not under pressure. It feels good to have a couple of good results and kind of relax through the rest of the year and hopefully just surf how I know I can.”
For outsiders looking in, it would seem that finding surfboards would not be an issue. But for Zietz, it has been a struggle to find what works for him.
“I didn’t really have too many good boards throughout my QS career,” Zietz said. “Now that I am on the CT a lot of guys are throwing boards at me. It’s weird going from not having any boards to having a bunch of boards. It’s just about trying find out what works, because the most important thing in surfing is the equipment.”
Zietz is using a couple of different models from shaping legend Al Merrick, whom Zietz believes he will end up riding for in the future.
Although access to shapers such as Merrick and being surrounded by the best surfers in the world is enough to make most surfing hopefuls jealous, Zietz does miss aspects of the WQS.
“I feel like on the QS there is a lot of camaraderie because everyone is broke and everyone has to stay together,” Zietz said. “It’s really fun, but on the CT everyone kind of has there own entourage and is making good money so I do miss that part of surfing, but everyone on the CT is super cool and I am good friends with all those guys.”
Zietz grew up idolizing people like Kelly Slater and some of the other surfers he is now trying to compete with and beat, which has been a mental adjustment for the Kauai native.
It’s “weird,” he said, to go against guys he’s looked up too, like Mick Fanning, Slater and Joel Parkinsons.
“When you draw them in a heat you’re just like, ‘how am I going to beat this guy? He is like my hero.’ I find myself watching them surfing and thinking these guys are amazing and I hope one day I can do what they do. It’s weird to draw those guys and you have to know in your head that you can beat them. You almost have to lie to yourself.”
Zietz is no stranger to watching great surfers. He grew up watching fellow Kauaian Andy Irons, who along with Bethany Hamilton, Zietz considers a major inspiration.
“I remember heading to the beach and getting so excited when we saw Andy was there,” said Zietz. “We used to just sit and watch him — I really miss him.”
Zietz’s goal at the beginning of the year was to not lose in the first heat, which he has accomplished.
Now that he has a couple of quarterfinals appearances under his belt, Zietz has set a new goal for himself.
He now hopes to finish the year in the top 10, where his heroes like Irons and others on the tour have done so many times before him.
Next up on the tour for Zietz is the Billabong Pro Teahupoo, which is in Tahiti and will take place from Aug. 15 to 26, where he will again take on surfing’s best.
“Surfing is a real mental sport, and sometimes when you are feeling it, you can beat the world’s best.” Zietz said.