Mason Barnes in Conversation with Koa Rothman

KOA: Okay, me and Mason are doing an interview for Juice and while we’re talking to each other, we’re going to have a couple of questions for each other. It’s going to be great. I go first. It’s an actual            question. It’s not funny. 

MASON: I’m scared. [Laughs]

KOA: [Laughs] No. It’s real. I’ve been really curious and I don’t know why I haven’t asked you this, because I stay with you every time I come here to California. I come from a place where big waves and big wave surfing is a thing. You come from a place in North Carolina where I don’t hear about big wave surfing, so how did you get into it? I got into it because my family and I live right in front of a big wave. How did you get into it?

MASON: Well, there are no big waves in North Carolina, but there are great waves. There are world class waves. There are hollow waves, fun waves, but no big waves. The first big wave I ever surfed was in Hawaii when I was 14. That’s how I got into it, just going there every year. It would be a big gap in between trips, where I wasn’t getting to surf big waves. As I started to like it more, I would spend more time in Hawaii. That was the entry point. 

KOA: So we were both in Hawaii when we got into big wave surfing. 

MASON: Yeah. It’s still my favorite place to surf big waves.

KOA: Mine too. You don’t need a thick wetsuit. All you need is your trunks, your pull vest, your board and your balls. Can’t forget those. That’s all you need and wax. You need a lot of wax.

MASON: Exactly. 

KOA: Okay. In North Carolina, it gets super cold when the waves get good. Was there ever a time where you didn’t want to be a surfer because of the cold water?

MASON: No. Never.

KOA: Because I jumped in the water here in Venice today and I wouldn’t be a surfer if it was this cold all the time.

MASON: Well, it’s all relative. Here, I was freezing today because we weren’t prepared to be cold. There you’re ready to be cold, so you have everything you need to not be cold, so you’re not cold. On the coldest day of the year, the water is in the high 30s, and the air is like 20 degrees. You’re so prepared with these thick wetsuits that you’re sweating. I was more cold wearing a 2mm in Venice today than I am in the middle of winter in North Carolina. I get more cold in Hawaii, honestly.

MASON HYCE BARNES AT WAIMEA. PHOTO © CHRISTA FUNK

KOA: I get cold in Hawaii too. No one believes me. 

MASON: That’s just because it’s Hawaii and you expect to be warm and it’s not that warm. 

KOA: Yeah. In the winter, it gets chilly, especially when the north winds roll through. That water gets cold. Okay, those are my two questions for you.

MASON: Those are good questions. I was very curious what those were going to be. [Laughs] 

KOA: No. They were real. 

MASON: Where is your favorite big wave?

KOA: My favorite big wave is Himalayas in front of where you live in Hawaii because it’s the best left ever.

MASON: That’s a good call. That wave is insane.

KOA: We go to so many big waves that are just rights. The best left there is, I think, that I’ve seen footage of, is out there, besides Cloudbreak. 

MASON: I remember the first clip I ever saw out there was you. That was a long time ago.

KOA: Yeah. That was my first big wave session ever. I know which wave you’re talking about. 

MASON: It was a bomb. 

KOA: I got sponsored by Quiksilver from that. 

MASON: You were in the barrel. It was crazy. 

KOA: It was like a pocket ride.

MASON: That was before I ever surfed any outer reefs. I was like, “That was crazy!” 

KOA: That was before there were pull vests. I got that wave and I think I was 17 years old and we were all talking and the wave pulls you in a little bit and we weren’t paying attention. Next thing you know, here’s this giant set. It was the first time, to this day, and the only time, that we all dove underwater and you could hear everyone’s leashes and boards   breaking. I came up and everyone that got caught  inside, in the entire line up, needed a rescue. It was like 15 people. My leash broke. I was so beyond scared. It was the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. Luckily, I was with Reef McIntosh and he could tell that I was dying. I was so scared I couldn’t get a breath. He said, “Bro, just relax.” I said, “Okay, I’m trying.” 

MASON: Was this after you came up?

KOA: Yeah. It was like a five wave set. It was my first actual beating on a big wave. It was intense. I had a skinny little float vest because I was a grom. Everyone else was just trunking it. 

MASON: That’s crazy to think about.

KOA: That’s why it’s one of my favorite waves too because you can just trunk it. 

MASON: Those pull vests changed the game. 

KOA: They have saved a lot of lives.

MASON: Yeah. They’re much more comfortable too.

KOA: You have like six in your closet. 

