Mason Ho and Tommy Peterson’s timeless Fireball Fish
“It’s more than a surfboard, it’s a piece of living history!”
When you ask Mason Ho about his Tommy Peterson-shaped Fireball Fish he blushes and says, “it’s a deep one for me.”
Last year at Bells, Mase spent some time with the great and mysterious Tommy Peterson, younger brother of the late Michael Peterson.
“My dad used to hang with him and MP back in the day,” he says. “Every time I see Tommy I’m like, ‘What’s up uncle?!’ I’ll ask him about whatever I’m kind of into at the time. Last year at the Bells event I saw him, and because I’d been watching Searching For Tom Curren, I wanted to know about the board Curren was riding.”
The board Mason is referring is the mythic 5’7” Fireball Fish on which Curren shattered boundaries in maxing Bawa back in 1994. Thick with square, boxy rails, the board’s signature feature is a set of channels carved through the belly, but rather than running throughout the board, the channels abruptly end with a step in front of the fins before the tail goes flat.
So Mason asked Uncle Tommy about the board and “he ended up making me one in three days. It was fully done in three days. It has a lot of sentimental value.”
But the Fireball Fish has much more than sentimental value. Tommy Peterson’s genius is a tie that binds some of surfing’s most inspiring performers.
It goes without saying, but in the mid ‘70s the brothers Peterson were a force. MP was putting on the most radical performances with the most radical equipment, and Tommy was right there in the shaping room and the water. And hence, the trend of stylish, aggressive performances on cutting-edge, unorthodox equipment was born.
Skip ahead some 20 years and by the early ‘90s Tom Curren was on the same trajectory. Growing bored with winning on tour, he walked away from competition to explore the innermost limits of fun on a range of innovative boards. During the now-famous Rip Curl Search venture to Indo in 1994 (organised by Derek Hynd), Curren applied the 5’7” to great effect. (He also had a 5’9” Fireball Fish, as well as boards shaped by Maurice Cole, Al Merrick and Dave Parmenter). Sonny Miller jockeyed the camera and history was made. Both Bawa and Sonny Miller are now gone, but the footage continues to stand the test of time.
As the story goes, Peterson originally intended the board for the Gold Coast’s Jay Phillips, but when Tom and South African Frankie Oberholzer came through Coolangatta the young Phillips was already on his way to a pro junior event at Bells and he lost his claim to the board.
But here’s where the story takes a turn. Shortly after the Search trip, Mr Curren was back in Australia, enjoying the points of NSW and doing some design experimentation with Mark Thomson—father of Daniel Thomson and occasional co-conspirator with minds like George Greenough and Bob McTavish. Before leaving the Thomson household, Curren gifted the Fireball Fish to young Daniel. (It should also be noted that Daniel grew up riding one of MP’s personal single-fins).
Tangentially, in 1991 Daniel and a mop-top Kelly Slater first crossed paths in the parking lot at Lennox Head. Daniel’s father was doing some work with Quik at the time and they “had some deep design rants with the king talking about extruded styro/carbon flex-tails and such,” recalls Daniel.
Nearly three decades passed before Tommy Peterson’s Fireball Fish resurfaced under the feet of Mason. And like Curren before him, Mason’s inspiring a generation of surfers to look at waves—big and small—a little bit different.
“I surfed the board everywhere—Pipe, Waimea Shorebreak, the sandbars, West Side a few times, I put it in all these situations where it should have broken, but it didn’t so now I just put it away, so it’s nice and safe,” says Mason. “I don’t think I’m going to ride it again, hopefully I can grab another one this year.”
These days Peterson is semi-retired, but the design wheel keeps on turning. During the recent Quiksilver Pro he hand-shaped a new finless slider for Kelly. And with Mason getting a wildcard into the Bells comp, he’s pretty excited about reuniting with his uncle.
“The thing is, it’s about more than a surfboard. It’s like this little piece of living history,” says Mason.
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