Mason Ho
Is it possible to improve upon the remarkable Mason Ho? Or John John Florence? | Photo: Steve Sherman/@termsherms/Union Photo Worker

Long Read: Winking at Life with Mason Ho!

With his family, he could've been a fucking prick, says Bruce Irons. He ain't!


If you want to find Mason Ho looking to unburden himself from ten grand…well, let’s follow the 26-year-old to a tackle and hobby store just behind Diamond Head.

The place is called The Hobbietat. It’s Bruce Irons’ favorite shopping destination, at least since he’s become a remote-control enthusiast. Bruce has become such a regular, in fact, that he’s exhausted the store’s supply of R.C. choppers. At the recommendation of the knowledgeable staff, he’s now moved onto R.C. buggies, truggies, rock crawlers, monster trucks, and short-course trucks.

But, today, it’s not Bruce with an unharnessed credit card.

It’s Mason, planning to buy…the best!

Of course he is!

Mason has just won the 2015 Backdoor Shootout. And the prize money, although abridged from the original $50k due to a foreshortened event, is a not-insignificant $10k. Mason’s so hyped the staff have to talk his expectations down a little. A good hobby store knows a straight-up sell always backfires. R.C. vehicles are notoriously unreliable, so if you get ’em in at ground level, they’ll keep swinging back, for something better.

Out walks Mason with a short-course truck, a little under a thousand bucks.

He’s back the next day, too.

“He used to have these two little piece-of-shit R.C. cars,” says Bruce. “Now he’s got these short-course trucks that go 50 miles an hour.”

Bruce and Mason are tight now. Tight ever since Bruce took his R.C. on the beach at Off the Wall earlier this year. Mike Ho heard the gas-powered toy, looked around, figured Mason was screwing around with his R.C.s instead of surfing on the day of the Shootout.

But Mason was at home. And when Mike came and reported that he just saw Bruce with an R.C. at OTW, Mason felt vindicated for his unlikely hobby.

“I knew it,” he said. “If Bruce uses ’em, I’m onto something!”

At the Shootout itself, they began talking, something they’d never really done, even though Bruce, ten years older, is a pal of Mike’s. This R.C. thing. It connects men.

“Tell me my dad wasn’t lying,” said Mason.

“Let’s go play after this,” Bruce said.

Then as Mason was paddling in from his first heat, with a ten and a nine on his card, Bruce paddled up.

“How was your stall,” he said. “I love your stall! Other people let go of the rail!”

Mason couldn’t believe it. R.C. cars—that was one thing. Bruce Irons digging on his surfing was another.

“I’ve never made small talk with Bruce in the water,” he says. “He’s like a rock star. He doesn’t talk to guys. I’ve learned not to interrupt him. When he said that I was in shock.”

And now they rev up little trucks to tear across the beach together, up there at Sunset, down at OTW. Bruce’ll send Mason R.C. clips on YouTube. Mason makes his own vids and sends them to Bruce.

“Am I just the biggest fucking kid in the world playing with these…toys,” says Bruce. “Yeah. But Mason doing it kinda validates me, too.”

And now Mason has cash to burn on upgrades.

“2015 is just blowing my mind,” he says.


Let’s examine this year, 2015.

The Backdoor Shootout champ. Second at the Volcom Pipe Pro, beaten only by John John Florence in the final, though clear of Kelly Slater and Sebastian Zietz. The year before, too. Third at the HIC Pro at Sunset (he won it the year before), the same contest his pops won four times. Third at the Volcom Pipe Pro.

Mason Ho and Pipeline. Who would’ve thought that this dynamic midget, with the vigorous slash, with all his darting and struggling and twisting of torso, would pair his trick-work to a deeply-connected style of tube riding, emerging from unlikely tunnels like a dog shaking spray from his coat.

Pipeline is new to Mason. He ain’t John John or Jamie. He grew up at Sunset, right near the compound of the infamous Rothman family. So close, says Bruce Irons, you could “throw a rock into the Rothman’s backyard.”

“Does anyone ever do that,” I ask.

“No,” says Bruce.

Sunset, therefore—its intimidating, but deep-water, peaks—has long been Mason’s bull of choice. And he wanted to win the HIC there so badly he’d drive past every day and make eye contact and think, “Come on, I gotta win one time. I gotta win this place.” And he did in 2013.

