Hammering and Forging the Character of Sebatian Zietz
By Cash Lambert
You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one. Henry David Thoreau said that, and I know what you’re already thinking: the poet and philosopher, who lived in the 1800s, has nothing to do with surfing, athletic prowess, or anything close to today’s culture.
But, as time moves in its only direction – forward – the past frequently comes back to life in multiple areas: fashion, thought, ideas and so forth and interestingly, this quote couldn’t better signify the life and times thus far of Hawaii’s own Sebastian Zietz.
Growing up, many create an identity based on their location and its surrounding culture, but not young Sebastian. In his most formative years, Sebastian and his family lived as vagabonds. He moved from idyllic Kauai and road tripped to Maine at age 10, returning 4 years later. That’s when, after having seen more forests, deserts and road signs than most his age, he inebriated himself in the Kauai lifestyle.
They say in life there’s two kinds of people in this world: hammers and nails, and if this is indeed true, Sebastian is certainly the former. Year by year, he began to hammer hammer hammer away at his surfing skill: sharper turns, processing wave selection faster. Contest after contest, his calloused hands slammed the proverbial hammer harder harder harder, forging a career out of surfing. Today, Sebastian sits on the precipice of requalification on the prestigious World Championship Tour.
Through it all – the highs, the lows, the grinding, the winning, the years – Sebastian not only forged himself a career; he also forged himself into a character. Fans, athletes and sponsors alike have nothing but positive things to say about the beloved 28-year-old. He’s someone of pure stoke, someone you’d like to have a beer with, someone who livens up WSL webcasts during interviews and someone who despite negative situations, chooses to see things in a positive light.
You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one. Henry David Thoreau may have said that, but Sebastian Zietz has lived it. Here’s how, in 5 different times of Sebastian’s life.
Sebastian Zietz is grabbing rail with a smile spread across his face. It’s December 2012, and he’s being carried across the beach on a bright green surfboard from a team house to the Vans Triple Crown podium in front of Pipeline.
It was an unprecedented entrance into an awards ceremony for an unprecedented run of results. After, frankly, a subpar year on the World Qualifying Series, Sebastian locked in and finished 1st in the Reef Hawaiian Pro in tricky Haleiwa conditions, 3nd in the Vans World Cup of Surfing at daunting Sunset Beach and 5th in the Billabong Pipe Masters.
He held the trophy high, was handed a lucrative check, had his name inserted into the likes of past winners, including Derek and Michael Ho, Sunny Garcia, Andy Irons and Joel Parkinson, and if that wasn’t enough, he was allowed entry into the following year’s World Championship Tour.
Was it truly rags to riches? Not necessarily, but it would have taken an incredible amount of time, energy and finances to continue grinding on the WQS to achieve as many points as his Vans Triple Crown win allotted.
“Winning the VTC, it definitely requires some luck,” said Sebastian, looking back on his win. “Wave knowledge is critical for sure.”
The contest series, often known for breaking boards, bones, confidence and careers instead made Sebastian’s career in 2012. Made him a topic of discussion amongst the surf media, made him the hottest name in surfing.
His victory lap on the green surfboard became immortalized, a photo forever depicting the dream of winning the Vans Triple Crown. On the podium that year could have been Joel Parkinson. Could have been John John Florence. But it was frothing Sebastian. And no matter where his career went in 2013 and beyond, into the record books or into the depths of the rankings, the win could never be taken away.
Sebastian Zietz once snapped on Andy Irons. It’s true.
But first, the backstory. See, when Sebastian was 4, his family (he had 9 brothers and sisters) moved to Kauai and it was only natural for young Sebastian to slide into the beckoning waters of Hanalei Bay every day.
At age 10, Sebastian entered in full grom mode. But the family suddenly picked up and made a cross country move, and the story sounds like something straight out of a Jack Kerouac novel. Extended members of the Zietz family had passed away in Maine, so family flew to California, bought a Winnebago and began the trek.
Once in the icy northeast, they continued living out of the van, later buying a sailboat and sailing it from the winter haven of Maine to the Sunshine state. The family wanted to stay on the East coast, so Sebastian’s older brother, Billy, made a pitch to let Sebastian live in Kauai with him.
“My brothers Billy and Max, they have had the biggest influence on me,” Sebastian said. “I moved in with Billy when I was 14… the only reason he took me in was to help me have a future in surfing. At the time he wanted me to succeed more than I did. I still look up to them.”
Sebastian picked up where he left off on the surfboard, and a fiery side began to show.
“At Pine Trees, yeah I snapped on Andy,” Sebastian said. “I was totally out of line but I was just frothing to catch a ton of waves.”
How did A.I respond?
“He slapped my head! The next week I actually won my division at the Irons Brothers contest,” Sebastian continued. “As he handed the trophy to me in front of all the parents and kids he said ‘F@#ker’! I will never forget that moment.”
Another moment Sebastian won’t forget is after turning 16, he again moved, this time under the same roof as Dustin Barca. “He lived in a 5 by 10 laundry room, that was his nest,” Barca said in an interview with the WSL. “There was greatness in the kid.”
