by Chris Latronic
When you think of history’s greatest surfing families, there’s no doubt that the Ho family is near the top of your list. With 4 iconic members: Michael, Derek, Mason, and Coco in their dynasty, they are all still individually distinguished amongst the surfing world, together participating in nearly every aspect of surfing to this day. Now with Mason and Coco taking the reins on main stage, Michael and Derek spend most of their time hunting barrels. Fortunately, the family was in town and eager to share a little of their story from their fruitful life on the North Shore.
How did the Ho surfing legacy all begin?
DEREK: It all started with our Dad, Chico Ho. Edmund Chico Kaho’olauli’i Ho. It all started in Waikiki. He was a typical beach boy, raking the beaches, taking out umbrellas and chairs for the tourists, teaching people how to surf, canoe ride, dive, fish, and enjoy the simple things in life. It was typical Hawaiian living.
MIKE: We grew up in Waimanalo, my dad was an avid waterman and took us to the beach all the time. He shaped surfboards, so we spent most of our childhood at the beach and playing around on all my Dad’s surfboards. We would cruise with Pops Aikau, Buffalo Keaulana and family. We would camp West Side and surf all over. Growing up surfing, I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.
DEREK: Dad taught us to surf before we could walk. As soon as we could stand, he was taking us out on the surfboard. After that my older sisters would be teaching me. I remember 2 girls would push while 1 would catch me at Queens. It wasn’t “can we go to the beach today, Dad?” it was “When can we go home Dad?” We stayed all day and sometimes all night. Our Dad taught us to get in and out of the ocean safely. Surfing was the bonus. Safety in the water was priority one. It’s always better to surf smarter rather than be careless. Mike knows all of it and is one of the most intelligent guys in and out of the water. He’ll know the conditions out there better than you and he’ll be sitting fully clothed on land.
Let’s talk about surf competitions. How did that all begin? Was there an instant rilvalry?
MIKE: I feel like I started competing when I was seven, doing the HSA’s and the menehune contests… All of them. We surfed comps at Queens, Chun’s Reef, Haleiwa, Ala Moana, and Makaha.
DEREK: Michael dominated from the early menehune days. Boys, Jrs, Mens, it seemed like he won everything. Our house was full of 1st place trophies. It was inevitable where he was going.
MIKE: I took Derek to Japan when he was 14-15 where he did well. He advanced into the main event with me and had a really strong start. From there he never looked back, he remained a fierce competitor up until this day. I don’t even know how many events he won at Ala Moana Bowls. I just remember him and Ronnie Burns constantly battling. It was a privilege to see him grow up and progress into the surf nazi that he is today… I expected nothing less.
DEREK: My key was my brother. I coattailed him as much as I could and he showed me every lineup I know today. He was my secret to success.
MIKE: There were so many guys that I surfed with and looked up to back then, I definitely can’t name them all. Kainoa Downing, Guy Pilar, Robert Kaui, Sam Malama, Craig Wilson, The Chings from Town. I was just surfing for the love of it. We didn’t even know what a professional surfer was. I remember talking with Rabbit early on, and we would count our stickers and sponsors and the money we would get and we kinda justified to ourselves that we were professional surfers. It is a serious professional sport now! Taken to a whole new level.
How did it evolve from there?
MIKE: When I was 15, I surfed my last world contest and joined the professional tour at 17. Did that until I was 30, then stopped right before Mason was born. It was a bit tougher than now, running around and making your own flights. We didn’t have it easy by all means, but it was still worth doing. It use to be a lot easier to get into contests with the trials system. Everywhere I’d go, you’d have the chance to make it through the trials. That helped in my final ratings points at the end of the year and eventually my run on tour. I feel like those older world championships were more legit, because you were challenging a more extensive field. I think it was more of a true world championship. Mark Richards and Tom Curren, those titles were well deserved.
Do you remember the first time Mike won the Triple Crown?
DEREK: The year Mike won his first Triple Crown, I felt like I was just a baby. Then the next year, I win the next Triple Crown! I still try to look back and fathom how time flew by like that. I was about to graduate high school and was literally building sand castles on the beach while my brother was winning the Pipe Masters. Then the next year I’m winning the Triple Crown. It happened so quick. But from then on, I was becoming more and more fond of surfing Pipeline. It’s seriously an addiction. A natural drug. It’s hard to describe unless you are doing it yourself.
