Mason Ho wasn’t supposed to be here.
He came in third in the Pipe Invitational despite a fine showing, which should have earned him little more than a pat on the back and a celebratory dinner with his inner circle before he enjoyed the Pipe Masters contest from the beach. But when his friend and Rip Curl teammate Owen Wright was knocked out of the contest by an injury before Day 1, Mase got the call up, and by Day 4 he’d stolen the show.
After breezing through Round 1 with a heat win, he squared off with with world title contender Filipe Toledo in Round 3. The Brazilian wünderkid put up a fight with a couple of short barrels during the battle, but Ho made it clear from his first wave that the fun he was having despite the massive and unruly surf — soaring through the air with a grin during an epic dismount from his second wave — would lead him to victory over Toledo, who seemed unnerved by the growing swell as he pulled away from a perfect barrel early in the heat at the last moment, barely making it over the falls.
“I think everyone is [having a blast],” Mason said. There’s maybe a couple guys scared…That’s how it is out here, it’s pretty weird. It’s not as scary at a certain size but then when it hits like six foot it’s a little more scary. You see people hit their heads and stuff when it’s not that big, but the bigger it gets the more perfect it gets. I have a good clue when it’s all nice.”
This is the second time one of Michael Ho’s kids has upset a World Title race in the past month: Mason’s sister Coco Ho ended Courtney Conlogue’s hope for her first championship tour win at the women’s final on Maui, both siblings displaying their prowess and understanding of their home waves.
“We don’t want to ruin anyone’s hard work all year, but it makes it a little more fun I guess…like, you do all the hard work and then I’ll come shwwshhh,” he pantomimed him dropping into a barrel, “for one second and maybe ruin it or make it better.”
As for his own hopes for the World Title champion, Mase is torn. He’s close friends with both of his Rip Curl teammates Mick Fanning and Gabriel Medina, who he’ll be joining in the Quarterfinals on the last day of competition Thursday. But it’s Fanning’s strength and resolve in the face of his challenges all year — most recently the sudden passing of his older brother, which came as a shock just before Round 3 — that has Mason firmly in his corner.
“It’s nice to see someone shrug off all kinds of good and bad, highs and lows, and still be in the race, so I’m kind of going for him.”
By Round 4, the waves were the dreamlike, with both Pipeline and Backdoor offering double overhead barrels from back-to-back sets standing tall and coming in fast. Joel Parkinson opened Heat 3 with a solid Backdoor ride, and Mason was right behind him, dropping in at Pipe and vanishing behind the roaring curtain as he got low and buried his arm in the wave. Out came the spit and the crowd stopped breathing until Mason same shooting out behind it, dripping wet, laughing, and grabbing his crotch before launching himself off the rolling whitewater crest. The judges scored it a perfect 10-point ride.
Ho caught six waves in that heat, getting spat out at the latest possibility on most and showing off extra moves like an bunny hop and dropping in switch stance. He caught so many consecutive waves that the announcer welcomed everyone on the beach to the Mason Show, and as the victorious son of surf royalty emerged from the waves, the crowd was led in a chant of “MASON – HO – MASON – HO…” that the young victor completely missed.
“No way, I missed it!” he said before a knife drop from Adriano de Souza stole his attention and dropped his jaw.
With his whole family in the bleachers — including Momma Ho yelling down to him and reminding him to stop socializing with John John Florence and drink some water — Mason said his goal is definitely to win Pipe Masters, but he’s taking it one baby step at a time.
“Even though they’re big baby steps for me since I rarely get to do this, they’re just baby steps. These guys do it all the time.”
Mason will take on Adam Melling in Heat 3 of the Quarterfinals.