Julian Wilson at Teahupoo Brian Bielmann/Red Bull Media House North America, Inc.

It's been a year since it all went down. Since Nathan Fletcher rode the wave that made him an icon, the one that stole the show at the XXL Awards, graced a thousand and one magazine covers and defined the limit of what the human body is capable of surviving when pitted against the most savage mood of the ocean.

“I came up and was surprised my head was still attached," he famously said.

But coming down is hard. Coming down is real hard. This year the Billabong Pro Tahiti will once again come to Teahupoo, but the adrenaline-inducing swell will not. The water will be cobalt blue, the jagged hills tropically green and the pace of life slow and idyllic. But the waves? Sadly, there will be no "Code Red."

Swell Condition at Teahupoo

Last year was historic, a new benchmark in wave-riding set. “I don’t know how nobody died,” said Bruce Irons.

A few almost did. Maya Gabeira, who suffers from asthma, almost drowned. Keala Kennelly had half her face ripped off on the reef. Unfortunately, the sea gods have their own plans for us mortals, and the forecast for the 2012 event, while not dismal, will not deliver the punch that we saw last year…maybe the world tour already got their fill in Fiji a month ago.

“Longer-period SW swell and possible WSW swell from current Tasman Sea storm scheduled to move in Thursday, 16th, and peak Friday with chest-head high surf and inconsistent overhead sets,” reads the current official Surfline forecast. “Those waves fade over the following weekend. More onshore flow is expected for the south facing breaks into the start of next week, then SE tending ESE winds on tap for the second half of the week.”

According to a variety of sources close to the event, the contest could potentially run in the first three or four days of the waiting period.

There are no guarantees in surf, and one never knows what's happening out there until they’re standing on the beach. Teahupoo likes its swell with a healthy southwest lilt in it, and with long-term forecasts predicting easterly tendencies, if wind and weather conditions hold up we can expect organizers to stick to the old adage, “Never pass up surf.”

ASP World Title Hunt on the Line

So if the waves aren’t going to deliver the circus-like show we saw last year, then what? To paraphrase a political cliché, “It’s the world title race, stupid.”

The Billabong Pro Tahiti marks the fifth stop of the 2012 campaign, and to be real, anybody in the top 10 could put a run together to win the world title.

Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater and Joel Parkinson are closely bound in the top three. “I’m happy with how the year’s been going, that win at Bells was huge for me to get back on the horse,” says Fanning. “It’s a long year, there are a lot of stops left, and things are really tight, so it’s kind of anybody's game at this point. Tahiti can be one of those turning point kind of events where you can start to gain some momentum into the back half of the year.”

“Last year was survival, this year we’ll see more tactics -- more of those kinds of things you see in competitive surfing.”

Adriano De Souza is hanging in fourth, and well within striking distance is Jordy Smith at eighth and Julian Wilson at 10th. “I’m really excited about Tahiti,” says Wilson, who's coming off of the biggest win of his career at the US Open of Surfing. “I feel like I have some energy in me, I’m really happy with the boards I’m bringing down there and after last year, I figure I can survive just about anything.”

Wilson started the year with an ankle injury but has been happy with where his surfing is right now. “It’s feeling good, I have had a couple good surf trips that pushed it to the limit, the US Open has me in that winning mindset, things are good…but Tahiti isn’t going to be easy… It never is.”

“It’s going to be a shootout, for sure,” says Fanning. “Last year was survival, this year we’ll see more tactics -- more of those kinds of things you see in competitive surfing.”

At the very least, it’s safe to say we won’t see Bruce Irons get his trunks ripped off, which may be disappointing for some. Either way, it’s Tahiti; it’s paradise, one of the most beautiful corners of the world, so big waves or small, the Billabong Pro Tahiti upholds the ASP's "Dream Tour" ethos to the fullest.

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