Derek Ho – Biography
The first Pipe Masters was held in 1971 while a 7 year-old Derek Ho played on the beach, digging holes and building castles in the sand. He had no idea he would someday rule the giant waves exploding on the reef 50 yards away. And rule he did! Derek Ho’s career was impressive. He achieved undisputed master status on the era’s ultimate wave and won the sport’s ultimate title. WhileHawaiiis blessed with some of the most powerful and abundant waves on the planet, very few Hawaiian born and bred surfers have reached the top of the professional surf rankings. In fact, none had ever achieved the feat until this small framed goofy foot with deep island roots made a name for himself in the barrel of one of the planet’s heaviest lefthanders and ignited a 15 year career on the world stage.
Derek Ho was born on September 26, 1964 on the east side of Oahu in the small town ofKailua. He was the second cousin of iconicHonoluluentertainer Don Ho and son of a former Waikiki Beach Boy who spent his youth wandering theSouthShorebeaches, surfing perfect reefbreaks, and soaking up the Pacific sunshine. Naturally, his two boys, Michael and Derek, would soon be surfing. With great waves surrounding the island, it wasn’t long until older brother Michael was ripping. Little Derek began surfing at the mere age of 3 and, like his brother, showed talent immediately. His early development was a family affair according to legendary surfboard shaper and surfing coach Ben Aipa. “From day one when his brother was yelling at him to come out and surf the break at Ala Moana and Derek was inside crying, Michael was a big part of the tutelage for Derek’s success.” Interestingly, many years later, the two brothers would go on to be the first siblings to place together in the elite Top 16.
As the brothers developed, Michael made the jump on to the International Professional Surfing (IPS) tour. He would go on to finish in the Top 16 for 10 consecutive seasons. Just a glimpse at his competition at the time speaks to the performance level of the era and the amount of great surfing a young Derek must have absorbed just by osmosis. Derek watched his brother compete against names like Rabbit Bartholomew, Shaun Tompson, and Mark Richards. Nevertheless, when he wasn’t honing his craft amid the shifting peaks of Sandy Beach, Derek was falling into common teenage traps of petty crime and drugs, even spending a short time in jail. But according to Jason Borte, “NorthShore godfather Brian Suratt intervened and got Derek to Japan for the 1982 Marui Open.” Ho made the semifinals and from that point on dedicated himself to professional surfing.
The following year, Ho finished 3rdplace at the 1983 Pipeline Masters, leaving him ranked 30th in the world and still shooting for the bar set by older brother, Michael. Derek handily hit his first target by winning the Hawaiian Triple Crown in 1984 (he would win that coveted title in ’86, ’88, and ’89). Hawaii was always where he shined brightest. Weighing in at around 130 pounds, Ho never relied on man-handling big waves. He instead respected their momentum, weaving in and out of the pocket with a smooth, pleasing style made up of full-bodied round-house cutbacks, vertical snaps, and, of course, a laser guided barrel riding approach. However, Ho ran hot and cold internationally. He was ranked as high as 2nd in 1989 and down to a low point of 36th in 1992, a year that saw a watershed shift in performance with the rise of newly crowned world champion Kelly Slater.
The following year, however, the title came down to Pipeline, and no one rode that wave like Derek Ho, who was then in 5th place. The race was wide open with such varied contenders as Kelly Slater, Gary Elkerton, Martin Potter, and Rob Machado vying for the title. Ho took the final event at perfect Pipe and became the 1st male Hawaiian and oldest world champion at 29. He continued to travel and compete as a new crop of surfers climbed the ranks. After seriously severing his right patellar tendon in G-Land in 1997, Ho slowly retreated over the course of the next few years to his Pupukea Heights home just minutes from his beloved Pipeline, competing locally and surfing when the waves are good. He told Midweek’s Steve Murray, “I still love having fun getting out there, being active when the waves are good. I can’t escape the ocean. I’ve been doing it all my life.”
What’s left for Ho to prove? After 15 years on tour, he finished in the Top 16 nine times and proved his mettle in everything from windblown slop to throttling tubes. He amassed some half a million dollars in winnings and secured Hawaii’s first world title. He won the Triple Crown 3 times and the Pipeline Masters twice. He told Greg Ambrose of the Star-Bulletin in 1997, “My proudest moment has been to take my family out to theNorthShore to live. To make it off of surfing and live this type of lifestyle with my wife and two kids and taking care of my mom is my greatest accomplishment. Everything else was just a bonus.”
After traveling the planet and reaching the pinnacle of success, some might see ending right where you started to be kind of a let down. But for Derek Ho, being back in theHawaiisurrounded by family, friends, and great surf is the way it’s supposed to be.