MASON HO AND THE RIDDLE OF INFINITE FUN
Has Mason Ho figured out how to have a good time, all the time?
Something about Mason Ho’s surfing just makes you want to keep watching. Sure, he has the prerequisite cache of tricks and skills in his repertoire to be called world-class, but it’s the little jinks, the spontaneous body English and the old-school jives that make his whole approach an act of untainted self-expression. It’s like watching a contemporary dance on a wave – a magnetic fusion of disco and jazz with classical samples. In the end, perhaps what we like most about Mason is that he reminds us that’s it’s ok to just surf the way you feel.
For several years Mason’s filmer and friend, Rory Pringle, has been tasked with capturing Mason’s unfettered genius. Together they have travelled the world, but mostly they just roam the island of Oahu like a couple of surfing beatniks, seeking out the best or quirkiest waves to ride and shoot on any given day. Frequently this results in a situation where Mason winds up playing chicken with rocks on some obscure corner of volcanic coast. Typically, he rides a different board in every clip and these days Mason’s west-side pal, Sheldon Paishon, is along for the ride. The soaring riffs of Hendrix and Santana are frequently called on to complement Mason’s throwback approach and the end result of these eclectic surf jams is sublime, bite-sized surfing entertainment.
We recently fired a bunch of questions to Mason, and Rory was kind of enough to record his responses. Like his surfing, Mason’s answers were animated, unpredictable and engaging. The window into the workings of Mason’s colourful mind certainly suggests he and Rory have taken the world one step closer to solving the riddle of infinite fun.
How did you and Rory become a team?
I guess the first time I got drunk in my life was with Rory, so I’d say we were pretty much a team right then. And that was way before we were filming.
How does the collaboration process work? Deciding where and what to film?
The collab’ is just to call up Rory any time and any day, and the where and when is just when we get in the car and start circling around and looking at all the spots – it’s kinda pretty easy, as long as we are both free that day, which we usually are.
Sometimes it looks like your life is one big game of chicken!
(As in find the rockiest, knuckliest and gnarliest little spot and play chicken with the reef and rocks?)
Playing chicken with the rocks, it’s unfortunate, but it’s probably one of my favourite things to do. I don’t like to take off and shoot right at the rock – that’s not nice… But what is nice is when you take off and do something kinda special right into the rock or just next to it. That feels pretty cool… Sometimes it feels good to just do a nice cutback, but when you do a nice cutback right through a rock or into a rock or around a rock, you get the nice happy feeling from the cutback, but you also get the twinge of the feeling from the rocks.The dream is just one little rock with all sand around it so that you fall on the sand.
How did you become a rock-dodging, adrenaline junkie?
It started with the first rock, I guess. I’ve always been one, but I always had like a QS contest coming up, so I knew to stay away and not go as much as I’d really like to. But as the QS contests got less, I started looking around for some rocks to surf around and surf with – Yep! Less QS contests means more rocks… A messed up spot doesn’t get me more amped than a perfect little sand spot. The rock thing just draws me in a lot because usually when there’s rocks around, it tightens the area – it looks cool when the area is super tight.
Do you like Rory to keep filming, even if there is a car-crash moment?
Yeah, I love it when Rory films the car crash moments because the only reason I’m in the car crash in the first place is to get the clip.
Who does your ding repairs? That guy must be busy.
Super-Kao ding repair master does my ding repairs here on the North Shore. He’s a master at everything. You can leave him out in a forest with absolutely nothing and give him a surfboard to fix and he’ll fix the thing perfectly – he’d probably use sap from a tree and like wood pieces. I don’t know if I should give you guys his real name though because he’s my ding repair guy – he’s busy.I don’t want you guys taking up my ding repair guy’s time.
West Side is beautiful and it has that magical watercolour? But Hawaii’s poverty problem is really apparent over there? Tents on the side of the road and a lot of homeless people. Does that trouble you?
That side of the island… it’s crazy how beautiful it is but it’s just harder over that side. People have it hard even here on the North Shore, but on that side of the island they’ve got it even tougher.
Sheldon Paishon is a regular partner in crime in your clips. How did the connection come about? Can you talk about his back-story?
Sheldon and I, we grew up together. I met him when he was like 12 or 13 and I was like 15. He was just a young little ripper kid from the west side and when he came around I just remember that he was younger than everyone but he was talking lip way better than everyone. I was just like, ‘Oh I like this kid he’s pretty classic.’ We ended up hanging out and when I watched him surf, I was like ‘Whoa, he surfs really good too’. Everyone grew up, but Sheldon is still kinda like the same vibe and I like to think that’s me too, that I haven’t grown up that much either. All the other friends kinda grew up and got their job, but not Shelly, he’s coming surfing with me every time.
He’s a good kid and he’s like a brother to me. And his story is incredible… he like grew up homeless on the west side, and then I’d pick him up and we’d surf together all the time. Then we both went our separate ways… but one day we were surfing together, and he was surfing so good and was on such a cool track and I was like ‘Hey man, let’s pick up the ball here and start this little thing. I want to try something’. But I didn’t really tell him because I didn’t want him to know because I kind of liked him the way he was, so I just started filming him as much as I could…Then boom! He got a sponsor and now he’s a pro-surfer and we pretty much documented the whole ordeal – the last rough phase and him getting sponsored and then we have footage of us when we were kids just making trouble. So I think it will be a cool documentary when we finish it… Pretty much just two kids, different side of the tracks, different upbringings but just the same goal and same dreams and same everything – same love, which is surfing. It just hit me – cool story let’s try and pull it off.
