Most Interesting Surfer in the World
A good surfer is interesting by definition. So who among the world's elite surfers is the MOST interesting? When I first thought about this question it was difficult for me to answer. Mainly because I could easily make an argument for ANY surfer currently visible within the industry. So I had to come up with criteria, and be consistent in the application. With a few clear-cut filters in place, selecting the most interesting surfer would be a lot easier and quantifiable. My main criteria were in three areas... surfing style, backstory, and following. Nobody on tour right now was a finalist, but I did consider some of the younger guns currently hustling the WSL. I also could've easily went with the most famous surfer, Kelly Slater. But he transcends surfing and is even bigger than the sport itself. Plus, that would've been an obvious choice, which would've made this blog post less interesting. So I'm leaving a blog about the GOAT for another day.
The Most INTERESTING SURFER in the World - MASON HO
I cannot get enough of Mason Ho and his surfing videos. This era of social media and video blogging has given birth to a new breed of professional free surfer. And while he isn't the king of all surf media from a numbers perspective (Jamie O'Brien alone has 780K+ YouTube subscribers) Mason's Instagram at 327K followers, and his YouTube channel at nearly 65k are filled with more quality moments than all of the top surf vloggers combined. Take a look at Mason's 2021 highlights on youtube, you'll see what I'm talking about.
So I'm not taking anything away from JOB, because what he's done from a followers perspective is quite impressive (So Psyched for him too). And I'm not overlooking the amazing back story of NJ native surfer Ben Gravy (157K Youtube subscribers) representing the east coast, overcoming addiction, etc... I'm just saying Mason is more interesting than all of these guys. His bucking of the system is more impactful to me because he comes from such surfing royalty, he could've easily just been boring, and in the shadows of his father and uncle. But he's stepped-out big time... and made his own name for himself. His coolness comes from the unique waves he's willing to ride, with no regard for his own safety and well-being... and somehow he walks away from all of these decisions relatively unscathed (recently surfing a slab in Ireland that's breaking on dry rock). Have I mentioned how hard Mason rips? How natural and playful his style is to watch? He makes the truly terrifying look inviting. Even as young as he is, he serves as an inspiration to me. He's been in the back of my mind lately when I'm throwing caution to the wind myself, paddling out to conquer a sketchy reef break in Central America. This is my favorite kind of surfing. See a beautiful wave that nobody's surfing and figure out how to ride it. No guidebook. No local info. Just the spirit of adventure and a little bit of balls. I honestly don't need to catch twenty waves to feel satisfied in a surf session... I just need one good ride. And when I get one of those, at a spot that's not offering a lot of makable sections, I feel a lot more accomplished than I ever do battling it out at an easy-access break trying to look cool in front of a bunch of bros. Mason is seeking out that same adventure, but his adventures are on another level, in another atmosphere actually. He's unpredictable and follows no conventional rules. His focus on conquering new experiences, not winning heats, has earned my total respect. And yet there's no doubt in my mind that he's capable of winning any contest, on any given day, if he put his mind to it... especially since judging only scores your two best waves these days. Mason Ho's entire free-surfing approach is loose and based on risk. He looks like a total badass making the impossible appear easy. If WSL let him surf just the Hawaii events, on a Wildcard, he'd have to be considered a contender in every one of them. Honestly, I'm not sure Mason will ever qualify for the big tour, and I'm not sure he really cares. He looks like he's having more fun chasing waves, instead of trophies. this guy is textbook interesting, everyone else is just waiting to see what he does next. Don't miss the premiere of Mason's new production, documenting his most recent expedition, seeking slabs on the Emerald Isle, in a hood and booties. Mason's Medieval Madness will release in chapters, for 5-8 weeks, beginning on April 1st. Check out the Teaser for an early glimpse.
