Stab Magazine | Why Is The 14th Best Competitive Surfer In The World Without A Major Sponsor?

Why Is The 14th Best Competitive Surfer In The World Without A Major Sponsor?

“It’s kinda scary having a kid when you see where it’s all going.” – Sebastian Zietz.

style // Jan 31, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 7 minutes

What does a satisfying result look like on the CT?

Requalification? Top 15? Top 10? Now we’re moving into exceptional results status.

In water and on paper, Sebastian Zietz is a surfer of the upper echelon.

His previous World Tour results?

2016: 12th.
2017: 11th.
2018: 14th.

(Oh, and he won the Vans Triple Crown back in 2012).

Considering the hoards who’d lay down their lives to trade the QS for the Big Leagues, he’s doing well.

We’ve interviewed Seabass on numerous occasions; he’s the first to admit that he’d gladly forfeit a set wave for the chance to watch the likes of John, Gabs and Filipe do their thing. He’s not at the forefront of progressive manoeuvres, and that doesn’t bother him.

Bass’s strengths lay in his consistency, his turns and his tuberiding (and more holistically, his personality).

If you’ve seen Bass freesurf, you’ll notice his behaviour is not too dissimilar to his demeanour when wearing a jersey: He catches the most waves out of everyone; he has a hard swing at every section he gets, even if it results in the premature disconnection of body and surfboard.


A rail enthusiast Stab digs. (Photo: Juan Medina)

It’s clear that during anxiety-laden event warmups, Bass is the one of the rare surfers who actually looks like they’re enjoying themselves.

So what’s this sprightly, successful athlete doing without a logo on his beak?

That’s right, not long after coming short against Jordy Smith in the Quarter Finals of the 2018 Pipe Masters, Seabass shared an Instagram announcing that he was no longer representing Oakley for apparel. (He’ll still wear their shades; however without the additional terms, he’ll be sporting a slimmer bottom line.)

Did we mention that weeks earlier Bass revealed that he and his partner, Krisy are expecting their first child?

What constitutes an ideal brand ambassador isn’t what it used to be. Thanks to the rise of the freesurfer and the influencer, the viability and value of a surfer for sponsorship is becoming murky.

Obviously in Bass’s case, shining tour results aren’t enough. 

Marketing budgets are tightening; what’s left is being poured into a handful of select few at the ultra pointy end.

After losing* Oakley, he’s been doing a little door-knocking, and at the time of writing, hasn’t had much more than a nibble.

We picked up the phone for several international minutes with one of the tour’s most well-liked individuals, to see how he’s been spending his downtime and to capture his thoughts on sponsorship in surf, 2019.

Stab: Firstly, congrats on the new family addition!

Seabass: Yeah, I’m pumped. She’s getting there, she’s getting big. We’re just hoping that she pops out either before or after the Quiky Pro, if not I’ll probably have to skip it (The Quiksilver Pro, that is)…

Are those dates aligning?

She’s due April 9th, so we’ll see what happens.

How’ve you been spending your time since the year wrapped?

I’ve been enjoying home and working a bit with my personal trainer. But mostly surfing around here, getting back to the familiar spots I grew up surfing. Go rekindle with them after a long year on tour.

Personal trainer?

I’ve been working with him for a while now, like three days a week. I’ll do that until around February or March – they have this Olympic training thing they’ve set up for us in California, so I might go do that after. It’s close to CI, so I can go get some boards and figure stuff out before Snapper.

Bravo on the 14th placing this year – an excellent result!

Yeah, pumped on that. I jumped a few after Pipe. I was feeling a little bit of stress going into that, I had some sketchy heats but managed to pull it off.

I’d like to hear about the state of sponsorship – your situation, as well as the industry at the moment, and how it’s changed since you’ve been in the game.

I felt like when I first got sponsored by Oakley at 16, you could go to the North Shore and there was just a million people in the water every session. Tonnes of kids were sponsored. It seemed like the industry was really booming.

I noticed the trend over the past five, or even ten years, of the industry slowly declining. Nowadays you go to the North Shore and it’s crazy how uncrowded it is.

When I was a kid everyone had a sponsor and, no matter what day it was or what the waves were doing, there was at least 15 or 20 guys out. But nowadays it seems like everyone’s been pulling back. There’s still a lot of good surfers out there unsponsored.

I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know the numbers on it, that’s just what I noticed.

MillerR Hawaii18 1385
“I noticed the trend over the past five, or even ten years, of the industry slowly declining. Nowadays you go to the North Shore and it’s crazy how uncrowded it is.” (Photo: Ryan Miller)

Do you think it’s marketing budgets drying up or the same amount around, just being syphoned into the pockets of the superstars?

Hmm I don’t know, I think if you look at who sells gear, obviously you’re better consolidating, having a top-five guy.