Sebastian Zietz looks frustrated.
It’s 2015, and the year marks his third year on tour, three years removed from winning the coveted VTC trophy.
His first year on Tour looked promising, you know, the new guy getting his feet wet: he finished 16th.
The following year, 20th.
And 2015, 25th.
It was at the Hurley Pro at Trestles in 2015 that Sebastian looked frustrated, and man, there was reason to be. A controversial interference call sent him home, and as he was packing his bags, the WSL grabbed him for a live interview.
Now, this could have been the perfect opportunity for Sebastian to lose his cool and light the place up!
I mean, the guy was in dire need of a solid result. During the contest – perhaps it was the conditions on hand or his Top 40 fire playlist – he was feeling that swagger, surfing loose and surfing confident.
But then, his heat with Michel Bourez.
“…Twenty seconds to go [in the heat], and as we paddled over a wave I thought I was going to get another wave in the time limit, but I don’t know if the beach announcer’s time was off, I don’t know so I was paddling hard to get a wave,” he said, his demeanor stern. “I didn’t know what Michel was doing, I was paddling so hard to get wave…I didn’t know what Michel had gotten on wave before, it wasn’t the greatest wave but Michel is such a powerful surfer and could’ve gotten a good score with cutbacks. I paddled for the wave way too long, didn’t hear the horn at all I was just thinking paddle… I’m happy for a good performance, I’ll go to Europe and perform.”
The WSL reporter noted that despite his frustration, Sebastian still went up to the judges and spoke with them, even shaking their hands.
Sebastian’s response: “That was one of the better heats I’ve surfed all year, I got some good boards under my feet. There’s no hard feelings, it was one of these weird things, my mistake, I should have let Michel go on that wave. I’ll take it as a positive. I surfed good, I wish I was still surfing but hopefully Michel rips the rest of the contest.”
At the end of the year, Sebastian’s frustration would continue. After surfing his heart out at the Pipe Masters, he lost his final heat by .21 points, narrowly missing re-qualification.
Sebastian Zietz is on a jetski, and he just heard he’s ranked number two in the world.
His reaction? “Woah, RADICAL, yeah number 2!”
You’d think a lot had happened in between Sebastian following off Tour in 2015 and him suddenly thrust limelight at cold Margaret River, Australia, in April of 2016. But in such a short time span, not really.
“The 2016 year started with me just being really focused on my surfing for the WQS,” he said. “After the wildcard into Snapper Rocks and taking out Mick Fanning in Round 3, I was invited to a few more CT events. With Taj Burrow retiring and all the injured guys, I’ve been really lucky.”
He capitalized on that luck at Margaret River, winning heat after heat, sliding into the quarterfinals as a darkhorse, the semifinals as a ‘good for him’ story and into finals – against Julian Wilson – as an underdog.
“I’m just trying to put on more of a show this year,” Zietz told the WSL after being chaired up the beach victorious at Margarets. “I had such bad wave selection and heat strategy last year, I know I can do better.”
Indeed, 2016 has been a better year. Even though Sebastian isn’t on the CT and has competed due to both injured and retired vets leaving slots open, he scored a 13th in Brazil and a 9th in France, among others.
“After my win at Margaret’s, I’ve been feeling the pressure to get results to qualify,” he said. “I put pressure on myself for the QS at the beginning of the year and ended up doing pretty bad at the first couple events. I was stoked to get into the events on the CT, so I was just letting it flow. That seemed to work a lot better but after winning Margies, I felt the pressure to have one of my best years.”
Sebastian Zietz may be feeling the pressure, but he’s smiling.
It’s mid-October of 2016, and although he sits at 13th on the CT, he still needs a solid result at the Meo Rip Curl Pro Portugal. A solid finish could ease the tension as afterwards, he heads back into familiar but challenging territory: the 2016 Vans Triple Crown.
Four years post his incredible celebration to the podium, Sebastian still serves as an example of what winning the Vans Triple Crown can do for one’s career.
“I’m still reminded of the Vans Triple Crown win in 2012 every time I go home and see my house, my truck and my jet ski,” he said. “All the things I would have never been able to have without that win.”
There’s a good chance that win also was instrumental of him starting Fit Lab Kauai. “A lot of people invest in the stock market or real estate, but the gym gives back to the community and that’s what matters to me,” he said. “Cycling is apart of my training, so being able to jump into a class on Kauai is pretty sick. We didn’t have anything like it on the North Shore.”
When Sebastian’s feet hit the golden-laced sand on the 7-mile-miracle, from Haleiwa to Sunset Beach and everything in between, including Pipeline, he’ll be riding an updated quiver. “I’ve been riding a lot of Channel Island Protons,” he said. “My two victories and my perfect 10 at Pipe were all on Protons. I’ve been trying to dial in a perfect shortboard.”
And in late December, as he dials up his Protons the night before a heat at the Pipeline Masters, what will drift into his mind after hammering and forging during the 2016 year? What thoughts will he use for motivation?
“My win at Margaret River was the proudest moment,” he said. “I need to work on consistency for sure… I’m pumped for the rest of the year, and my next goal is to win the Pipe Masters.”