WHEN 25-year-old Mason Ho took to the building swell at Surfest yesterday, he was riding with the committed passion of a wave warrior from the North Shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
His father, Michael Ho, was a celebrated pro surfer, as was his uncle, Derek Ho, who won the world championship in 1993.
His sister, Coco Ho, is also a professional surfer with a string of contest wins.
And, as Ho acknowledges, he and the rest of the global surfing world owe a legacy to the legendary Hawaiian waterman Duke Kahanamoku, whose demonstrations of boardriding in Australia in the summer of 1914-15 did a lot to popularise the sport, and is now the stuff of mythology.
Kahanamoku even made it to Newcastle, during the second week of February in 1915.
He was here primarily as an Olympic swimmer and world champion but, as surfing author Phil Jarratt writes in his new book about the Duke, titled That Summer at Boomerang, Kahanamoku’s exploits on the long wooden surfboards of his day ‘‘came to symbolise Australia’s coming of age as a sporting and leisure culture’’.
The tour was complicated by Australia’s increasing involvement in the Great War, but the exotic Hawaiian was a star attraction.
A photograph of Freshwater Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches, where Kahanamoku demonstrated his ‘‘surf shooting’’ prowess on Christmas Eve, 1914, shows a scattering of huts in the dunes, and hundreds gathered on the sand to watch.
It seems Duke didn’t catch a wave in Newcastle but he did swim a race at the Newcastle ocean baths on Wednesday, February 10, 1915, in what Jarratt describes as lashing rain and a vicious onshore wind.
Ninety-nine years on, the wind was only mildly onshore early yesterday afternoon as Ho finished second in his heat, enough to carry him through to surf another day.
‘‘Me being a surfer, Duke was always my hero,’’ Ho said after his heat. ‘‘He’s everyone’s hero. If I get in a difficult situation in the water, in big waves, where you think you might die, I always think of the Duke.’’
One of 16 or so Hawaiians here for Surfest, Ho says the ‘‘Aloha’’ spirit of ‘‘compassion’’ and of ‘‘giving more than you receive, but not backing down’’, is alive and well.
And like the Duke all those years ago, he’s having a great time in Australia.