By Cash Lambert and Chris Latronic
There’s no duo in surfing quite like Mason Ho and Burger. Sure, there are power couples and successful coach-athlete tandems and pairs of industry influencers, but none reach both the talent and entertainment level that the North Shore boys possess.
The two, both in their mid-20s, have been doing antics on the North Shore since childhood, like stealing cases of soda from contest officials at the Pipe Masters, paddling into mysto waves breaking over unforgiving dry reefs and making everyone around them laugh in the process. Strangely, it’s “only recently” that the two have “blown up” outside of Hawaii.
The fruits of both their exploits and their labor have been sponsorships, social media stardom, and License to Chill, their video series that won the Best Web Series at the year end 2016 Surfer Awards, even beating out John Florence’s high octane web series.
At the Awards ceremony last December, Mason and Burger took the stage, and immediately had the crowd rolling (Mason: Just want to thank my sponsors…Etnies, you guys better get me that new contract!..Burger: All you guys that do gnarly airs..don’t forget your history!”).
Today, Mason is, according to Burger, “The most interesting surfer in the world” and Burger is happily traveling and scoring alongside Mason.
After handing the reigns of this issue over to the duo, we sat down to talk about their earliest memories of each other (“One time I was surfing Haleiwa, and I was so stoked to see Mason paddling out that I actually started paddling towards him and just ran him over,” recalled Burger) the origins of Burger’s name (“Everyone says I lost the cheese, so now I’m just Burger”), whether or not their acceptance speech was planned (“I won a contest once or twice and never felt like that, that urge to celebrate,” said Mason) and what we can expect in the future, as the surf world watches Mason and Burger continue to help each other succeed, rousting each other every step of the way.
How did you guys meet in the first place?
Mason: I remember my Dad would always go to your house, Burger. Plus, your Dad always had super good food for us to eat.
Burger: Yeah my Dad could cook really good food, you know, BBQ. Mason liked that I was the fat kid.
Mason: Burger and his 3 brothers, they were just classic. Super funny. I can remember hanging out with him one afternoon for really the first time and the next morning I woke up thinking ‘Am I going to cruise with Burger today?’ Suddenly he appeared outside and said ‘Mase!’ and I said ‘Burgs what’s up!’ and he said ‘let’s surf!’ I would only boogieboard but Burger was always out there surfing. After I surfed with Burger for the first time, I told myself that I was going to do this every single day. That was the only time our parents would let us go somewhere by ourselves, and we’d sneak off to the beach and hide in a bush and surf all day. Things haven’t really changed since. We’d play at the beach for 6 hours a day. I’d sleep at Burger’s house, and we’d wake up, fill our backpacks with raw salmon, two towels and be at the beach, from 6 in the morning to 6 at night.
Burger: Yeah, there was a bush we’d post up in, and anytime anyone brought us food, like plate lunches, they’d be gone instantly.
Burger, what was your first impression of Mason?
Burger: We’d always be doing BBQs, and we’d surf Shores. Mason was cool, he was good at everything. I’m not kissing his ass, he was just really talented. He’d go to the skatepark and drop in barefoot and only a couple of guys, like Kalani David, John John Florence, can do things like that, not surf for weeks and go out and do the gnarliest move in the water. Mason has natural talent that you can’t teach. Something else I learned early on was how competitive he was. Football, soccer, hide and seek, horse, anything, he’d hate to lose. He’d get so eggy if he didn’t win, and wouldn’t let you walk away from the board game if he lost. He’d say ‘best out of three’ and things like that. Just unreal. With him and Coco, they had a backgammon board and they would snap at each other, that’s how competitive they were. When I did win, I would get rousted.
What are some other grom memories you guys have?
Burger: Hanging out at the Gerry house and doing things around the contest. I remember we’d steal cases of Mountain Dew because they used to sponsor the Pipe Masters. Mason, Cru Suratt and I would go watch the Pipe Masters from the Volcom house. As a kid, I was starstruck. All the boys were in the house, from Johnny Boy to Bruce and Andy, the gnarliest guys. You dream of being like them, you know? So Mason and I, we’d play hide and seek in the house and I remember the boys saying ‘hey, who’s this fat kid’ and Mason backing me saying ‘that’s my friend Cheeseburger’, because I was the quiet kid. Bruce and Andy would say ‘yeah Cheeseburger come over here and massage my shoulders, be my good luck charm and caddy for me.’ Back then, they still let caddies out in the channel at the comp. I said ‘nope I’m good’ but they were like ‘no you’re caddying for us let’s go!’ so I had to caddy for them. The year Bruce won the Pipe Masters, he gave me his winning jersey and a gold Nixon watch. I wore that red jersey in the water every day, I wouldn’t leave home without it and I wouldn’t surf without it. Something happened to it, someone stole it or something and I was so bummed, but I just remember being starstruck, watching guys psyching up to surf firing Pipe and all we could think about was how to get the sodas.