MASON: I only use one. [Laughs] If anyone needs an extra one, talk to this guy. 

“I started off knowing nothing about big waves. I barely knew they existed. I was just surfing knee to waist high little chop on the East Coast. I got very fortunate and I met Garrett McNamara when I was 14 and he took me and my dad towing in. It was small waves, but they were big waves for me. Looking back now, they were tiny. Just getting the feel of riding a tow board and whipping into waves that are far off the beach, it hooked me. From then on, I just wanted more and more bigger waves.” – MASON BARNES

JUICE: How did you guys meet?

KOA: Mason just told me a story the other day. His dad and my dad are good friends. I didn’t know. He just told me the first time we met, he came over with his dad to our house.

MASON: Nah. I came over by myself to look at Da Hui product. I was in your living room with your dad and you walked downstairs. I don’t even think we talked. You were just like, “What is this kid doing with my dad?” That was the look I got. I didn’t actually meet you for another two years.

KOA: Then we did a couple of trips together and became really good friends. 

JUICE: What was the first trip you did together?

KOA: It was maybe Africa. 

MASON: That was the best trip ever. 

KOA: When you talk about the longest travel, that was it. 48 hours. 

MASON: Best waves ever.

KOA: Then we went to Fiji. 

MASON: Actually, Fiji was before Africa. We went from Fiji to South Africa and the rest is history.

KOA: Now I basically live here with Mason in Venice, California. 

MASON: He’s a Venice local. 

KOA: Yeah. It’s sick. It’s a great place. 

KOA ROTHMAN AND MASON BARNES IN VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIA – PHOTO © DAN LEVY

JUICE: Talk about the vibes in different places when you go traveling to surf? 

KOA: You know what I find super funny is that you can go to some perfect waves on the planet and no one is out. It’s hard to find, but there is. Then I come to Venice or I go to Rocky Point on the North Shore and I’m getting attacked for any shitty little wave that comes through. I can’t even get a wave. I’m like, “How can it be like this really?” 

MASON: Where I’m from, in Wilmington, North Carolina, it’s the most crowded beach to surf on the planet. There’s this island called Masonboro and, on a weekend, if the waves are good, there will be 400 people out.

KOA: That’s like Snapper Rocks.

MASON: It’s shoulder to shoulder. It’s worse because it’s not a point break. They’re all condensed. It’s crazy. 

KOA: So you never get a wave by yourself?

MASON: I mean, you do.

KOA: What about when it’s good? 

MASON: When it’s good, it’s usually cold and it takes a lot more effort.

JUICE: Isn’t there a shark channel over to Masonboro?

MASON: Oh yeah. You have to paddle there over a big inlet and there are a lot of sharks. 

KOA: Great whites?

MASON: No. It’s hammerheads, so it’s not that bad. Supposedly they can’t really bite you, but if they want to bite you, they’re going to get you. 

KOA: Are there great whites? That’s a stupid question. There would be. 

MASON: Well, I didn’t really know there were great whites there, but there are great whites everywhere.

JUICE: Have you ever had any close encounters?

KOA: I’ve been too close where it got us out of the water. Mason, you weren’t on this trip. We were in South Australia and we had just got to this sick little wave and we got out and everyone else went in. We got lucky and it was me and three people out. It was this perfect wave and we were stoked. It was firing. The next thing we know, we see a giant great white half a football field out from us completely breach. It was attacking something, but it missed. It was completely out of the water and we all looked at each other like, “Holy fuck!” We just all scratched it. It was so scary. That thing was huge. In that town, there are great white sculptures everywhere, like this is a real size great white never caught before. 

MASON: That’s so sketchy.

KOA: Have you ever seen a shark in Hawaii?

MASON: I had the worst experience of my life in Hawaii. I was surfing Hammerheads and my leash broke. The wave is probably a mile out and I had to swim all the way in and it’s the longest swim ever. I was about halfway in after about 15 minutes of swimming and a shark just starts eating a fish or something right next to me. It was almost hitting me. I had no one around and no board. I was just floating there. I didn’t know what to do. I just put my head down and kept swimming. Luckily, it never bugged me, but I have never felt so hopeless in my entire life. It was the worst. I got to the beach and I was literally kissing the sand. I was so scared for the rest of that swim. I was just looking behind me, feeling like this thing was following me. It must have got what it wanted. It was chowing down next to me. 

KOA: That’s a heart attack right there. 

