Stylish Hawaiian goofyfoot pro surfer from the North Shore of Oahu; 1993 world champion; two-time winner of the Pipeline Masters, and four-time winner of the Triple Crown.
Ho was born (1964) in Kailua, the son of a former beachboy and army enlisted man, and was second cousin to popular Honolulu nightclub entertainer Don Ho. He began riding waves at age three, following in the footsteps of his surf-obsessed older brother Michael, who went on to become one of the Hawaii's best-known and most durable pros. Derek was a talented but indifferent young surfer, became a small-time criminal during his teenage years, and was arrested several times. At age 18 he spent 10 days in prison, after which he dedicated himself to a career in surfing. The following year he placed third in the 1983 Pipeline Masters, and finished the pro tour season ranked 30th.
For the next six years Ho climbed steadily up the ratings, all the way to runner-up in 1989; in 1990 he fell to sixth, however, and by 1992 he'd dropped all the way to 30th. His career at that point was already remarkable: he'd won the 1984 Duke Kahanamoku Classic (with brother Michael finishing second); won the Pipeline Masters in 1986 and finished second in 1991; and won the Triple Crown in 1984, 1986, and 1988. In 1985, Derek and Michael Ho became the first siblings to both place in the year-end pro tour top 16.
But following the 1992 season, it seemed obvious that Ho's career had peaked. "He's an artist who appears loath to butcher his style for a few decimal points more on the judges' cards," surf journalist Derek Hynd once said of Ho, finishing off by predicting the handsome 28-year-old Hawaiian had "no chance" at a world title. Kelly Slater of Florida had just won the first of what everyone assumed would be a long string of championships.
Ho was ranked fifth after nine events in 1993, with just the Pipeline Masters remaining. The final day of the contest was held in excellent six to eight-foot surf, and as the four contenders ahead of him were all eliminated after the quarterfinals, Ho smoothly won the contest and the championship, along with a fourth Triple Crown title. He was the first male Hawaiian to win the pro tour, and at 29 he was the oldest men's pro tour winner up to that point. The 1993 Masters was his only win of the season, and the last pro tour win of his career. He dropped to 24th in the ratings the following year, and in early 1997 his world circuit career was ended by a knee injury.
The smallest male world champion at 5'4", 125 pounds, Ho was quick-footed, with a sharp, angular, slightly formulated attack. Tuberiding was his strength, and in hollow waves, especially at Pipeline, he rode with sublime precision and elegance. Two-time world champion Tom Carroll was Ho's equal at Pipeline, but the Australian's approach was rougher and more power-driven, whereas Ho time and again drew perfect lines through the deepest part of the wave—updating the approach invented by '70s Pipeline ace Gerry Lopez.
Ho was an intense, withdrawn, sometimes prickly surf world figure. He was quietly and justifiably critical of the surf press in 1994, as magazine reporters all but ignored the defending world champion and focused instead on Kelly Slater. "Put it this way," Ho dryly told Australia's Surfing Life magazine, "I haven't been subjected to the overexposure a world champ normally gets."
Ho appeared in more than 50 surf movies and videos, including Wave Warriors (1985), Shock Waves (1987), Surfers: The Movie (1990), Aloha Bowls (1994), TV Dinners (1995), and Side B (1997).