THE MASON HO INTERVIEW
By Eric Greene
"Don`t Touch My Surfboards"
Michael Ho is a Pipe Master and Triple Crown champion. Now in his late 50s, he’s a known legend who still sits deep in the lineup on the biggest days of the Hawaiian winter. His younger brother, Derek Ho, became the world surfing champion in 1993. They are cousins of the late musician, Don Ho. Coco Ho is Michael’s daughter and a gorgeous young pro surfer who podiums on the women’s Dream Tour. On track to become a world champion, she dates a Canadian pro snowboarder who recently won a medal at the Olympics. She has an older brother: Mason. Like the other men in the Ho family, Mason stands in at a small stature. Less intimidating than some North Shore locals at first glance, Mason and the Ho family roots run deep in Oahu, an island community where respect means everything. People respect Mason and he has respect for others, but he’s a little different. He’s earned a reputation for burning any and every well-respected surfer in the lineup. He’s also known for wearing wetsuit vests, not using traction pads, pulling extremely long sessions, frothing out of control, and surfing waves that nobody else likes to surf—like nasty closeouts over dry rocks or heavy North Shore slabs with terrible winds on them. Mason loves girls, parties, and surfboards. He’s a good-times guy, modest, but a fan favorite of countless groms and grown adults. If you ever see Mason at the beach, go introduce yourself because he’s an extremely nice little guy who wants to hang out with you. Just don’t touch his surfboards.
You just got home from surfing?
Oh, yeah. I’m so stoked!
Are you in Hawaii?
No, I’m over here in California. I stopped in to grab some boards and do some work on my ankle.
How’s it coming along?
It’s going good. I just started surfing again.
I just watched an Arnette team video of you online, surfing butt naked.
Aww, those fuckers! I can’t believe they did that! I told this long story about how me and my best friend met, but then we had a couple beers and I added a quick story about how I surfed naked at a contest in Australia. Then they got me and made that video. The footage is just from Bali, during a freesurf. I wish they had the actual footage from the contest. That would be cool.
Did you grow up as royalty on the North Shore because of your dad and uncle?
Did you always have a spot in the lineup or did you have to earn it like everyone else?
I don’t know. In my eyes there’s my dad and Uncle Derek, then a couple gnarly guys, and the rest is just a free for all. The rest is just the boys and everybody is one. I figure, fuck, all the gnarly guys now used to be kids who would just go when they had the chance to go. I’ve heard stories of people burning Uncle Derek and being so scared, but now I’m like, “Yep, here I am. I’m burning you this time [Laughs]."
Is there anyone in surfing you wouldn’t burn?
Umm… I mean, I try not to burn Dad and Uncle Derek. That’s about it. I’ve done it before, but I definitely try not to.
Are you treated differently when you’re not in Hawaii?
No, no. I think it’s cool because nobody really knows who I am. I never get people like, “Oh, you’re Mason!” Never. If that happens, I’ll be like, “Whoa. What’s up, brah?” and stoked to see the guy, and can’t believe someone actually knows me. That’d be so rare.
Are you of the attitude to welcome people to the North Shore and promote Hawaii, or do you want the tourists to stay off your island?
To be honest, I catch myself telling everyone that they’ve gotta go there. I’m a promoter. The only time I’m bummed is when I’m stuck in traffic, but I won’t even be as mad as my friends, like. But, whatever. As long as people are making money or whatever they want, you gotta be happy.
You seem like more of a freesurfer, but you still compete. Do you like contests?
Yeah, I like doing everything in surfing, but contests are a whole different trip. Freesurfing is my favourite because I get to run my session however I want, but I like competing because it’s a different thing to do and I get super psyched. Sometimes I make a couple heats and it feels cool. And that tour looks super fun, and I’m like panic competitive, secretly [laughs].
Is it your goal to make it on the Tour?
Yeah. I just want to surf the best waves with the best surfers. I catch myself watching events and I’m like, “Fuck. I could do that. Fuck.” But I don’t say it. I just think it [laughs].
Does it ever get hard to leave Hawaii to surf shitty waves?
Yeah, it’s totally hard, but I’m kinda used to it now. I’ve been trying for a little bit.