MASON: I was so scared. Now every time I surf there, that’s all I think about. I don’t usually surf there.

KOA: You do surf the sharkiest place in Hawaii. I don’t surf there because it’s so sharky. I stick to the North Shore with the crowds. 

MASON: Yeah. It’s scary. It’s rare that I go there. 

All I wanted to do was surf big waves. Where I grew up, in front of my house is Phantoms, so I grew up watching my brother and his friends surf big waves constantly. When I was 6 to 10, every time they went out, I wanted to go with them. They were like, “No, you’re not ready. You’re nowhere near ready.” I finally got a tow board when I was 14 years old and they took me on this thing and I got a couple of waves. That was my dream come true at the time. That was when towing was the thing.”  – KOA ROTHMAN

JUICE: What is your daily like life these days?

MASON: We eat six times a day and drink coffee about three times a day and we’ll go to the gym and we’ll surf. We might party. 

KOA: I shit a lot. I haven’t met somebody who shits a lot before and this kid shits just as much as me. [Laughs]

MASON: We run out of so much toilet paper. We go through like six rolls a week. Now I’m having sewage problems at my house. I don’t know if it’s from us shitting too much or it’s just a coincidence. [Laughs]

JUICE: Do you guys eat healthy?

KOA: I do my best to eat healthy. 

MASON: We eat at Erewhon a lot and they make unhealthy food “healthy.” I’m not sure if it is healthy, but it tastes great. 

KOA: I’m beginning to think it might not be healthy.

MASON: I think that’s why we’re going to the bathroom so much. It’s close, so we go there all the time, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, coffee… 

JUICE: What was it like growing up in Hawaii, Koa?

KOA: It was perfect. It’s a great place to grow up. It’s easy to get sucked into bad things, like a lot of people do, so I’m lucky I didn’t get sucked into it. I found other things to do. It’s great. I can’t complain. I’ve been all over the world in the past few years and I still have not found a place better than Hawaii, all around, the food, the people, the waves and the culture. It’s not third world. You can drink the water and people aren’t getting shot in the streets. You’re not taking a boat ride way out in some lagoon or some crazy place. The weather is the perfect temperature too.

JUICE: Mason, your dad is a skater and a surfer. Koa, your dad and your brother surf. Did you feel pressure to surf? 

KOA: I had a lot of pressure to become a surfer. 

MASON: He probably felt a lot of pressure because he’s got his dad and brother. I grew up in the skateboarding world, so they didn’t have expectations for me to surf. I started at a young age and had a lot of support. I feel more pressure now than I did then, because I gotta make it happen now. If I don’t, I’m gonna have to find something else to do, so I’m trying as hard as I can to make it happen. 

“I grew up in the skateboarding world, so they didn’t have expectations for me to surf. I started at a young age and had a lot of support. I feel more pressure now than I did then, because I gotta make it happen now. If I don’t, I’m gonna have to find something else to do, so I’m trying as hard as I can to make it happen.” – MASON BARNES 

KOA: You’re doing a great job.

MASON: Thank you. You are too. 

JUICE: You both are. You’re your own people. You have your own careers.

MASON: I look up to everything that Koa has done on the marketing side of surfing. Not many people capitalize on everything else. They do the surfing, but they don’t back it up outside of that. What he’s doing is so valuable and so rare, and it’s going to take him to another level. It’s going to put surfing on a worldwide map, opposed to that niche little surf industry. That’s what the sport needs. 

KOA: Thanks. That’s why I tell you to start your thing. 

MASON: I’m trying. I’m trying. 

JUICE: For you guys to do your own thing, it’s really awesome. 

KOA: Yeah. It’s nice. I don’t need anything to get me publicity now. I just put out a video on my channel and it’s seen by people. The numbers are there and the companies see that. That’s where the industry is going to go. 

MASON: That’s perfect. I think you started a new era of everything. I’ve been talking to sponsors and all they want me to do is something like you’re doing. 

JUICE: Uh oh.

KOA: [Laughs] Yes.

MASON: It won’t ever be a competition.

KOA: No. I tell all of my friends to do it.

JUICE: It’s access. It’s cool. When I watch your films, I call them films because they’re cinematic.

KOA: Thank you. I like to look at them as films too. I’m sure Jack does too. 

JUICE: You’re giving people access and then you’re showing them larger than life surfing footage. It’s cinematic and insane and then it’s right back to normal. It’s hard to do that with skateboarding because it’s hard to film skateboarding cinematically because it just looks weird. Surfing is so majestic.

