No disrespect to Julian Wilson, but he was admittedly on the wrong end of me yelling a certain “Dumb & Dumber” quote as Sebastian Zietz readied to take him on in the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro final. I doubt I was the only one.
In a week filled with memorable firsts — the Warriors becoming the first 73-win team, Kobe being the first to score 60 points in his final game (and the first to take 50 shots in any game, ever) — Seabass broke through by winning his first ever Championship Tour contest.
He became the first injury replacement to ever take home a CT title. He’s also the first Kauai surfer on either the men’s or women’s side to win a CT event since Andy Irons took down the 2010 Billabong Pro Teahupoo.
So, yeah, you could say it was a fairly big deal.
Zietz was showing signs in the early rounds at Margaret River that he might have been locked in. He was completing his rides and building upon his scores, also plucking some of the best waves each round. There wasn’t any of the hard luck that was emblematic of his 2015 season. He was in control of his own performance and most of his heats.
And he was, quite simply, the best surfer of the event.
While he’s always been a fan-favorite and a favorite amongst his competitors, Zietz has elevated his performances to a level that matches his talent and personality. Losing his spot on the tour seems to have driven him to become more consistent and mindful during heats, which is clearly paying off.
He’s still the same fun-loving guy on the mic, but the mishaps that used to be fairly regular haven’t shown themselves. He’s always surfed well, now he’s surfing smarter.
In a season that’s becoming more unpredictable by the day, Seabass is ranked No. 2 in the world. He’s never finished a CT season ranked higher than 16th, so this is very new territory. Much of the leaderboard is in a similar situation. Matt Wilkinson still holds a large points lead at No. 1, but he’s never finished higher than 18th. Only two of the current top 10 — Joel Parkinson and Jordy Smith — have ever finished a season in the top five.
Two ways to look at those figures are to say that either it truly is a changing of the guard, or that we’re due for some course correction with a few of the bigger names like John John, Medina and Slater moving back towards the top and some of the less experienced surfers dropping down a bit.
But right now, the top four in the world — Wilko, Seabass, Italo Ferreira and Kolohe Andino — have been the four best surfers. They haven’t given us reason to think they’ll be giving up those spots without someone else prying them away.
For Zietz, in particular, this may not seem so extraordinary for very long. Acquiring the confidence they can be dominant elevates athletes to new heights. Sure, some surfers do win a contest and aren’t much of a threat the rest of the year.
But for Seabass, his surfing has long been at a world-class level. It’s never been about if, just when. Making the leap from good to great, a la Steph Curry, occurs through confidence. If this win gives him that, he could gain residence at the top of the rankings for some time.
There seemed to be as many smiles in Western Australia as there were on Kauai when Zietz got to lift that Margaret River Pro title. But nobody enjoyed it as much as Seabass, and I’d expect nothing less.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.