Zietz has little room for error as Portugal gets underway

It’s coming down to the wire for Sebastian Zietz, who sits precariously on the qualification bubble with just two World Championship Tour events remaining. The start of 2014’s penultimate contest, the Rip Curl Pro Portugal, opened up its waiting period Saturday night. Surfline was forecasting some heavy swell but unfavorable windy conditions for the first few days, so officials may not get action underway until later this week. The Peniche location is 11 hours ahead of Hawaiian time, so each day’s call will occur for us at around 8:30 p.m.

With the top 22 WCT surfers gaining re-qualification, Seabass is in exactly 22nd place going into the final two events. Kauai’s only male competitor on the world tour doesn’t really have any room for error if he is to make it to a third straight campaign in 2015. It’s a crowded pack all clawing for the vital points to get them that automatic bid.

Jadson Andre reached the final at the Quiksilver Pro France to jump nine spots up the leaderboard and into 20th position. Matt Wilkinson got to the fifth round in France to continue his late-season push up to 23rd place. They, along with Julian Wilson, Filipe Toledo, Freddy Patacchia, C.J. Hobgood and Kai Otton are in the bubble crew with Zietz.

As is the case all season, reaching the third round is crucial at the final two stops. The difference between going out in the second round for an Equal 25th result and losing in the third round for an Equal 13th is a jump from just 500 points to 1,750. Seabass has gotten to the third round in seven of this year’s nine events. His two throwaways are already on the table so any further 500-point results will be a huge blow to his chances.

Zietz made it to the third round last year at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal, winning his opening heat to skip that dreaded second round, but he lost to Nat Young for an Equal 13th. A first-round win will be an even taller task this time around. He’ll be going up against currently No. 3 ranked Mick Fanning, as well as Brazil’s Raoni Monteiro. Fanning won the pair’s opening heat earlier this year at Jeffreys Bay, their only heat with one another this season.

Though this Portugal contest is obviously significant, what Seabass has in his back pocket is the year’s final event. When he comes back to Hawaii for the Billabong Pipe Masters, Zietz will be one of the favorites from that qualification grouping to potentially make a deep run. It’s been his most successful WCT location to this point. When he burst on the scene and won the Vans Triple Crown back in 2012, Seabass capped it with a quarterfinal appearance for an Equal Fifth place at Pipeline. He followed that up with an Equal Fifth again last year, making the quarters for the third time during his rookie season.

This year hasn’t been quite as successful, but Zietz can reclaim his spot on tour with one more deep run, whether it be this week in Portugal, or in December at Haleiwa.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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