When you’re at a contest, are you the guy drinking kale shakes and having a steam bath before going to sleep at 7:30 p.m. the night before your heat, or will you have a few beers and hang out BBQing like a normal night?
[Laughs] That kinda depends where it’s at. If it’s somewhere freezing cold, then I like to just kick back. The beers and BBQ sounded good, though, when you mentioned it. There’s definitely no kale shakes unless it has some peanut butter in it or something.
What’s the first thing you do after you get knocked out of a contest?
The first thing? I’m usually super bummed and kinda distraught. I can’t even enjoy myself for like a day, but then I’ll try to take advantage of it. It does depend on the place, though. Before a contest I don’t even like to drink a beer or anything. Well, one beer I’ve learned isn’t too bad.
But not 10, right?
Nah… or there are places where you could actually rage and it’s so good for the contest because you’re just psyching. If I do good, though, I’m friggin’ drinking for sure [laughs].
How long have you been coming to California?
Yeah, I’ve been traveling over here since I was 11.
And you grew up close with Kolohe [Andino] because your dads were pro surfers and friends. Are you still close with Kolohe?
Oh yeah. Their house was the first place I stayed at over here and I’ve been staying with them every summer since. The last few summers I’ve been staying a bit up in Huntington and Costa Mesa, but they’re usually like, “Hey, you better come check in with us.” When I was a kid and my dad took me anywhere else that wasn’t their house, I’d be like, “Where are we? Let’s get home [laughs].” Home, meaning Brother’s house.
What’s the difference between California girls and Hawaiian girls?
The difference with the surfing, too?
No, just the girls. We all know the difference with the surfing.
I run into a lot more beautiful chicks here in California. At home, I’ll run into more cool ones that I can relate to and hang out with more.
But they’re not as pretty?
Yeah. There’s a couple that are really hot at home, but over here you can run into a really hot one on almost every corner and you can at least say what’s up and give it a swing, you know? In California, I’m swinging nonstop. At home it’s just left swings.
Is that your strategy for meeting girls? Just swing at everything?
Yeah [laughs]. If they even give me the time of day then I’m swinging. But I have respect and if they don’t look at me, I’m like, “OK, I ain’t here. It’s all good.” But if they slip up, I’m on it [laughs].
Does surfing help with your confidence to meet girls?
Wow. That’s sick. I’ve never even thought of that before.
Do you ever claim the pro surfer status as a pickup line?
Oh, fuck no, brah! No way! No one will get a girl that way. They love it if you act like you’re totally normal and that’s usually the cherry on top if they ever get to find out. I avoid that one, bro.
What’s the best country you’ve visited to meet women?
Whoa… Oh man, they’re all so nice. They’re all kinda the same. I don’t know.
Are you a girlfriend kind of guy or do you prefer the single life?
Fuck, if I ever have a girlfriend, eventually they’re like, “Fuck, this kid is so in love with surfing it’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” and they need to get out of this guy’s way [laughs]. I’ve had a couple really cool girlfriends, but I probably scared them away.
Surfing is your only girlfriend at the end of the day.
Exactly. I’ll just look at all my boards, and usually when I get a really good quiver, I’m just like, “Fuck, how can people even want a girlfriend when they can have the best quiver ever.” Then you can go to sleep and surf all day. I can’t even go on a date to the fair with a girl because I’ll just start laughing and thinking about my boards [laughs].
[Laughs] Where’s somewhere you’ve been that you never want to go back to?
That’s funny. I can’t really think of anywhere specifically, but if I had a bad time somewhere, I’d like to think I’d go back there and have a good time.
Have you ever been robbed?
Oh, man, no! Knock on wood. One time I misplaced $400 in Bali and that was the gnarliest thing that happened to me.
Who’s your favorite surfer to travel with?
Kevin Sullivan, Pancho Sullivan’s cousin. He’s the funniest human on the planet. People don’t even have a clue because he’s so smooth about it. He’s one of those shy funny guys.
Do you ever wear a vest out of the water, or only when you’re surfing?
Like a wetsuit vest?
No, like a sweater vest or something when you’re on land.
In Hawaii I wear a Short John when I surf, but going out? I don’t think I’ve ever worn a vest. I usually just wear a shirt [laughs].
