When Sebastian Zietz elected to stay in the water after winning his Semifinal match against Italo Ferreira it revealed everything about his amazing turnaround in 2016, even how he got here. Keep in mind, at the end of 2015 Zietz had fallen off Tour. He was heartbroken at the prospect of heading back to the surfing's minor leagues. He loved every moment of his CT experience, and he was dreading the loss of two-man heats in the world's best waves.
"That was the toughest pill to swallow," Zietz said heading into the Australian leg. "I want to be around the best surfers in the world, and in the best waves."
In February, Zietz put his money where his mouth is. When the Gold Coast was firing weeks before the Quiksilver Pro event, he let WSL officials know he was in town, ready to compete, should any possible window open. With Bede Durbidge and Owen Wright already sidelined, he knew his chances were decent, but as the third man out, the rulebook says his spot is left 100 percent up to the commissioner, Kieren Perrow.
Perrow saw something in Seabass, and wisely gave him the nod when Alejo Muniz pulled out of the Quiksilver Pro. It was a decision he didn't regret, as Seabass pounced.
"I'm just trying to put on more of a show this year," Zietz said, back when he was unsure of how many CT appearances he'd get. "I had such bad wave selection and heat strategy last year, I know I can do better."
He's done much better.
But more than anything, he's having fun. That's exactly why he stayed in the water between the Semis and Final. After all, why not enjoy an empty lineup and do some crowd pleasing while keeping the legs fresh?
Now, suddenly, after taking his first-ever CT victory at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, Sebastian Zietz is heading to Brazil firmly back on Tour, with no need to go back to the minors, because he's sitting at No. 2 in the world and representing the latest surprise in this year of astonishing developments.
And now that event No. 3 is in the books let's take a pass at what some of those developments are...
It's impossible not to put the retirement announcement of Western Australia's favorite son at the top of the list. Thirty-seven-year-old Taj Burrow was chaired up the stairs at Margaret's after he decided this would be his last time competing at the CT level here. It was a touching moment for one of surfing's greatest icons.
Jeep Leader Matt Wilkinson's dream run finally came to a close in Round Five. The Aussie lost to fellow goofyfoot Nat Young, despite a valiant last-gasp effort. Regardless, Wilko will still be wearing yellow at the next event in Rio.
Meanwhile, on the women's side, Jeep Leader Courtney Conlogue and Tyler Wright clashed in their second head-to-head Final of the season. Conlogue was surfing in her third-straight Final, while both were hunting for their second win of the season. Wright ended up dominating the final, closing the gap on Conlogue's Tour lead. But what's truly interesting is neither Stephanie Gilmore nor Carissa Moore managed to make a Final during the entire Australian leg.
One of the brightest stars of the week in West Oz was 18-year-old Italian Leonardo Fioravanti. He ripped his way past two World Champions on his way to the Quarterfinals as an injury replacement, those being his buddy Kelly Slater and Adriano de Souza. Fioravanti currently leads the QS having earned final appearances at consecutive 6,000-rated events in Australia.
Although the bigger Brazilian storm stalled Down Under (not a single Brazilian made a Final during the Australian leg), there's clearly a new storm brewing with Italo Ferreira still very much on point and rookie Caio Ibelli catching fire. Ibelli has fast become one of John John Florence's worst nightmares, after beating him in back-to-back events. But while the Bells verdict was debatable, the Margaret's one wasn't. Plus, after this event's victory over Florence, Ibelli kept powering all the way through to the Quarterfinals.
Courtney Conlogue has been on fire in 2016, kicking off her season with a runner-up finish and a victory at Bells Beach. She looked confident and comfortable in the Jeep Leader's yellow jersey, earning a Round One victory when other contender's faltered.
After struggling through multiple injuries in 2015, Jordy Smith has returned with a renewed energy and will to earn a World Title following his runner-up finish at Bells Beach. During the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Jordy shared some of his experience through his first major injury and the return to elite competition.
John John Florence may not have gotten the result he was looking at Margaret River, but he did manage to steal the show a few times during warmup sessions. Thing is...consolation prizes are not enough for Florence these days. He's hungry for more.
Kelly Slater's startling slump continued at Western Australia, and now has everyone puzzled. At Margaret's he lost to Leonardo Fioravanti in Round Two, which means he has just a single heat win on the season. At this point, retirement is no longer an option. Slater, the 11-time World Champ and the best surfer to ever walk the earth, well, he just might have something to prove before he walks away. For what it's worth, his ticket to Brazil is booked.
Western Australia is without question one of the most pristine places on earth, known for its wild ecosystem. Of course, some locals are more welcoming in the lineup than others. During Round One, Miguel Pupo was able to share waves with some friendly "special guests," a pod of dolphins looking to impress the judges as much as the world's best surfers.
Bronte Macaulay did an incredible job of filling the shoes of an injured Lakey Peterson. She's taken down some of the biggest names in surfing, including Sally Fitzgibbons on the Gold Coast. At the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro she added former Rookie of the Year Johanne Defay and six-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore to her list when she took victory in Round One.
Of course, it wouldn't be Western Australia without some of the elements playing games with the surfers. That said, the wind and rain didn't hold a candle to the razor sharp rocks on the inside, affectionately known as the Surgeon's Table. There are enough BAND-AID wrappers to fill a Hefty bag at the event site.