But Sunset ain’t Pipe. Mason’s dad was so worried that his kid would hurt himself at the Banzai, he’d surf without him, come home and lie when Mason asked how it was. “Ah… yeah…” he’d say. “Shifty. Not really doing it.”

Michael hoots.

“And I would’ve been surfing for three hours! You don’t want your kid out at Pipe. It’s just not what I wanted.”

For the past three years, though, ever since Mason discovered that he wasn’t gonna die down there, and that getting barreled is preferable to hacking away at acre-wide walls, he’s stopped asking his pops. “He’s out there before I even look at it,” says Mike.

And he’s gotten good. Top three, at least, says Dino Andino, 90s surf star and father of Kolohe.

The Andinos are better than good friends to the Ho clan—they’re family. Every summer, for the past dozen years, the Hos have stayed at the Andino house in San Clemente as the kids chased NSAA and whatever success. Forty-five-year-old Dino has known the Hos for a little more than thirty years. He was 13 and staying with the Hawaiian-raised, former pro, now shaper, Noah Budroe, on the North Shore when Mike Ho… the Mike Ho… just strolled into Noah’s house.

“Noah was Michael’s young sparring partner,” says Dino. “Mike always had the personality and savvy to have young rippers around him. It kept him young. It kept him surf stoked.”

His tube-riding ability is out of control. It’s stupid. John John is really gnarly, but I don’t think he’s as fun looking as Mason’s shucking and jiving. He looks down, looks back, does all that shit. He’s paying tribute to his dad on every wave.

A year later Dino was in France, riding this fast little pintail. He saw Mike in the water and Mike, then a tour surfer, asked him if he could use the board in his next heat against Tom Curren.

“He took it, spray painted the logo out, put a sticker from his sponsor on it, and smoked Tom Curren!”

And the connection grew.

Dino stayed with the Hos.

The Ho crew stayed with the Andinos.

Dino’s known Mason forever—and he’s seen his transformation from Sunset to Pipe up close.

“Take John John and maybe Jamie out of the equation and he’s the man at Pipe,” says Dino. “He’s hot-dogging as big as Pipe breaks. He’s dragging his ass on 12 footers, slamming his shoulder down on a bottom turn, and slaloming the whole side of his body into the wave as he takes off on Second Reef. He’s got an uncanny ability to ride the tube. He knows how to control his speed and the size of the wave doesn’t matter. He’s not intimidated. He’s slowing down when everyone else is running for the hills. He connects with the wave, controls the wave. It’s always been happening, but now he’s taken it to a whole other level. His tube-riding ability is out of control. It’s stupid. John John is really gnarly, but I don’t think he’s as fun looking as Mason’s shucking and jiving. He looks down, looks back, does all that shit. He’s paying tribute to his dad on every wave.”

Mike and Dino say that Mason is a late developer, physically and in the surf. “He’s 26 but just getting started,” says Dino. “And if he gets five percent of what Derek had,” [Mason’s uncle, 1993 world champ Derek Ho] “that competitive ruthlessness, it’s going to be fucking all over, dude.”

Jamie O’Brien, who is five years older than Mason says his success at Pipe is “just phenomenal.”

“The kid is like in my top five favorite surfers at Pipe. And it happened overnight…and yet it happened through generations of their family history, and their level of success. When your uncle is a world champion and your dad’s Mike Ho, you’re born to be a Pipe Master.”

Mason says his Pipe and Backdoor strategy is simple. Pick a teepee and just…poke it. “When it gets really steep, I just poke it down, poke the nose down, just like you’re going to poke…something else. You just aim it, and get as deep as you can.”


Mason Ho has fans in high places. He’s that kinda guy. Ever since he loaded up the internet with his web clips, filled with acid drops, barrel-and-air sessions at waves breaking on dry ledges, ever since he started tossing off barely-definable moves like backside alley-oops (with a stale fish or slob grab), disco floaters to 360s, backside tweaked method grabs and club sandwiches in the barrel, well, the fans have been lining up.

“He’s truly one if my favorite surfers to watch,” says Kelly Slater. “You never know what he’s gonna do. He throws style points back to his influences and elders, and throws down maneuvers lots of new school guys can’t pull. And he surfs those weird waves nobody else does, which is probably my favorite thing about him.”

“He’s truly one if my favorite surfers to watch,” says Kelly Slater. “You never know what he’s gonna do. He throws style points back to his influences and elders, and throws down maneuvers lots of new school guys can’t pull. And he surfs those weird waves nobody else does, which is probably my favorite thing about him.”