Mason: Yeah, at the contests we’d dig a hole under where they kept the food and we’d steal cases of Mountain Dew. We’d then bury it and hide it in the sand. The contest guys, they’d figure out they were missing soda so they would make the barricade tighter and we’d dig deeper and even be under the podium. My Dad would see all this soda afterwards and he’d say ‘where is your stash? Leave that in the fridge!’
Burger: Another time Johnny Boy taught me how to roll craps at the Gerry house. I’d be watching and he said ‘hey come here boy’ and I said ‘oh no Uncle’ and he said ‘hey hurry up boy get over here’ and he taught me everything. I went from no money to having $40. When you’re 8 or 10, that’s a lot of money. Especially when Kammi’s Market was still open with the dollar pizza, free drink and 10 cent Laffy Taffy.
Mason: Nowadays, we make money still because of that. When Burger has the dice, I know he has the mojo because Johnny Boy taught him what to do so I’ll put more money down.
Burger: It’s not wise to bet against Johnny Boy.
You guys had a front row seat to all the legendary Pipe Masters. What other memories come to mind during this time that you guys cherish?
Mason: Yeah, that was when we were 12 or 13. I still remember when I was 11 or 12, Andy and all those guys were priming at the comps. During one Pipe Masters, I had staples in my foot and it healed in like 4 or 5 days. I’d ask my Dad if the contest was on. When it was, he’d tell me ‘you’re going to school, go study’ and I would say ‘my foot hurts so bad’ and he’d let me stay home. It was completely healed, but I kept the bandages on just so I could stay home and watch the action.
Burger: My Dad didn’t care what contest was on, I had to go to school.
Mason: We begged your Dad to let you off!
Burger: I remember your Dad rousting my Dad saying ‘don’t make him go to school, let him watch the contest’ and I’d say ‘yeah Dad, listen to Uncle Mike!’
Mason: I went into the Gerry house and I was jumping 3 feet in the air and then someone would turn a corner and see me messing around and I’d pretend that my foot was hurting, and they’d say ‘don’t worry, I won’t tell your Dad,’ just laughing at me, this grom totally faking it.
What about in the water? What was it like to be in water when you guys were growing up?
Burger: One time I was surfing Haleiwa, and I was so stoked to see Mason paddling out that I actually started paddling towards him and just ran him over.
Mason: Burger was always ahead of his time, surfing before everyone else and wearing helmets. We were all afraid he’d run us over at Shores. Even girls from school…if we saw Burger surfing, we’d yell ‘watch out for Burger!’ But we weren’t calling him that yet. It was still Keoni. Burger is the one who got me off the boogie board and onto a surfboard.
How did that come about?
Burger: My Dad pushed me early, so I was always asking Mason to go surf. I remember Mason finally said yes and he grabbed one of his Dad’s magic boards and dragged it through the street until we got to the beach. It was a squash tail, and by the time we got there it was a round pin. I’ve tried to push him, he used to not surf Pipe and I said you can do it, and he’s so good out there.
Where did the Cheeseburger name come from?
Mason: When I was 9 years old, I went to Maui and surfed the comp that was in memory of someone named Cheeseburger. When I heard it, I told myself that I was going home and going to call my best friend Cheeseburger everyday. Yeah, when he was young he ate everything on the planet. But you could call him anything and he’d start laughing. I’d yell ‘Hey Sammy let’s surf!’ and he’d start laughing. When we first started calling him that, I’d yell ‘Burger’ and at the Volcom house all the boys would be yelling ‘yeah Burger!’ It was a laugh attack. And then we got older and the …Lost guys were all stoked on it, they were our first real sponsor. They’d only put the name Cheeseburger on the ads. I’d be over at their office and they’d be making the ads…saying ‘you think he’ll get mad at us if we just put Cheeseburger?’ Everybody was wondering what his name was.
Burger, did you hate the nickname? Like it?