Then there’s social media, which has a tonne of say nowadays. It’s pretty much the first thing a brand looks at when they want to sponsor someone. They look at their page and probably have a set number of followers they want them to have.

Do you think it’s moving more towards the influencer model, as opposed to traditional solid surfing and results?

Yeah, totally. My little nephew, his favourite thing is Jamie O’Brien videos and stuff that really shows personality. He really likes Snaketales. So basing it off him—he’s 11, obviously he’s the future—what they’re psyching on is what’s going to help the brands out.

It’s moving towards personality and who you are outside of the water as well as surfing good, obviously.

Back in the day everyone was just psyched on good surfing; now it’s moved a little away from that. You gotta be marketable, bro!

It used to be that getting good parts in films and results, you’re all good. Now it seems to be super social media orientated.

Yeah, you need to just stay on it.

I’m sure a lot of these guys are having their social media run, or they’re complete dweebs [laughs]. I think it’s sad.

Five years ago I’d just laugh at stuff like that, even if you brought social media up in a random conversation, you’d be like, ‘ah, that’s not really very cool’.

Now everyone’s like ‘oh did you see their Instagram post?’ It’s pretty much all everyone does. It changed really fast.

It’s kinda scary having a kid when you see where it’s all going.

Yeah, I can imagine bringing a child into this self-obsessed world might be daunting.

I’ve noticed the generation below me, people in their 20’s, they’re totally obsessed. We were the last generation who were taught to get out there and just go play.

Scary, having a daughter especially, seeing how self-obsessed everyone gets. Back in the day, you’d get laughed at if you even looked at yourself in the mirror. Now full grown adult men are posting selfies.

It’s weird the way it’s all going, but hopefully I can teach my daughter to have conversations in real life rather than online. Though, then she’ll probably get ridiculed by all her friends [laughs].

Do you give her a phone, or do you not even condone it at all, then they might not be considered cool at all? ‘You don’t have the iPhone 27!?’

Yeah, you’ve got to use it intelligently, make it work for you, don’t be a slave to it.

Personally I don’t like spending too much time on it, but at the same time it’s a big part of our jobs. You have to be active on there.

Living on Kauai, where we’re not really allowed to film, it gets tough to dig up some content and stay relevant over there. Everyone thinks you’ve disappeared, but really I’m living a dream life at home.

You’ve gotta go someplace else to create the content to keep it all ticking over?

Yeah, exactly. You’ve gotta stockpile, right before the offseason!

So who runs your account? Does anyone, or is it just you?

I was working with Lachlan McKinnon, on the Happily Stoked thing, but we kinda wrapped that up last year, obviously without Oakley backing me with apparel. So he used to help me out. Then, my wife does it only if I’ve been slacking on it—she’ll do some kind of post to let everyone know I’m still alive. 

Man, everyone has someone running their accounts these days.

I’ve had guys approach me about it. I don’t know, if someone posted something really douchey, I’d be like ‘oh, that sucks’.

‘You’re fired!’

[laughs] Yep. At the same time, any press is good press.

Your Oakley contract, what happened there?

I’ve been friends for ages with my boss at Oakley, the Marketing Manager, he pretty much came to me and said that budgets were getting cut pretty bad. The apparel direction they’re going in, he doesn’t think that surfing has a place within it.

Caio (Ibelli), they dropped him. I’m not sure who they still have, I don’t think anyone else in the US, or surfers at all, are still on for apparel. It wasn’t a personal thing.

Super stoked they’ve still got me on for eyewear. I’ve still got their sticker. They’ve been my family for over 14 years, so I’m stoked to still have a relationship there.

So you’re in the market now, what’s your approach now that now you’re a free man?

Well I had Octagon as my agents, but when Oakley told us that they were dropping us, we kind of wanted to test the waters for ourselves and ask around. We asked around the industry and got the same response, Oakley’s not the only one getting budget cuts.

A lot of them have team riders who grew up working with the brand, and of course they feel obligated to resign. Even cutting those guys back, a lot of them just don’t have the room to sponsor CT level athletes. That’s the gist we got from most places.

I’ve had a few maybes, but nothing solid.

Insert your logo here. (Photo: Juan Medina)

So we’ve teamed back up with Octagon to see what else is out there. They’re a huge sports agency, so if someone comes from outside the box and they want to sponsor a surfer they’re going to go through the agency.

With the Olympics coming along, I just really want to focus on making the team. A lot of the out of surf brands will be interested in getting involved with the Olympics coming up.

So how do you go about that?

There’s six of us that qualified to use their training facilities, so it’ll be great to go and use that, and be as fit as possible coming into 2019.

At the end of the year, they’re going to pick the top three CT surfers, so that’s pretty much the goal, to be in the top three for America.


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