Dane Reynolds calls Mason “the king of stony surfing.” Like most of us, Dane is in thrall. “The novelty tricks are rad, and he mixes them in with really gnarly tricks, which is even radder. I love that he rides 7’6″s at Pipe. And the whole Jimi Hendrix thing he does, recorded off YouTube with a phone for his web clips, really suits the vibe of his surfing.”

Mason’s shaper, Matt “Mayhem” Biolos is typically candid.

“Mason Ho is a savior from the fucking corporate, straight-laced, uptight, fucking, pre-planned-interview-answer surfing world we live in today,” he says. “He’s everything that people think surfing is, and should be, when you think of all the beautiful stereotypes, like from the fucking Beach Boys to fricken’ Sean Penn to Big Wednesday. Mason is fucking incredibly fun to watch surf two-foot junk and 12-foot Pipeline. He’s what everyone’s selling, without trying. He’s the most real guy out there. We’re fortunate to have him in our lives.”

For Biolos and Lost, he may not be in their lives as a head-to-toe-to-surfboard rider for much longer, though. All that validation, from Reynolds to Slater to everyone else, as well as the part-ownership of Sunset and Pipe, has made him a valuable commodity.

And the moneyed companies are finally circling, for real. Lost pays Mason well, at least well in the sense that it’s six figures. But when you’re hot, budgets tend to swell. And at 26, maybe it’s time to snatch a little cash. Matt, for one, isn’t going to hold him back.

“You know what,” he says. “If someone’s going to fucking throw money at Mason, then let’s throw a party!”

(Note: this interview was written shortly before Mason signed to Rip Curl.)


A little history, if it’s necessary. Mike Ho, with his Chinese-Hawaiian-American heritage, was 30 years old and on his last tour circuit when his girl, Brian, a Caucasian American, became pregnant.

Mike’s dad was pure Chinese. His grandmother pure Hawaiian. Mike’s mom, Mason’s paternal grandma, was from Oregon. The brother of one of Mike’s good friends was named Mason. Mike dug it. He threw a little Hawaiian in there, Kaohelaulii, a middle name that’s been carried by the Hos since Mason’s paternal grandfather. It means: “New little bamboo shoot coming out from the old. It bends and it’s hard to break,” says Mike.

Mike had bought land up there at Backyards, Sunset, and a small house was constructed. The marriage broke up after the birth of Mason’s sister Coco, two years later. And soon, the jokester and former-pro surfer was in the serious biz of being a single parent to two kids. “I was ‘fun dad,’” Mike says. “I’m like, ‘Surf is good, let’s go surfing. Okay, no school today.’ Yeah, I was bad. I was a bad, fun dad.”

Unless it was Pipe. “‘Go to school. Dad’s going to surf Pipe today.’”

Mike plays it down though. It ain’t easy when the spigot of cash from pro surfing is off and you’re thirty-something-years-old and your marriage is done. But, says, Dino Andino, “No matter how hard it got, no matter what he was going through, or doing, he always had ’em to school on time, dressed and fed. He never faltered. Ever. Mike Ho is an awesome, awesome dad.”

More significantly, he did it in the breeziest of spirit. And it’s this ability to laugh off anything that has rubbed off on Mason. That’s why he can ride those fall-off-and-you’re-screwed ledges, why he can jump on a skateboard barefoot, any skateboard, in a park and do 360s on the wrap, why he’ll bomb hills on a mountain bike. It’s why he’ll drop in on a kiddie slide and eat shit and laugh. It’s ’cause nothing matters.

“The way his brain works is a lot different than any of my other friends,” says Kolohe Andino. “It’s refreshing to hang out with him, and get him talking about something. It’s like he’s a complete innocent. My friends and I might get eggy about something, but I’ve never heard him bum out. He gives me some of the best vibes I’ve ever felt.”

His 24-year-old sister, pro surfer Coco Ho, says, “I sometimes wonder, ‘How does he stay so happy?’ In times when someone should be so down and negative, honestly, I don’t know where or when it came on so strong.’”

“The way his brain works is a lot different than any of my other friends,” says Kolohe Andino. “It’s refreshing to hang out with him, and get him talking about something. It’s like he’s a complete innocent. My friends and I might get eggy about something, but I’ve never heard him bum out. He gives me some of the best vibes I’ve ever felt.”

