Sometimes split second decisions can reflect a lot about a surfer's state of mind. In his Round Two heat in the Outerknown Fiji Pro, Sebastian Zietz was sitting on the ledge, holding priority as the biggest and best wave of the day approached.
"That wave had a 10 written all over it, but I didn't grab the rail from the takeoff," he said afterwards. "I could have pigdogged from the beginning, but I've learned from the past that it is a better idea to drop in and look at what the wave is going to do."
Seabass did that and bottom-turned into a barrel that raced off square along the reef. With a perfect read he exited with the spit 300 yards down the line. He didn't score a 10, but the 9.43 was a good enough to help him to Round Two's highest heat total.
That decision to hold fire goes against Seabass' natural instincts and reflects a new level of maturity. He is well known for his spontaneous approach to both surfing and life, perhaps a function of his unorthodox upbringing. The fascinating WSL profile from last year showed his early life living with his eight siblings, sometimes homeless and often landlocked, before a move to his brother's couch on Kauai aged 14 kickstarted the path to becoming a professional surfer.
While that spontaneity is a key part of the Seabass DNA, and integral to his success, he seems to have found a way to combat those urges when they aren't helpful in the competitive zone. While it is easy to see him as the eternal grommet; the guy that is always catching the most waves, with the biggest smile, 2017 is his fifth year on the Championship Tour (CT).
Now married, with a house and new gym business on Kauai, Zietz will turn 30 next year. While it might be a push to call him an elder statesman, he is definitely showing signs that he has found a way to harness his natural free spirit to become a very difficult opponent.
A big part of that process was his close shave with relegation two years ago. After finishing 16th and 20th in his first two years on the CT, he missed the cut in 2015 and faced a grueling year back on the QS. It was only injuries to top 22 athletes that allowed him to compete on the Gold Coast last year as an injury replacement. A solid performance at Snapper ensured a start at Margaret River, where of course he went on to win the event. From that victory he hasn't looked back, ending the year as the World No. 12, a rating he has maintained going into Fiji.
The evolution of Zietz has been great to watch. While some may miss the times when the Hawaiian would simply grab the rail and go for the 10 regardless of the situation, his maturity means we now see more of him surfing in the latter stages of the events. And more of Seabass is always a good thing.