How do you follow a title? Maybe with perfection

A year ago, history was re-written early on in the Championship Tour season. For the first time, a wild card took that opportunity to its furthest possible reaches. Sebastian Zietz, who was simply an injury replacement at the time after falling off the tour in 2015, outsurfed the rest of the field to win the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro.

That result propelled Zietz up the CT leaderboard and allowed him to sustain a solid ranking throughout the season. It’s by far his best result on the CT and showed that he not only can compete on the outskirts of the re-qualification sphere, but enter the upper echelon with some more consistency.

Returning to the same event and following up on that performance was a tall order for Zietz, now back to being a tour regular. But he returned to the spotlight without hesitation, completing one of the best waves we’ll see all year, which went viral almost instantly.

In the opening round, Zietz earned a perfect 10 with a barrel that must be seen to be believed. It wasn’t the most hollow of waves and certainly not the cleanest, but that only added to how impressive it made the completion. Zietz got so deep in the barrel that it seemed impossible for him to emerge past each successive foam ball that crept up his path. But there he was, barely emerging behind the curtain to the delight of the announcers, the onlookers in the channel and the fans on the beach.

There was no question about the score and the judges wasted little time posting their 10s across the board.

Video of the ride quickly took hold of Instagram, Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. That’s atypical for a surf highlight, which only emphasizes how special it was.

Having won this contest and now adding one of its most memorable rides, the Margaret River Pro — no matter which venue gets the call — has become synonymous with Zietz’s style.

After that opening round win, Zietz followed it with a dramatic comeback against Caio Ibelli in round three before falling to Filipe Toledo in round five. But results aside, Seabass made his mark Down Under once again.

On the women’s side, Malia Manuel has gotten back on track with a quarterfinal appearance. After an uncharacteristic second-round loss to start the season on the Gold Coast, Manuel started the contest with an opening-round win before knocking off an in-form Johanne Defay in the fourth round to move into the quarterfinals. Manuel made six quarterfinals last season, so this is a return to usual territory for her.

It remains a bit of a slow start for Tatiana Weston-Webb, who fell in round four to Sally Fitzgibbons. The ninth-place result is now the second straight to start 2017 for Tati. She finished ninth or worse just twice all last season.

The Margaret River Pro has historically been the land of opportunity for a lot of different competitors. It’s shaping up that way once again with some less heralded surfers getting deep into the field, like Jack Freestone on the men’s side and Sage Erickson on the women’s.

There are likely a few more memorable moments to behold but Zietz’s will be almost impossible to top. He may not be leaving with the most coveted result this time, but just about anyone would trade a win for a ride like his.

I wonder what he might have in store next year.

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

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