Kelly says that Mason is “so psyched and happy sometimes I think he’s putting it on, and messing with everyone. But he’s always just that way. He’s a cross between in-control and in-awe at all times.”

Mason has a safety word he uses if the situation ever gets sticky. “When shit gets bad,” he says, “I think of this one word, imua. And, it means, ‘to move forward.’ It’s an ancient Hawaiian saying. They’d use it right before they went to war, or begin a march. When I’m down, I yell that out instead of ‘Fuck!’ I yell, ‘Imua!’ I mean, I don’t if there’re people around. That would be corny. I ain’t a hundred percent Hawaiian, but it feels good to think about it.”

“He just absorbs all that positive energy from his dad and from his Uncle Derek,” says his childhood friend Keoni “Burger” Nozaki.

For Mason, life is meant to be lived. And loved. And shared with friends. He says that “every morning, literally every morning, when I wake up, before I can even open my eyes, I call my friend Adam [Crawford, son of Pipe Master Jeff Crawford]…get the surf check…or get the life check…even before heats. I just call him, say, ‘What’s up, man?’ I take a lot of notes from that guy.”

Adam lives on the beachfront at Rocky Point. “Mason’ll call 20 minutes after first light. He knows I gotta walk my dog. I get to see the waves every day and Rocky Point is our main spot.”

Adam met Mason at Kahuku Intermediate school when he was 13. “My immediate impression,” says Adam, “was that I’d never met anyone else my age where their dad was a hero, like, a legend. In Florida, my dad was the hometown hero, too. I’d never met anyone else who had big shoes to fill. And it’s funny. All of our friends were second-generation, name surfers. Burger’s dad [Nick Nozaki, former Japanese pro who moved to the North Shore] charges Waimea and Pipe. John Michael’s mom is [former world number three] Becky Benson. We all come from the old school.”

These young men are so in synch, in fact, the only time there’s ever any disagreement is when Mason wants to surf without a cushion. “He likes to surf those crazy fucking dry-reef spots,” says Burger. “He’ll be looking at it, saying, ‘It’s doable, Burger!’ That’s why we argue. Who wants to surf crazy gnarly slabs? Let’s find something with at least a little water on the reef! But he likes those death slabs. And he makes it look fun.”

“Heaven to me,” says Mason, “would be a sick little sponge-rock setup with just a perfect slab, a left and right, that’s two-to-12 feet. And on the beach there’s Andy, Michael Peterson, Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix, and of course, all my family watching. And I’m the only out. Only me. Sorry! Also on the beach, there’s five or six of my best friends, and Dane Reynolds, and fucking Robbie Page [80s pro surfer, family pal]. Actually, since I make it into whatever I want, I’d have a hundred million waves and tons of guys out there. The best shit ever.”

Bruce Irons is blunt. “With who his family is, he could’ve been a fucking prick. But his Dad would never let Mason be a kid like that. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Even in this life, though, Mason’s days are easy. “We go hunt for waves,” says Burger. “And we’ll find a wave even if we have to jump a plane. Anywhere. Spring, summer, winter, or fall. It’s always good when you know where to look. We surf and we enjoy life.”

And if the pack isn’t chasing waves, they’re dragging girls to whatever cave they might be inhabiting. “He’s the guy that all the chicks are looking for,” says Adam. “He’s super. He’s like James Bond. You won’t even see it. You’ll just see him leaving with a pack of ’em and then hear about the aftermath.”

Chasing waves, chasing girls—it’s a pure, street-level, uncut aloha life. Mason knows about aloha, that hoary old Hawaiian word/concept that means “hello (and goodbye)” but is also a kind of love, a kind of empathy. “He’s, like, the most respectful dude I’ve ever met,” says Dane Reynolds. “When I talk to him I feel like he has a genuine respect for me, and not many people give me that vibe.”

Bruce Irons is blunt. “With who his family is, he could’ve been a fucking prick. But his Dad would never let Mason be a kid like that. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“I taught him the basic things,” says Mike. “Show respect and know that the words please and thank you will get you long way. Help out as much as you can. Be yourself and enjoy your life.”

Of course, no discourse on Mason Ho would be complete without some kind of mention of his failed WSQ campaigns. Yeah he does well on the North Shore, but Mason wants a World Surf League slot…so bad. He was 5 years old when his Uncle Derek won the world title. “I’ve wanted to win the world title since I was a kid,” he says. “But to be a world champ you have to…get… on the tour. So my goal before my goal is to qualify. So I need to hypnotize myself into thinking it’s fun.”

