Michael Ho, still a Pipe Master at 58
Words by Morgan Williamson / Photos by Nick Green Hawaiian Royalty, that seems to be the term thrown around when the Ho dynasty’s mentioned. They’ve got real history on the North Shore, Derek’s the first Hawaiian world champ, Coco’s a fave on women’s tour and Mason is one of our most beloved freesurfers. Each edit […]
Words by Morgan Williamson / Photos by Nick Green
Hawaiian Royalty, that seems to be the term thrown around when the Ho dynasty’s mentioned. They’ve got real history on the North Shore, Derek’s the first Hawaiian world champ, Coco’s a fave on women’s tour and Mason is one of our most beloved freesurfers. Each edit released by Mase screams elation, his carefree style of surfing mixed to James Hendrix distorts and crescendos the froth meter to 11, so much so that I have no qualms talking about it in such cliché. But upon mentioning the legend of the Ho’s to Michael it’s just smiles. “Well thanks for the compliment,” he kindly replies and laughs “fuck man, we’re just happy to be a part of surfing.”
We roll up to the house on a rainy evening, a rainbow arches the kamehameha highway. The sky’s purple, pink, red; a simultaneous light and dark blend that pierces the rain. Michael’s packing Mason’s boards into their van, prepping for the contest that was supposed to be running the next day. We offer to help, he declines. “It’s all good I’m just sticking them in one-by-one.” He walks from the garage to where the sleds are hidden, boards ranging from 6’4’s to 8 ft-plus pintails stamped with Mase’s assorted sponsors are being jammed into the back of their off-white van, one at a time. “It’s a good evening for rain,” he says, “the day was beautiful, I just surfed for the last three hours. Sorry it took so long to get together.” He looks back apologetically and slips us a shaka.
A filled van’s and a happy van, ready for the Pipe Masters when it’s a go. “Swish, swish and flip ‘em out real quick.”
“I figured I’d pack the boards tonight so we can just swish, swish and flip ‘em out real quick,” he says with accompanying hand gestures. “Traffic’s so gnarly on the morning of the contest that if you don’t get there early and get a spot you’re screwed. This way we can keep ten in the car, and three or four on the beach. I could park at my friends house but it’s nice to be right across the trail. Got to keep it there all day, once I lose my spot, I’m done.”
The photographer Greeny’s clicking away on his Canon 5d, he slides back to where Pops is plucking boards. “Eh, I’m kind of over filming the board room, we don’t want people knowing where the boards are,” he says. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, Mike! We’ll take care of that shit for you.’ It sounds kind of weird but it’s not. If you guys leave your boards out at the houses, even within the backyards they’ll get lifted. I tell the kids no filming the boards, because fuck, you never know. I heard they hit Mick Fanning’s house one year while he was gone on tour, you know if they do it in Australia they’ll do it in Hawaii.”
“This is my go-to fun board. I’ve been riding these four fins for so long now. Glen Winton was onto something good, he was the quad guy back in the day. Back when Mark Richards was doing twin fins I would watch Glen Winton ride his four fins, and be like fuck he’s ripping but that’s a weird board. Took me 20 years before Nathan Fletcher got me one from Stretch, and I haven’t gotten off them since.”
Mike’s a previous Pipe Master (he won the event with a broken arm) and he’s still one of the best out there when it’s on. “It’s a tough one bud,” he tells me on what it takes to win at Pipe. “When the waves are good, it’s still all about positioning and getting the best waves like any other contest. Over there especially, a lot of waves are really good but sometimes the one’s that don’t look good are the best. Pipeline’s a weird animal man.” It’s a shifty devil, video clips tend to make it look manageable, but it breaks nothing like the way Chopes does: in the same spot every time and seemingly makable if you set the right line. It’s shifty, raw and regurgitates power. The reef’s shallow and uneven, there’s a reason so many people end up getting hurt on big days there, and people don’t get too torn up on bigger, heavier days over the shallow reef at the end of the road.
“I just wish Owen (Wright, who suffered a severe concussion the day before the start of crown jewel of the Triple Crown) the best,” Mike says soberly, seated in the doorway of his van when we talk about Mason’s path into the Pipe Masters. “That’s more important than Mason getting in. We’re really stoked to see him compete but it’s really unfortunate how he got there. Tyler (Wright) was talking to Coco and she was telling her he’s still going from good to not so good. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed for Owen to get well.”
“The Ho family philosophy? Just please and thank you, uncle and auntie and everything’s cherries on top. Treat people how you like to be treated nothing out of the ordinary.”
After yet another lay day, the showdown is set to go down tomorrow. This evening the swell we’ve been so patiently waiting for began to stack up, each set pushing more and more water, the way swell tends to hit the North Shore. It’ll go from four foot to ten within an hour. We start to chat the title race. “Well, Adriano’s the full on work horse,” Pops says. “What’s the mathematical? Doesn’t Mick have to drop some big names. Hmm, in big lefts it’s going to be hard to beat Gabriel. But I think we’ll try and help ‘em all out and take out Filipe,” laughs Mike. Mason’s squared up with Toledo in the upcoming round. “Oh, I’m just kidding, I got to watch what I say.” We laugh with him, it’s hard to avoid good spirits in casa del Ho while sheltered from the perpetually-pinging rain.
Grandma Ho walks out onto the deck, “I just wanted to come and see what you guys were laughing about,” she says sweetly. “That’s my momma,” Mr Ho tells us. “It’s all good momma bear,” he turns to her in adoration and we share a pleasant family moment amidst chickens squawking and dogs barking in neighbouring backyards. Michael’s three legged dog Hurricane doesn’t lift his head from Mike’s lap, he’s stoic and bold. “He lost his leg eight, maybe, ten years ago, he’s all good, still happy as can be. Needs a bath though.”
Hurricane may have three legs but the pups still agile enough to scare any unwanted folk off the property. That’s a good boy.
“We have a big family and we are all really tight,” Mr Ho says. “My kids really look up to their uncle, he’s a four time Triple Crown champion, the first Hawaiian world champ.” Between the Ho brother’s they took down the first four Triple Crowns to ever run. “I won the first year and the third year and my brother won the second and fourth. Then he got two more. I only got two. He’s pretty much the guy…yeah, my little brother’s the guy with all the results. I got a few results here and there, he helped me and I helped him get better. You always wanna do better than your brother. It’s like Cj and Damien (Hobgood). We fed off each other and I think Coco and Mason feed off each other. There’s a nice sibling dynamic,” he says cheerfully. “They’re so competitive, I watch them play chess or whatever, and that competitive aspect’s there, but it’s all friendly. They’re cool. I’m just happy this time of year when they’re home for a while, they travel so much. I just want them home and safe, then they’re off to Australia or Portugal or wherever it may be.”
The tolerant and philosophical mug of Hurricane.
Since Michael’s era surfing’s changed. There’s more money, the progression’s almost unfathomable. There’s John John, tow in’s turned to paddling, equipment’s improved and pioneers of the past and present have enabled it all. “Surfboards are so advanced now-a-days,” Mike says. “I could have never predicted how gnarly guys are surfing now. They’re just throwing themselves over ledges at Teahupoo and Pipeline in conditions never thought surfable. Guys like John John and Slater, wow! They say I’m surfing the best at my age, I’m 58, but I guarantee Slater will to be doing this at 68, he’ll take it for another ten years, it’s going to be unreal,” he laughs. “I’m pretty damn sure of that. It’s a good thing. Surfing keeps you young.”
Still frothing, always stoked.
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