Burger: The whole time, I was just baffled, but I mean I was a big kid. One day I was with Mason and everyone and I was eating a cheeseburger at Ted’s, and Mason’s Mom said “oh that’s a perfect name for you!” I remember thinking “are you kidding me?” From then on, I couldn’t get rid of it, no matter how hard I tried. Now, I don’t mind it because I’m so used to it. Sometimes Mason calls me Keoni and I’m wondering if I did something wrong, like if I broke one of his magic boards or put a finger imprint in one of them. Everyone says I lost the cheese, so now I’m just Burger.
How did your surfing evolve from there?
Mason: We surfed every day. We went from Burger running over everyone at Haleiwa and Shores to V Land…
Burger: Then we went to Sunset, discovered Rocky Point, and we made our way down to Pipe. We’ve had that bond from early on, and when you know someone before they’re big time like Mason is now, you always have a relationship and that bond.
Burger, are you surprised with Mason’s success? Or it’s been in the works the whole time?
Burger: Mason is finally getting what he deserves. I knew this was coming, it’s not something new. Everyone’s so surprised by what he does in and out of the water, but this has been going on for years. He’s a real, he’s true. …Lost had a big part in that, they were the first company that saw Mason and stepped up and hyped everything up.
Talk us about how License to Chill grew into what it is.
Mason: Joe Alani, Rory Pringle and Burger…we all kept piling footage together, and after I switched from …Lost to RipCurl, we needed an outlet for the footage. It dwindled into a web series. It was never “we need a clip of you waxing board” or “Burger go put sunscreen on Coco’s back.” It’s…Burger naturally putting sunscreen on Coco’s back. The whole thing was unscripted…until we started scripting it. For the most part, Joe and I would be playing with it, Burger would chime in, Joe knows how to put that movie touch in it. I’ll come in as a second filter guy, then we show Burger and he’s the final draft guy. Rory just keeps the camera rolling the whole time. He has the eye of what everyone wants. He knows what to look for, knows when to turn on the camera and how to get everyone talking.
Burger: Yeah, if you can get a filmer like that…and the editing, that’s the hardest part. The surfing is the easiest. Rory always is in your face with a camera. But its sly, I’ll be cruising on the couch and I’ll see him on the computer and the next second I look up and the camera is pointed at me.
And that beat out John John Florence’s web series at the Surfer Awards in 2016.
Burger: How did we beat John John?
Mason: I’ve seen wrong results my whole life but this was the right result. They got it right.
The awards speech, was that like the series: unplanned?
Burger: It just happened.
Mason: We played Jerusalem by Alpha Blondy, the mellowest song, on the way there and when we arrived, it was the opposite.
Burger: I didn’t think we were going to win and beat out John John…
Mason: I won a contest once or twice and never felt like that, that urge to celebrate. I remember winning that award and it feeling different.
Burger: Has John John had a World Title party yet? It’s been like two months, hasn’t it?
Mason: He did celebrate. We weren’t invited. He went sailing. I was checking Haleiwa, it was pretty junk and I looked the other way saw his boat taking off. I was like ‘there’s the party!’ I saw the shimmering trophy going out and I’m like ‘no I want to be with you guys, I know you’re going to find some waves. Burger better not be on there!’
Burger: Yeah it’s crazy that we won, we’ve grown up with him. But he deserved it. Everything’s crazy today, too. Trump is President!
Mason: So over Trump.
Burger: Go Trump! Nah nah.
Mason: My Dad would snap talking about Trump. The new thing is to see how long in the day he can go without mentioning Trump. I’ll wake up and hear him say ‘oh turn off the TV Trump just f@&*%$ up again, I’m going to go surf!’ I told him ‘Dad it doesn’t really matter’ and he’s like ‘you don’t understand, it does matter. He’s making me surf more, because he’s pissing me off!’
And you guys are social media stars. What’s the origins of your Instagram names: Cocom4debarrelkilla and BurgerinParadise?
Mason: Coco started mine and Burger’s. Well, I just wanted my name barrel killer. So it’s Coco made and the 4 is an A. Coco made barrel killer. I was too shy to claim barrel killa, so I thought if Instagram is one of those lame things, I’ll blame it on Coco.
Burger: The only reason I have Instagram is to keep sponsors happy. I didn’t have an Instagram. I didn’t even make my name until everyone started using the hashtag Burger in Paradise.
What does the future hold for you two?
Burger: Mason’s headed off to the comp in Australia in March, and we might do a trip in April. We’re planning something to take over the world… Working on a few more projects, keep having fun and hopefully everyone will enjoy the videos and enjoy the most interesting surfer – Mason – and his vibe and a couple of my random clips in there. Hopefully, big things.