Since the age of 8, Santa Barbara native Jak Ziets has made a steady climb up the rankings of the junior surfing in California.
Along with his rise has come a number of national championships. Last year, Ziets made a huge step up by being one of 12 youth selected to be part of team USA at the ISA Junior Championships in El Salvador.
The then 15-year-old made an impressive run in the U16 division by winning his first five heats with an average score of 13.60 per heat. His performance landed him a 6th place finish and helped team USA to its bronze medal placing.
"Last year in El Salvador was one for the books. Being able to compete against the best juniors in the world and to finish number 6 in the world was a huge confidence boost for me," he said. "Knowing that I have the talent and determination to compete with the best is a big thing for me. I’m really looking forward to getting another opportunity at trying to bring home the Gold for USA."
Ziets has shown not only the physical attributes to make him a top surfer, but he also has the mind to go with it.
"Jak has shown exceptional contest strategy and the ability to get the job done no matter what," said USA junior team head coach Ryan Simmons. "His surfing is a mix of power and flair. His 6th place finish at the ISA Junior is one indication of his bright future. He seems to be working on more explosiveness recently."
Ziets will take to the water this week in the season opener of the World Surf League Qualifying Series, the Jacks Surfboards Pro at Huntington Beach.
"I’m really looking forward to the Jacks Pro because it’s the start of the new season for WSL and I’ve always had a blast surfing the event, " Ziets said." I’ve been working hard on my forehand surfing and really trying to push myself in and out of the water. "
Last year, Ziets made it through three rounds of the Jacks before losing in the round of 32 and giving him a 25th place finish.
"My goal for Jacks, of course, is to get a high result overall in the event," he said "But you have to take it heat by heat, and I’m looking to put a show on for everyone and get a better result than did last year."
Despite his success at a national level, Ziets has been selective about the events he chooses. While some surfers travel around the world competing in as many QS events as they can, Ziets has kept his road map to success on a simple path.
Since last year's Jacks event, Ziets has done just two QS events, choosing to stay home and work on his skills in local competitions and practice.
This year might be the year that changes for the youth.
" My plans for the season coming up are to do most all the North America contest for WSL, continue with NSSA and USA Prime events," he said. " I feel that WSL for me right now is a good place to get practice competing against the best surfers and get more exposure and experience in the big league."