KOA: Yeah. You can just film waves in slow motion or even fast and put that up. I just want to produce good stuff that people are psyched on.

JUICE: What’s your favorite thing to do besides surfing?

MASON: Training. Working out. Koa showed me a new work out the other day that pushed me to the limit. I’ve never had anything put me on the ground so quick. It’s pretty fun trying to do stuff like that and pushing each other. 

JUICE: What kind of work out was it?

KOA: It’s with a rowing machine and burpees. It’s basically a test of how long you can go and how fast you can get the calories and the amount of burpees. It only stops when you fail to get that amount.

MASON: You only last about seven minutes. 

JUICE: So you row and then do a burpee?

KOA: Yeah. You dictate it by calories. You row and try to get ten calories in one minute. You start the clock and then you have to get the calories in one minute and then you jump off and then, in minute two, you start doing ten burpees. You complete that in a minute, which is easy. Then you get back on the rower and you’ve got to get 12 calories, which is quite a few pulls. You only have a minute to finish that too. Then you jump on the ground and do 12 burpees for a minute. You keep doing that as far as you can get. We made it to 16. The goal is to get 20. It’s only 10 minutes if you can get 20. It’s a deadly work out. 

MASON: It’s torture. 

JUICE: How important is conditioning for you guys?

“You have to be in shape to deal with some of the waves we’re dealing with.” – KOA ROTHMAN

KOA: It’s super important. You have to be in shape to deal with some of the waves we’re dealing with. Oh, we did a trip to Mavs and we did a trip to Hawaii for Waimea. We did more trips than I thought.

MASON: There may be another snowboarding trip. 

KOA: Yeah. We did do a snowboarding trip. 

MASON: Let’s do that again. That was so fun.

JUICE: So you guys will ride any type of board?

MASON: Yeah. 

KOA: Except a skateboard.

JUICE: You don’t skate, Koa?

KOA: No. I used to be super into skating. Last time I skated, I broke my foot and I couldn’t surf for a while. I was skating barefoot. That was when I was like 14, but I’ll go skate. 

MASON: That’s what we’re doing. We’re getting him on a skateboard. Wait. Jack says no. Bad idea. 

JUICE: Mason, you grew up skating more than surfing. 

MASON: Yeah. I started off skating. I haven’t touched a skateboard in about six months though, unfortunately. I want to go skate. I’ve been craving to go skate. 

KOA: So you kill it.

JUICE: Mason is good. I’ve skated with Mason.

KOA: Can you do a kickflip?

MASON: I can, but I don’t do flip tricks really. My rule now is, if I go to the skatepark, I don’t let my wheels leave the ground. Down in Venice, all those guys are doing crazy stuff. 

JUICE: Yeah. It’s fun to just cruise around the snake run.

MASON: That thing is fun. It’s like a wave. 

JUICE: Yeah. It wasn’t even in the original plan of the park. Right before they started building, Jesse Martinez was like, “We need a snake run.” He just changed the plans. 

MASON: That was a great addition because that thing is so sick. It’s fun.

JUICE: Yeah. Do you want to put your sponsors out there? Who do you guys ride for?

KOA: I gotta shout out Quiksilver, Weedmaps, Ethika, Dakine and Da Hui. I love you guys. You make it all possible. And This Is Livin’. 

JUICE: This is Livin’ is your company, right?

KOA: Yeah. 

JUICE: What about you, Mason?

MASON: Billabong, Oakley, Ocean & Earth, Muzik Headphones and Isurus Wetsuits. 

JUICE: What gave you the idea to start your brand, Koa?

KOA: My fans wanted it. They were saying, “We want merch.” At first, I thought I couldn’t. I wanted to do it right and make clothing, so I had to ask Quiksilver. I’m like, “Hey, they’re asking for it. Do you want to do a collab with This is Livin’ and Quiksilver Edition?” They were like, “You can do it yourself. You can make t-shirts.” I was like, “Yeah. Okay. Done.” 

MASON: What made you start This Is Livin’?

KOA: That’s an interesting question. I started going heavy on the selfies on Instagram. [Laughs] Okay, I’m not kidding. This is completely honest. I had a break up and there was nothing on Instagram to see what I looked like, so I started posting selfies and people loved the selfies much more than the lifestyle stuff. I was doubling up on the surfing and selfies and I was searching around for different platforms and YouTube actually pays you. It’s not like Instagram where it’s just a bunch of likes. On YouTube, you can actually get paid. I was like, “Maybe I should start a YouTube channel.” Then I started doing some               research on athlete’s YouTube channels and there was nothing that portrays real surfing, besides Jamie’s. I had a couple of conversations with Jamie and he was like, “Just do it. You need to push out content.” I wanted to give people an in-depth look into a real pro surfer’s life and what it is, so I started doing weekly episodes. 

