Mason Ho (HAW) emerged victorious at the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro, a Men's QS 1,000, for his second career victory in pumping conditions at the pristine reef break of Rangiroa. One of Hawaii's most dynamic surfers went head-to-head with Maui's Eli Hanneman in the Final and the two put on a showcase of barrel-riding performances.
The Final started off slow but quickly ramped up into a back-and-forth battle as barrels pitched off the reef while Ho and Hanneman paddled against the current and exchanged rides. Ho earned a 6.83 for his opening wave as Hanneman scored a 4.83 but eventual victor Ho rid himself of this result by Final's end and went on to secure two excellent numbers for brilliant surfing.
A big exchange witnessed Hanneman get covered by Rangiroa's blue curtain and emerge after multiple sections for a near-excellent 7.70 midway through the heat. Ho answered right back with an 8.00 for his own barrel-excellence to control the Final before heading into the dying minutes where he posted another 8.83 -- the heat-best -- to claim his career-second QS victory.
"I'm so stoked, I did not expect winning any QS events this year," said Ho. "I mean it's always the plan, it's been a plan for life, but to actually do it is such a cool feeling and just to travel to a special place like Tahiti and get a result, let alone win, has always been a dream of mine.
"Eli is such a good competitor," added Ho. "When I was his age, I wasn't nearly that good, but I remember always learning stuff. Now that I'm not so young I don't have to hold all my knowledge. It's cool when you can learn it and pass it on but still do good."
Ho looked unstoppable after yesterday's perfect 10-point ride carried his momentum into his first QS finals day since 2017. The 31-year-old from Oahu's North Shore had an impressive road to victory, first by overcoming an in-form Ocean Macedo (HAW) in the Quarterfinals after the young Maui competitor jumped into the lead with 8.00. Ho was able to recover and finish strong heading into a massive Semifinal bout with Tahitian O'Neill Massin that witnessed more seesaw battles after Massin started with a near-perfect 9.00. But, Ho's ability to overcome adversity showed once more with a jaw-dropping 9.50 to take out Massin and all-but seal his career-fourth QS Final.
Hanneman's rhythm with the ocean was undeniable throughout the morning after eliminating Tahitian Heifara Tahutini Jnr. in a wave-for-wave Quarterfinal battle before a stout Semifinal against another Tahitian, Tereva David. Hanneman and David started off with a solid exchange before the ocean went silent for nearly the entirety of the heat, but Hanneman's control of priority proved the determining factor; the Maui surfer found himself on the winning side of a three-wave affair, earning a 7.77 and 7.33 over David's 6.77 heat total.
"I had a lot of fun heats and obviously second isn't first place but I had fun so that's all that matters," said Hanneman. "The current was really strong, but we got one jet ski ride out so that was nice. My goal is obviously to make the CT, but I'm just getting started on some events now, so I'm just going to keep moving forward and hopefully keep making heats."
Noteworthy Finishes for Tahitian Duo David and Massin
Tahiti was well-represented on finals day with David, Massin, Tahutini Jr. and Turo Ariitu all vying for a chance to bring the event title back to their native country. But it was not to be after Massin's battle with eventual winner Ho ended in defeat despite a near-perfect 9.00 start to the bout. The 2018 Hawaii/ Tahiti Nui QS Winner fought until the end with a last-ditch effort that saw him nearly come flying out of the barrel before being enveloped by the foamball. But Ho's 9.50 sealed his spot in the Final where he met Hanneman for an all-Hawaii match up.
David took down Ariitu in their Quarterfinal duel before the only wave-starved heat of the day unfolded against eventual runner-up, Hanneman. Both started with solid waves, including a 7.77 from Hanneman, but as the heat went nearly flat without another wave ridden, David was rendered waveless and unable to make a comeback.
The Tahitians will return to action alongside an international field at the Papara Pro Open Tahiti, a men's and women's QS 1,000, along with men and women Pro Juniors from March 9 - 13.
In other noteworthy news from the islands of Tahiti Nui, the infamous wave known as Teahupo'o was recently announced as the official venue for surfing in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Regarded as one of the heaviest left-handed reef breaks on the planet that produces perfect barreling waves, Teahupo'o will host both male and female Olympians nearly 9,500 miles away from Paris for a unique venue experience for both athletes and viewers.
"For surfing, Teahupo'o is a sacred place, rich in history and tradition and offering a truly authentic surfing experience, whilst paying homage to the culture and heritage of the sport," said Fernando Aguerre, President of the International Surfing Association in a statement to the press.
"Tahiti as the Olympic venue is testimony to Paris 2024's spirit of creativity and innovation. Surfing is a sport for the new era of the Games and this approach by Paris 2024 demonstrates how our values are aligned."