2016 was Zane Schweitzer's most successful competitive year in the sport. But that's just icing on the cake.

2016 was Zane Schweitzer’s most successful competitive year in the sport. But that’s just icing on the cake when you get to travel the world and surf waves like this. Photo: Matty Schweitzer

Zane Schweitzer: Year of the Ultimate Waterman

The Ulitmate Waterman—a 2016 contest held across both islands of New Zealand—brought together eight of the world's top paddlers and surfers and pitted them against each other in shortboard, longboard and SUP surfing, prone paddling, SUP endurance racing and outrigger canoeing, with an underwater run/strength contest thrown in for good measure. After 10 days of competition, one man emerged victorious. It wasn't last year's winner Daniel Kereopa, PPG champ Connor Baxter or SUP and OC-1 legend Danny Ching. It was smiling, perma-stoked, shaka-throwing 22-year-old Zane Schweitzer who was the last man standing.

"Winning was a great honor but the best thing about the competition was learning so much from all these incredible watermen and seeing how they excelled in all these different disciplines," Schweitzer said.

The Ultimate Waterman contest marked the start of a long, grueling season for Schweitzer, who would compete in 22 events and rack up thousands of frequent flyer miles by the time all was said and done. From Germany, to Japan, to Dubai, he pushed himself to perform on every continent and every style of SUP – surfing, sprinting, technical and distance racing. He also made time for some fun, too, scoring some epic barrels at the legendary Teahupoo.

One of the things that kept Schweitzer going through the jet lag, red eye flights and time away from home was getting to travel with his good buddy and training partner Connor Baxter. "Being able to experience new cultures all over the world is so much better when you've got people to share it with," Schweitzer said. He showed his appreciation for his friend and teammate in spectacular fashion on the final stop of the Standup World Series in San Francisco, Red Bull Heavy Water. If Casper Steinfath had finished the distance race on the podium, he would've claimed the overall title ahead of Baxter. Knowing this provided Schweitzer with some extra fuel.

"Casper is a great guy and a fierce competitor and I didn't want to take anything away from him, but I knew that I had to fight my fatigue at the end of that race to help Connor out and secure a solid result for myself," Schweitzer said. He dug in and claimed third place, just ahead of Steinfath, giving Baxter yet another world title.

With the Standup World Series over and PPG 2016 also in the rear view mirror, there was just one event left in the 2016 race calendar: the ISA World Championships. Schweitzer’s high-paced, goofy-foot attack were perfectly matched to Fiji’s Cloudbreak. He got a big last wave in the final to earn a 9 from the judges, enough to edge past fellow Hawaiian Mo Freitas and capture the gold. After the ISAs were over, Schweitzer took the opportunity to immerse himself in the rich Fijian culture.

"Spending time in a community allows you to see what it's like to live a few days in the shoes of those people," Schweitzer said. "I know that when I stop competing I'll remember everyone I've met in different cultures more than results."

For Schweitzer, the term "waterman" isn't just something engraved on a trophy, but a lifestyle. He recently went out windsurfing with some friends off the west coast of Maui. On a whim, they decided to cross the Pailolo Channel to Molokai, where they met up with more buddies and camped overnight. Such an adventure shows why Schweitzer doesn't plan to train for the Ultimate Waterman if he's invited back. "I've grown up in the ocean and it has given me my best friends," he said. "It has also been a teacher of life."

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