“I was like, “Maybe I should start a YouTube channel.” Then I started doing some research on athlete’s YouTube channels and there was nothing that portrays real surfing, besides Jamie’s. I had a couple of conversations with Jamie and he was like, “Just do it. You need to push out content.” I wanted to give people an in-depth look into a real pro surfer’s life and what it is, so I started doing weekly episodes.” – KOA ROTHMAN

JUICE: How did you get a filmer? 

KOA: I actually got Jack to quit his job. He was working for John John at the time. I made an edit with him a while back when I was 16. I was like, “I need someone to help me because I’m super bad at it.” It’s no one-man job. Jack is talented at filming and editing and he lives down the street, so I hit him up. I was like, “We’re going to travel and I’m going to buy this gear and do episodes every week. You can edit and film and do what you love for a living.” He was like, “Sick.” So he quit his job and came and worked with me for less money at first too. 

MASON: Sick. It’s hard to find someone like that.  

JUICE: That is sick. Was John John cool with it?

KOA: Yeah. He has a team of people. Jack and I spend so much time together. If we didn’t click, it probably wouldn’t have worked. 

JUICE: Now you’ve got this guy, Mason.

KOA: Yeah. Mason has been on every episode for the last few months. We should do one called “This is Mason!”

MASON: [Laughs] That’s hilarious. I’m not starting my own vlog. I’m just enjoying this.

KOA: Now any trip I’m going on, I’m like, “Hey, Mason, let’s go.” Or he’s like, “Mavs is looking good. Let’s go.” 

JUICE: How do you decide where to go? 

KOA: We just go wherever it’s going to be the best. 

MASON: The first thing I do every morning is look at the forecasts for certain places that are good this time of year. 

JUICE: What are your top five right now?

MASON: I look at Mavericks almost every day because it’s right there and it’s one of the best big waves on the planet. I look at the North Shore and Mavericks forecasts. 

JUICE: Mavericks is a scary wave. 

MASON: That wave is as scary as it gets. I think it’s the scariest wave in the world. I’ve never had a place beat me as bad as that place has. There is something that goes on underwater there. They say there is an underwater waterfall in a sense because it breaks on a shelf and then it drops off again right after the wave breaks underwater, so there is this flow of water probably ten feet down that is pushing off this ledge. If you fall right there, you’re going to get sucked so deep and it holds you there. There’s been catastrophic things happen there, more than other places. That’s all I think about when I’m surfing out there really. It’s hard not to. 

JUICE: What makes you want to keep going back?

MASON: You want to try stuff that’s scary and conquer your fear. You always want a better wave. It’s like skateboarding. You want to do something that’s cooler and different than anyone else. 

“You want to try stuff that’s scary and conquer your fear. You always want a better wave. It’s like skateboarding. You want to do something that’s cooler and different than anyone else.” – MASON BARNES 

JUICE: With skateboarding, the terrain doesn’t move.

MASON: Yeah. The Mega Ramp doesn’t fall on you.

JUICE: Did you start off with ambitions to surf big waves?

MASON: No. Not at all.

KOA: I did. All I wanted to do was surf big waves. Where I grew up, in front of my house is Phantoms, so I grew up watching my brother and his friends surf big waves constantly. When I was 6 to 10, every time they went out, I wanted to go with them. They were like, “No, you’re not ready. You’re nowhere near ready.” I finally got a tow board when I was 14 years old and they took me on this thing and I got a couple of waves. That was my dream come true at the time. That was when towing was the thing.  

JUICE: What got you into big wave surfing, Mason?

MASON: I started off knowing nothing about big waves. I barely knew they existed. I was just surfing knee to waist high little chop on the East Coast. I got very fortunate and I met Garrett McNamara when I was 14 and he took me and my dad towing in. It was small waves, but they were big waves for me. Looking back now, they were tiny. Just getting the feel of riding a tow board and whipping into waves that are far off the beach, it hooked me. From then on, I just wanted more and more bigger waves.

FOR THE REST OF THE STORY, GET ISSUE #77 AT THE JUICE SHOP HERE

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