Your surfing is full of self-expression – a little bit disco. Do you like to just surf the way you feel and express that in some way?
My dream is to surf like I’m at a disco, I guess… I just like to copy all my favourite surfers, and then when I do that it leads me to some kind of weird place far away from them because I’ve never really been able to copy. I just do what I can and throw in a couple of little things here and there and try to be a little different.
Do you think the old-school influence comes from surfing with your dad, Michael so much?
I do everything pretty much because of my dad and I love trying to copy his style… For sure that’s why I surf the way that I do. And I’m around my dad so much that I’ve just heard so many stories about different people and I’m like ‘sounds cool’ I really want to surf like him and then I look into their surfing or bump into them or look at some of their old surfing on YouTube. That’s probably why I surf how I surf.
Do you watch a lot of older surfing footage?
I love watching old surf footage, it’s probably one of my favourite things to do in my spare time, just because they’ve always got the best music and draw the best lines and there’s just something about that look that they had back in the day that looks so cool. Not even just the way they are surfing but the way the movies are made and the grain, it’s hard to explain… It’s almost like you can tell it’s been done so many times now… It’s just too clear, too mental , too just – perfect, butthen when you just add that corny little bit, like‘Here we are driving through the pineapple fields of the North Shore,’ you’re like ‘Oh what?’Something about how they tell the story, you can just tell that it’s fresh. And then you can see like Wilt Chamberlin helped produce it.He was like mates with Bruce Lee, right?
How do you think Wilt Chamberlain (actor and producer who starred in Conan the Destroyer) got involved with surfing?
I thought about this a shit ton and I figured it had to be some kind of tax write-off. Maybe he was just so in touch with all the cool stuff. Like surfing’s the coolest thing on the planet and Bruce Lee’s right under that... I think it cost a lot of money to make surf movies back in the day and I don’t know how or why but Wilt Chamberlain helped.
You compete at Pipe and in select WQS events and won an event in Tahiti last year. Plus there are a few CT wildcards. Do you actually enjoy competing?
I love competing just as much as freesurfing. I feel like with surfing there’s so much that you can do, there’s like windsurfing and bodyboarding and bodysurfing bo’ bo’ bo’ bo’ – it’s a big old pie of surfing. How much fun do you wanna have? So my pie is just my surfboard… so my pie gets a little smaller, I don’t windsurf or any of that other stuff , but if you wanna max out the fun in what I do, which is just like surfing, I just want to surf performance in small surf and big surf. You start to realise that competing is a way to keep your surfing really sharp… I always thought if you wanna have fun in surfing then why not have a ton of fun in the competing department.
If you wanna bump shoulders then it’s like, ‘Oooh’, we get to bump shoulders, but have fun with it. You know, surf hard, compete hard, and when it’s not competing time let’s go hard and have as much fun as possible… I like it because I think because my dad and uncle did it and they were good at it.The whole moment when you win, it’s like a super cool moment but it’s not like ‘Raaahh! , I want to win everything.’ I mean if I show up to a contest, I want to win and not just maybe make a couple of heats, but I know how to lose because I’ve lost a thousand kajillion times.
What about a Mason Ho rock-dodging tour?
That’d be pretty sick because I’d send a couple of guys into the rocks and laugh about it, but it’d be a bummer because everybody’d be getting hurt and we’d have to have paramedics and all the cuts and stitches. I don’t like watching people getting hurt, I like the moment right before they get hurt or as they get hurt but right when I realise they actually got hurt and there’s all cuts on them, I’d be all bummed out.
Michael/Pops is 63 and still surfs big Pipe and other big wave spots. Do you ever get scared for him?
Every time. Every time he goes and checks the wave when it’s huge first thing in the morning, I’m like, ‘Can’t he just wait till the light comes out.’He always has to go at dark and he has to paddle out. I don’t even tell him not to paddle out nowadays. I use to just try and tell him what I’m thinking, ‘Whoa dad, don’t go out it’s pretty gnarly out there.’ When he hears that he’s just, ‘Raaa , I’m out there.’ If I say it looks like junk, ‘Raaaa, Out there.’ If I try a little reverse psychology and say it looks pretty good, ‘Raaa out there.’I get a little worried when he goes out when it’s big for sure, but he always handles. Sometimes he goes for a wave at Pipe and I won’t even look because it looks like he’s so hung up, but then I’ll just hear everyone else cheering and I’m like ‘Oh no, don’t cheer him on, he doesn’t need that’. Sometimes when I think he’s in the spot I’ll yell for him to go because you’ve gotta get moving on those big waves… Sometimes he’ll go, ‘Oh I’m going out at Haleiwa or at Sunset’ and I’m like I’m not going out, there’s no other pro guys going out and not even those random lunatics, and he’ll still go. Those days I don’t like.
The following excerpt is from Tracks Magazine.