Previewing the Volcom Fiji Pro

ASP/Kirstin

Kelly Slater won the Volcom Fiji Pro in convincing fashion last year. He expects similar results this time around.

The 2012 Volcom Fiji Pro went down in the history books with massive 20-foot Cloudbreak, injuries, upsets and one of the most dominant performances ever recorded from 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. That's going to be tough to top this year.

Tavarua is known for perfect peeling left-handers that wind and barrel down a variety of reef configurations, and throughout the contest's two-week waiting period, which runs from June 2 to 14, the surfers will have to be prepared for a wide variety of conditions. Cloudbreak is an open-ocean reef with many moods and conditions that can change from one heat to the next. The reef is long and waves shift up and down the reef, often allowing a combination of barrels and turns. Wave selection and positioning are key and will serve as important factors in success. Restaurants is a smaller wave, but when it's good there is not a drop of water out of place and it can offer up multiple five- to 10-second barrels.

A favorite stop of everybody on tour, Tavarua epitomizes the "Dream Tour" concept more than anywhere, save maybe Tahiti. Slater is undoubtedly looking at this event as a huge opportunity to be the first surfer in the title hunt to have two first-place finishes in his tally. His knowledge of the waves in Tavarua is unparalleled and few have the ability to match his backside tube riding and vertical approach. He probably has even had last year's magic board on ice, waiting for the right moment to unveil its special powers. The only downside to Slater's dominance at Tavarua is the pressure it brings. It's always hardest to win when you're supposed to.

Overall the race has become very interesting with Jordy Smith and Adriano de Souza shooting to the top of the ratings after the finals in Brazil. Smith has been in the title hunt before, but Tavarua and Teahupoo have always been the events that halted his momentum. His ability to get over that hump is going to be closely scrutinized. If he can overcome this barrier in his career and post a solid result at Tavarua, we might have a chance to see the first South African world champ since Shaun Tomson's IPS title in 1977.

A lot of possible firsts are floating around out there. De Souza is currently leading the title race and looks hungrier than ever to be the first Brazilian world champ. He got fifth here last year, and is 100 percent prepared this time around. He has an uncanny wave selection and will be very hard to beat in the tricky reef conditions.

"I am definitely going through a strong moment in my life and confidence does play a role. I know that too much confidence can also backfire. I feel like I have just the right amount at this point. Fiji will be a tough event, I hope I can accomplish what I've set out to do," said de Souza in a recent ASP interview.

Tavarua can definitely favor the goofy-footers, and I'm sure they are champing at the bit to compete in the perfect lefts. The Hobgood brothers are extremely dangerous at Tavarua. Both have had great success there throughout the years, with Damien winning the contest in both 2004 and 2006, and C.J. finishing in the semifinals last year. They will always be hard to beat and could easily serve up some upsets if they are paired with anyone in the title race.

"Damien and I have been going there since we were 15 and always try to get there at least once a year," said C.J. Hobgood. "It's great that people say nice things and think highly of me when it comes to Fiji, but really as a competitor you have to believe you're deadly in all conditions at any time during every event."

Gabriel Medina finished an impressive runner-up to Slater last year, and with his recent third-place finish in Brazil and his health on the mend, he could be one of the guys to watch out for. He showed last year that he has great tube riding and carving technique to complement his crazy air antics. Medina definitely feels like he's building momentum and I see him doing well in this event.

"Gabriel Medina is a special surfer, one of the best goofies to ever live. I've always said that and he had a breakout event at Fiji which is amazing for the tour. With that said, it does help to know your way around the lineup especially at Cloudbreak. It helps to have water time," said C.J. Hobgood.

John John Florence will also be making his much anticipated return to competition after being sidelined with an ankle injury at the Quiksilver Pro Australia. The tour has missed Florence, and he could very easily come back to beat everybody. And while we're on the subject of youth, rookie goofy-footer Nat Young has been on a roll and the barreling lefts of Tavarua could serve as a perfect opportunity to continue his success. Young got a perfect 10-point ride at the Volcom Pipeline Pro this year in solid surf, so he is no stranger to the barrel and he is more than willing to huck himself over the ledge. He will be a dangerous draw for potential contenders.

This will be a pivotal event for the year and as the surfers check swell reports and figure out which boards to bring, stay tuned as this thing is going to be interesting. According to the charts there are a couple southwest swells lining up. It won't be the swell of the century that it was last year, but there should be enough surf to keep it interesting.

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