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Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Updated: August 14, 3:38 PM ET
Preview: 2013 Billabong Pro Tahiti

By Jake Howard
XGames.com

After a month off, the ASP World Tour coalesces again, coming together for the Billabong Pro Tahiti Aug. 15-26. Turning the corner of the 2013 ASP world title chase, Mick Fanning fronts the pack in the world tour rankings, with Kelly Slater just a hair behind him, followed by Joel Parkinson and Jordy Smith, respectively. It's possible that somebody will get hot during the back half of the season, but those four are the obvious front-runners.

Parkinson and Smith are somewhat handicapped with one 13th-place finish each this year, which means no more marginal results from here on out. On the other hand, Slater's been known to dominate Tahiti, Trestles and France, and a repeat performance could very easily put his 12th world title on ice. But Fanning's got plenty of fight in him, he's healthy, whatever equipment hiccups he was going through the past couple of years have been resolved -- and he's the defending Billabong Pro Tahiti champ. What more do you want from the guy?

Unfortunately we're going to have to rely on statistical drama to carry the show, because it doesn't sound like Teahupo'o's going to be delivering any Code Red surf.

"There are no major swells on the radar during the waiting period at this point," reports the official Surfline forecast. "We will be watching for a number of small to modest size WSW/SW swells during the first week+ of the waiting period, with some modest S swell possible to close out the last few days of the waiting period. A mid period WSW/SW swell (220-240 degrees) will begin building on Wednesday, looks strongest Thursday, and then eases on Friday. ... This swell will offer contestable waves for the first two days of the waiting period, Thur/Fri, in the head high+ range. Good sets will be up to a couple feet overhead."

That can all change. Aug. 26 is a long way away and the Pacific could brew up something, but for now we're looking at overhead Teahupo'o as the highlight. Expect contest director Luke Egan to take advantage in the first couple of days of the waiting period and get some early rounds out of the way straight out of the gate. He's too experienced to pass up a couple of decent days of surf.

On the bright side, the smaller conditions will open up the field, giving upstarts like Nat Young and Sebastian Zietz a chance to prove how adept they've become at surfing left-hand reef passes. And you have to expect that John John Florence is going into the contest intent on parking himself on the foam ball and riding to glory. As of late he's been in South Africa charging some ridiculously big waves, so he could really have a hankering for warm Pacific tubes right about now.

And the wild cards: The fact local boy Alain Riou and Aussie Anthony Walsh finished Nos. 1 and 2 in the trials to earn a berth into the main event isn't really the story of the Von Zipper Trials, even though it should be. Jamie O'Brien punching Ricardo dos Santos in the mouth has to be the highlight/lowlight.

Needing nothing more than a three-point score to advance, O'Brien and dos Santos paddled for the same wave in the dying seconds of the heat. Dos Santos got the inside position, which gave him priority. Both surfers stood up on the wave, then O'Brien busted dos Santos square in the chops.

Both dos Santos and O'Brien tweeted about the incident acknowledging O'Brien apologized afterward, and they removed related Instagram posts from their respective feeds. The ASP issued a statement stating they are aware of the incident and are investigating to determine if further action is required. So far, neither surfer has been punished.

A world-title race worth watching, average surf, a savvy herd of youngsters intent on proving themselves and one busted lip: The Billabong Pro Tahiti's already interesting and the main event hasn't even started yet.