Ask Mason Ho about his Tommy Peterson-shaped Fireball Fish and he blushes.
“It’s a deep one for me. My dad used to hang with him and MP back in the day,” says Mason. “Every time I see Tommy I’m like, ‘What’s up uncle?!’ I’ll ask him about whatever I’m kind of into at the time. Last year at the Bells event I saw him, and because I’d been watching ’Searching For Tom Curren,’ I wanted to know about the board Curren was riding.”
The board Mason is referring is the mythic 5’7” Fireball Fish on which Curren shattered boundaries in maxing Bawa back in 1994. Thick with square, boxy rails, the board’s signature feature is a set of channels that are carved through the belly, but rather than running throughout the board, the channels abruptly end with a step in front of the fins before the tail goes flat.
So Mason asked Uncle Tommy about the board and “he ended up making me one in three days. It was fully done in three days. It has a lot of sentimental value.”
But the Fireball Fish has much more than sentimental value. Tommy Peterson’s genius is a tie that binds some of surfing’s most inspiring performers.
It goes without saying, but in their heyday in the mid ‘70s the brothers Peterson were a force. MP was putting in the most radical performances on the most radical equipment, and Tommy was right there in the shaping room and in the water with him. The trend of stylish, aggressive performances on cutting-edge, unorthodox equipment was born.
Skip ahead some 20 years and by the early ‘90s Curren was on the same trajectory. Growing bored with winning on tour, he walked away from competition to go exploring the inner most limits of fun on a range of innovative boards. On a now-famous Rip Curl Search venture to Indo in 1994 (organized by Derek Hynd), Curren applied the 5’7” to great effect. (He also had a 5’9” Fireball Fish, as well as boards shaped by Maurice Cole, Al Merrick and Dave Parmenter). Sonny Miller jockeyed the camera and history was made. Both Bawa and Sonny Miller are now gone, but the footage continues to stand the test of time.
As the story goes, Peterson originally intended the board for the Gold Coast’s Jay Phillips, but when Curren and South African Frankie Oberholzer came through Coolangatta and the young Phillips was already on his way to a pro junior at Bells he lost his claim to the board.
But here’s where the story takes a turn. Shortly after the Search trip, Curren was back in Australia, enjoying the New South Wales points and doing some design experimentation with Mark Thomson—father of Daniel Thomson and occasional co-conspirator with minds like George Greenough and Bob McTavish. Before leaving the Thomson household, Curren gifted the Fireball Fish to young Daniel. (It should also be pointed out that Daniel grew up riding one of MP’s personal single-fins).
Tangentially, in 1991 Daniel and a mop-top Kelly Slater first crossed paths in the parking lot at Lennox Head when Daniel’s father was doing some work with Quik. At the time and they “had some deep design rants with the king talking about extruded styro/carbon flex-tails and such,” recalls Daniel.
Nearly three decades passed before Tommy Peterson’s Fireball Fish resurfaced under the feet of Mason. And like Curren before him, Mason’s inspiring a generation of surfers to look at waves—big and small—a little bit different.
These days Peterson is semi-retired, but the design wheel keeps on turnin’.
“The thing is, it’s about more than a surfboard. It’s like this little piece of living history,” says Mason.