1st RUNNER UP - Mikey February
If I was choosing a most interesting surfer solely based on style, Cape Town native Mikey February would've been a ringer for the crown. His surfing has an amazing aesthetic quality while still looking very laid-back and effortless. He doesn't appear to be "working" a wave, but rather "dancing" with it. He is patient like a longboarder, but every bit as explosive as a WSL contest surfer. I consider his recent Vans Off The Wall film series Sonic Souvenirs to be very much a masterpiece in this new digital era of modern surf filmmaking (Souvenirs Part 2 just dropped last month). The fact that Mikey is a significant surfer of color for kids to look up to, across the continents, makes him an important professional surfer at the moment. His 2018 WSL Bio from his rookie year on the tour brags "He’s already charming fans and peers with his artistic flair, worldly charm and a huge smile, proudly shouldering the hopes of his community." While Mikey is not currently a qualified pro tour surfer in 2022, he's still moderately visible on social media compiling a respectable body of followers (230K on Instagram). Despite the fact that he wasn't allowed to surf the breaks around his home in South Africa while growing up (because his skin wasn't white) he still found a way to persevere. He still works hard to bring surfing to communities of color, and throughout the continent of Africa (give the JUJU Surf Club a follow). Recently, he helped collect close to a thousand surfboards for local South African kids in partnership with the organization Waves for Change. This commitment to community demands respect from everyone in the surf industry, and makes him an excellent candidate for being the most interesting. On top of Mikey's philanthropic work, it's important to remember, the guy totally rips, and has surf style for days. He's a truly elegant surfer, and I really admire how graceful he is despite his 6'3 frame. I don't know what Mikey's plans are when it comes to pro contest surfing, or where he stands with qualifying for the tour, but his recent free-surfing escapades in Africa, riding retro equipment, in waves of consequence, edited to worldly soundtracks, oozes coolness and soul with every arching turn. He's not the only Mikey I considered for this honor (See: Mikey Wright) but he's definitely a very interesting runner-up.
2nd RUNNER UP - Clay Marzo
I truly believe that in another universe, in another dimension, Clay Marzo is the GOAT surfer. But in our current world, things are not structured in a way where autistic adults are given a lot of opportunities for individual success and accomplishment. If you can't handle all of the nonsense that comes with being in the surf media spotlight, interacting with other surfing humans, and playing the surfing capitalism game, then the big surf corporations don't want to work with you. You're too risky of an investment. And since the big surf corporations control access to the game in professional surfing, they dictate the terms. But imagine being autistic, diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, and trying to navigate the demands of surf corporations and capitalism. Clay Marzo has 140K followers on Instagram as a professional free surfer, which is a fine accomplishment for someone with documented social challenges (most budding pro surfers, without any limitations, would be stoked with that number). He's also pretty active and I'm always so proud of him when he takes a leap to put himself out there. I just know how difficult that process must be for him. Just Add Water, a short film and book about Clay's surfing life journey shed's light on Clay's challenges and is well worth your attention. But from a pure surfing perspective, if you've never seen his approach to riding waves, you're missing out on something truly incredible. His surf style is beyond description and the trajectory from which he approaches the activity impossible to decipher. His viewpoint is 100% unique. He visits places on a wave that most surfers can't even imagine. When I watch Clay surf, I often have to ask myself "What did I just see?" because he's so freaking unconventional... the uniqueness of any one of his lines may never be drawn again. If you want to talk about tube riding, it's difficult to find a bigger magician than Marzo. He's living so much in the moment, and not approaching a wave with any pre-conceived notions. As a result, he's flat-out fearless. Recently he applied for a wildcard to surf in an upcoming WSL contest event at G-Land, a wave known for its amazing left hand barrel. If he does get the slot, he could easily win it all, which should have the professionals on tour praying that he doesn't.
Most Interesting Surfer Honorable Mentions: Ben Gravy, Kanoa Igarashi, Caroline Marks, Torren Martyn, Jamie O'Brien, Dane Reynolds, Mikey Wright, and don't forget about Coco Ho (yeah she's surfing royalty too, a WSL broadcaster, and Mason's totally rad sister)... but each of these honorable mentions is well worth the rabbit holes you might fall into after clicking their names.