Would you ever leave Hawaii to live somewhere else?
Do you ever think about what you’ll do after surfing?
I never think about that. One time I almost starting thinking about that and I got scared and never thought about it again.
Have you ever had a real job?
Me? Shit… when I was a kid I used to love mowing lawns and getting a little stack of cash. I used to love that feeling.
A lot of the public seems to look at pro surfers like they`re celebrities, rolling in riches and living the highest life. Aside from a select few, most of you guys are just doing a job and earning a paycheck to live. How much of a grind is it trying to survive as a pro surfer?
It sure is a grind. It ain’t easy nowadays. It’s always the cool thing to just kick back and be the man, but it’s so gnarly now that you gotta do some shit on your own. For me, there was a point where we weren’t making movies or anything and I asked a couple of my friends if they’d make a movie of me. They were like, “Yeah right, brah. We watch you surf everyday!” I had to start making movies. Me and my friend, Rory Pringle, started filming everyday and putting out some vids. We made a couple bucks here and there, and now we’re going a little better.
Is that was saved, or started your career?
I could always see my friends that ripped, like just as hard or harder than me, and they weren’t filming and were grinding regular jobs so they could surf. So I appreciate all my sponsors helping me out so much. I’m trying to pull it off.
You have a signature shoe now with Etnies, so you’ve gotta be doing alright.
Yeah, yeah. I’m not doing too bad. That shoe is mental. I gotta get you some of those!
I’m a size 9.
Alright, they come out this winter!
Speaking of winter, have you ever been to Canada?
No. I haven’t.
Are you impressed with your little sister, Coco, dating a Canadian?
Yeah, I was gonna say that! I think she’s over there, in Canada, right now. Yeah, I’m stoked on it. Go Canada [laughs]!
Mark McMorris is a rad guy. We’ll vouch for him.
That’s so cool. He seems solid. He just came and stayed at the house for a while and he was super cool and down to roll. Too smooth.
Tell us about your friend, Cheeseburger, and your website: burgerinparadise.com.
We’re just grinding. All the website is, is two kids from the North Shore trying to pull off a website [laughs]. It’s a little slow right now, but when I’m home and by my computer, we’re gonna pound out a bunch of things. I don’t even… Burger knows how to do the posts. But he either forgot his password or he’s plotting something gnarly because I haven’t seen a post from him in a while. We’re plotting a funny video.
How is it different than every other pro surfer’s website?
I wonder. You think all the other surfers post their own stuff?
I don’t know, man. I don’t check out too many sites, but I check out yours. I’m sure some dudes do it all themselves and some have people doing it for them.
Right? See, now I feel bad. I gotta put more stuff up because until you said that, I didn’t even think that people ever looked at it. I’ve been watching all this old Phil Edwards and Jackie Baxter footage. They’re the gnarliest videos from back in the day and I should just be posting that stuff on the website.
Where are you off to tomorrow?
That’s a long trip for you. Are you bringing Burger?
No, I wish. If I was a little more healthy we were going to go together. The waves are gonna be small and I just started surfing again, so it doesn’t really seem worth it for Burger to come.
For people who have never met you, what’s something you’d want them to know about you?
Wow. That’s a cool question. Sick. I don’t know. That’s sick!
Like when all those fans come up to you in the street and say, “Oh, you’re Mason!” What would you want those people to know?
I’d want them to know that I’m a good person, and I’m open to bro down with them, and I’m weird about my surfboards.
You don’t like people touching your boards?
Yeah, I get a little weird and I feel weird when people touch my surfboards. Sometimes I won’t say nothin’, but I’ll feel super weird.
You must stress at the airport when you give your boards away to the baggage handlers.
I don’t know how, but I can play dumb to that part. When my friends are over at the house and grabbing my new boards in my room, I’m like, “Don’t say nothin’, don’t say nothing’,” but finally I’ll say, “Gimme my boards! Stop touching them!”
And traction pads aren’t allowed to touch your boards either?
No, never. Not unless they’re drawn on.
For everyone who knows you, what’s something they don’t know about you?
That’s a gnarly one, too! I just always say what’s on my mind, so everybody knows me pretty good. A lot of my friends know me better than I do [laughs].*Read this full interview in print in LATER. issue 2.2.