Juxtaposing each surfer’s dry reef barrel riding highlights the unique aspects of each approach and lets their regional flavor percolate.
Surfing’s regionalism bogs out in solipsistic localism at its worst. But at its best, regionalism trumpets regional heroes and ushers them into the mainstream. Local legends capable of distilling regional style and resonating with a global audience fuel regional debates and empower surf identities through identification. Mason Ho and Clay Marzo represent O‘ahu and Maui. Through severe, stylized approaches, each surfer performs their respective roots en route to widespread acclaim. These are local chefs mastering distinct archetypes of surf cuisine, thereby earning a show on the Food Network. Juxtaposing each surfer’s dry reef barrel riding highlights the unique aspects of each approach and lets their regional flavour percolate.
Mason Ho’s high Revolution Per Minute speech and movement patterns, paired with his big, easy smile, give the impression that a bobblehead from a Waikiki ABC Store came to life. From birth, a mobile of macking Pipeline dangled over Ho’s crib; a spitting, frothing, family-heirloom. A mini-grom revving on the sand at Ehukai while Dad and Uncle Derek charged, Young Mason imbibed the nuances of the wave, entertained crowds of tourists with frenetic on-beach antics, and internalized proper technique for interview responses.
Getting away from the crowds on O‘ahu necessitates unearthing novelty waves and becoming the best at riding them. But after the session is over, The Rock is still crawling with mobs of tourists, transplants, and locals. Ho wields his overabundance of aloha to disarm human throngs and media prongs. The casual air of his aloha arises from confident reliance on a tried-and-true Ho family secret sauce of surf/life balance. The grinning bobblehead carries a ‘hang loose’ attitude and corresponding shaka because it understands more than it cares to share.
Growing up on a rock while clocking gross quantities of tube time, it is providential that Ho thrives when skittering among dry reef like a giant waterbug (if waterbugs could make an “Oh face” in the tube). Risking life, limb, and fresh Mayhem’s to run a gauntlet of razor-sharp reef—while getting spit out of a sparkling slab—is the consummate small-wave endeavour for a surfer of Ho’s pedigree.
On a wave, Ho appears single-minded in his pursuit at the same time that he remains vigilant for any shift enabling a contortion that will please his audience more and feel better. Ho is happy where he is, but he could always be somewhere a little better: deeper in the barrel, closer to the exit, trimming tighter, flying higher. Shot from the beach, Ho’s edits let viewers imagine they understand why Ho makes the choices he makes on waves, while preserving a reverential distance. Those are rocks Ho is surfing on, and as much as viewers might ‘get it,’ even on video, viewers are best served to remain on the beach. Watching Ho provides a gripping, visceral thrill because each looming second bears the promise of the unexpected. Ho feels fast-paced, like O‘ahu or like a video optimized to captivate viewers with short attention spans.
The North Shore of O‘ahu and Maui’s upper west side are as divergent as Marzo’s goofy steeze and Ho’s regular-footed stance. Where Mason Ho seems to surf mysterious breaks to get away from crowds on the Seven Miracle Miles of world-class waves that is the North Shore, Clay Marzo seems to surf mysterious novelty breaks because there is only one non-novelty break of note on Maui. Like Ho, Marzo’s dance on a surfboard and interactions on land are products of his environment.
Life is slower on Maui. The surf contests are small. The world-class wave(s) are less world-class. Honolua is Maui’s wave par excellence. But there is little beach to speak of at Honolua. This geological fact inhibits socializing and compromises collective viewing. At Honolua, the most comfortable place to sit is in the car. Alone. In the crowded lineup, heavy vibes can kill socializing. There aren’t many clips of Clay Marzo surfing Honolua these days because he hates crowds.
Watching Marzo in The Dry Reefer, viewers get the sense that slow-motion approximates the way Marzo sees waves. Whereas Ho in real time feels sped up and imagining Ho in slow motion seems like it would put his surfing and energy in disharmony, Marzo in slow motion feels true. The Dry Reefer apes quintessential surf edits, but is off-kilter. While the Pixies’ Where is My Mind? theoretically belongs in a surf movie, the piano version, at first pass, does not. In practice though, the piano rendition pairs with Marzo the way his strength blends with flexibility. Through Adam Klevin's water shots, The Dry Reefer becomes intimate and immersive. There are no rocks or other barriers between Marzo and the viewer. Floating in the water with Marzo as another dredger rolls through, the titular dry reef scowls at the takeoff and the menace of the piano redoubles the drama.
Even in slow motion, conceptualizing how Marzo is able to sweep his feet under himself on the popup and lock his fins on line with the lip bearing down on him and the reef licking its lips taxes the viewer’s mental faculties. In a backside super-crouch, reaching over his back foot to drag his hands and stall as a laid back pretzel, Marzo maximizes his time in the shade.
Clay Marzo and Mason Ho favour similar ingredients, but they operate at different temperatures. Both are cookin’.