Not that his world’s gonna end if he doesn’t make the cut. “The tour needs Mason more than Mason needs the tour,” says Dino. “If Mason made the tour it would be so bitchin’ and cool for the tour. But, for him, if he doesn’t qualify, life isn’t going to change. He’ll get in the Eddie, ride Pipe, get barreled, still do all his killer social media, all his edits. And people will dig it. And people will smile. He shines a light. He walks into a room and he shines a light.”

This story first appeared in The Surfers Journal, issue 24.4

A picture worth 1000 words!

Just feel it in your guts.

The great Peter Taras posted this shot yesterday on his Instagram and just look at it and then feel your guts. We all know this feeling, each and every one of us and Pete captured it perfectly. That is Balaram Stack there, New York surfer who has been giving it hell this winter on the North Shore. That is Off the Wall, there, a wave that can be deceptively freaky. And that is such a moment.

Remember when people got angry about this move? So beautiful through the lens of hindsight.
Remember when people got angry about this move? So beautiful through the lens of hindsight.

Snap: The greatest floater ever!

Some say Gab Medina just made history. Well, they don't know Shea Lopez.

The surf community has been very giddy about Gab Medina’s exceptionally nice floater during the Vans World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach. The event was, of course, later won by Mick Fanning, his first ever win in Hawaii, but that floater seems like it stole a touch of the thunder. Watch again here:

Now. Some have gone so far to call it the best floater in competitive surfing’s history but they are wrong because Gab’s leg did not dislocate and then hit him in the back of the head while a big wave drilled down upon his back. That, my friends, happened to Shea Lopez in 2005 and that is the greatest floater in competitive surfing’s history.

Am I wrong? Matt Warshaw, am I wrong? Oh. I think I’m wrong. I forgot about Adriano de Souza’s 8.2. It was, to quote Dave Stanfield, “Watery ballet.”

Buy: Duke Kahanamoku’s house!

What's a few mil for a piece of surf history?

Would you like to own a piece of surf history that also has an infinity pool, 3,935 square feet of unobstructed ocean view and the perfect place to host sunset Mai Tai parties? Well then come on over to Honolulu’s Kahala neighborhood and take hold of Duke Kahanamoku’s lovely home!

Currently owned by Gordon Thompson III, a Nike exec, the home is ready for fun in the sun! Duke bought the property in 1927 and built his home ten years later. Gordon Thompson III added the pizzazz!

Let’s read about it:

Soon after purchasing the property, Thompson worked with a local architect to renovate the home using designs that he had drawn up.

Although he kept the original foundation intact and restored the fir staircase and handrail in the home, Thompson lifted the structure to create a higher first floor and added makai-facing glass windows and doors. The home’s front yard was also extended with a retaining wall that were made with lava stones on the property that were moved to make room for an infinity pool.

“About 20 percent of the original house is still there,” realtor Beth Chang said. “He (Thompson) changed some things, but his understanding was that Duke and his wife loved to entertain — they liked to have people over — so he wanted to continue that. He also knew that the view is what trumped everything.”

Sound perfect? A mere $8.875 mil and it’s yours!

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Wow: Tom Curren surfs a skimboard!

Has a more progressive surfer ever been?

Three-ish days ago two very fine gentlemen paddled out to Seaside Reef in bucolic Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Their names were Steve Sherman and Derek Rielly. Well-respected, each. They surfed together and had fun. I was not with them because my baby had the stomach flu and I had to clean up. It was not very fun but kind of satisfying.

Derek came home early and said it was the grandest surf he’d had in months and then we got to work on your beloved BeachGrit.

We saw Sherm later, for dinner, and he said, “Guess who showed up at Seaside after you left, Dekor?”

Derek said, “who?”

Sherm said, “Tom Curren. And he was surfing on a skimboard! He paddled out on a bigger board and was doing organic step-offs.”

I wouldn’t have believed it had Sherm not taken a picture. Look at Tom standing with his skim, fins wedged on, weirdly smirking. It is an amazing thing that he continues to be so wildly progressive. Sometimes I like to think I’m progressive, like Tom Curren, but then Maurice Cole corrects me and tells me I’m not.

Do you remember when Tom Curren rode a boogie board in Mexico? You can re-read HERE. Do you remember Ashton Goggans who wrote the story? He works for Surfer now and is sad every day but still very handsome.