"I'm so stoked, I did not expect to win any QS events this year," Mason Ho said after claiming the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro in 2020. "I mean it's always the plan, it's been a plan for life, but to actually do it is such a cool feeling. It has always been a dream of mine."

That was back in March, just before the pandemic hit and all plans soon went out the window. Eighteen months on, that win for Ho has now taken on a whole new meaning. The 1,000 ratings points propelled him to the top of the 2020 Hawaiian /Tahiti Nui region rankings, which in turn has gained him a coveted spot in the four-event Challenger Series, starting with the US Open of Surfing Huntington Beach presented by Shiseido.

Watch Mason Ho Win the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro
1:14
Mason Ho claims his second-ever QS victory over Eli Hanneman in more pumping conditions on Finals day at Rangiroa.

Of course, before Ho turned into the freewheeling Searcher regarded as everyone's favorite surfer, his big dream was to make the Championship Tour. He surfed on the QS full-time from 2011 to 2017, with a career-high finish of 64 in 2013. One of the most talented surfers of his generation, he sometimes struggled to fit his out-of-the-box surfing into the stricter confines of gnarly four-man Qualifying Series heats often held in small conditions.

So, instead of trying to follow in the footsteps of dad, Mike, World Champion Uncle, Derek, and little sister Coco, he turned his considerable talents to freesurfing. The results have been some of the most stunning entertaining, and smile-inducing surfing done by anyone on the planet.

"Building an incredible diverse quiver of boards so that Mason could go out and paint Salvador Dalis has been as a total sidebar bonus to my career and design life," said his long-time shaper Matt Biolos of Lost Surfboards. "He paints pictures and draw new lines on waves, and then rips out a new edit. I really think he has been the lockdown World Champ."

Now though, in part due to the cancellation of events throughout 2020 and 2021, the 31-year-old finds himself back in the pointy end of elite surf competition in the Challenger Series. With one of those four events at home in Hawaii, the venue of his only other QS win back in 2016, he might just dare to dream again.

Sure, it's a long shot. The field's depth of talent, and the level of competitiveness, could be a shock after a few years of hunting barrels and good times. With his first heat featuring next-gen rippers Reef Heazlewood, Crosby Colapinto and Joao Chianca, he won't have any time to adjust. Huntington's beachbreaks also may curtail the inventiveness that makes him one of the world's most compelling surfers.

Yet, given the man's talent, it would be madness to discount him entirely. Or maybe we should just take a leaf out of Mason's playbook, and simply forget about the destination and enjoy the trip. The Challenger Series could be one of the last opportunities to see one of the sport's true characters competing at the highest level. Whatever happens, with Mase involved, it's bound to be entertaining.

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