MIKE: The first Triple Crown was a showdown. Haleiwa, Sunset, and Pipeline. Best 3 results wins. For anybody, its an a honor to win any of those events. Fortunately, I came out on top for that. I almost always came home needing results and the Triple Crown has always helped me re-qualify each time. Winning the Triple Crown has been a bonus from my efforts working towards re-qualification.
DEREK: He didn’t have a lot of money so he really had to hustle to travel around the world, but he succeeded. He was one of the only Hawaiians to make it happen abroad and when the comps came to Hawaii, he dominated. He’s the only one to win all 3 venues at Sunset, Haleiwa, and Pipeline, countless times.
How did Mason’s surfing roots begin?
DEREK: Mason was a character since he was a baby sitting on my shoulders. He’s probably the most passionate surfer in the world. To me, that says a lot.
MASON: When I was really young I remember drawing myself on my Dad’s or Uncle Derek’s magazine pictures and posters. I would always get yelled at for doing that because I pretty much ruined them. But not matter how much I got in trouble I would keep doing it. That was the beginning because I didn’t even know they were pro surfers. But as I grew a bit older I began to realize who my dad was, who my Uncle was, then I was like, I wanted be like them!
MIKE: Mason really got stoked on surfing when he was 8 or 9 with Cheeseburger (Keoni Nozaki). Before that, he would play with his bikes and skateboards with our neighbors the Latronics. But then he just took off. He’s grown into his own man and taking things to new levels. He’s amazing and I’m super proud of him.
MASON: I did my first contest at the Haleiwa Menehune comp which is pretty much the first one for anybody who grew up on the north shore. Then I was super hooked at 5, 6 years old. Then at 7, I got kinda over it and started dirt biking but then I broke some bones. But then I remember on my birthday when I was 9, Cheeseburger (Keoni Nozaki) took me to go surf at Shores and I was instantly hooked again and forever. Nowadays, we get pressured away from the water to go do inland stuff and keep the sponsors happy. Made me think of the few years when I was young that I did not miss a day at the beach all year. I’m trying to get that going again now.
Mason, let’s talk about your Dad. How has he influenced your surfing?
MASON: I call my father POPS, or DAD, or POPPO. POPPO when I’m nice and snapped into the home vibe. He’s my hero. He’s actually my best friend, I hang out with him more than I do my other friends. He’s pretty much everything to me, definitely one of the coolest Dad’s ever. He gets sooo barreled! I mean, I don’t like it sometimes when he goes out in the big stuff and does it. I almost wish it was someone else’s dad instead at times because he’s just pushing it so hard. It’s a bit stressful being Mike Ho’s son. At an earlier age I really liked it when he went big but then he’d end up in the ambulance or something bad. Sometimes I ask him on the plane, do you really like it? But then he’s like “Yeah! What!? You getting weird on me now!? He’s just one of those heroes that just keeps breaking the boundaries by blowing it open all the time. Just when you think he can’t get any gnarlier, he just does it. He definitely has some grom issues that he has to sort out at his ripe scary age of 59-years-old.
I got scoldings from a lot of adults growing up but the one man I was always afraid of was Uncle Derek Ho. At the time, it seemed like the gnarlier the person was scolding me the funnier I found it. I don’t know, maybe because I knew I could get away with it. But with Uncle Derek, his scolding would shake me down to the bone. So any time I seen him I’d be on my best behavior. But then I slowly grew up to realize why he was like that…World Champ, etiquette master, World master, guru. Even until today I still trip out on how special and gnarly he really is. I just look up to him for so many reasons. He’s a great speaker with a nice vocabulary, I always wanted to speak like him. He just does everything that I think is cool.
What was the best thing about growing up as a Ho?
MASON: I got extremely lucky growing up as a Ho, because I had access to secret places that no other grom had. I’d have my little partner in crime for the day it’d be like “we’re gonna go hang out with Andy (Irons) and the Boys today.” They’d totally put up with us. I almost forget how important those little moments were and are to young groms coming up like myself back then. I remember watching Andy do things that would totally change my perspective and direction in life. Now when I’m hanging out around the young groms I always try to make sure it’s perfect for them because you might just do something that will change that kid’s life forever.
Airs, barrels: What’s your favorite thing about surfing?
MASON: The barrel is one of the most special feelings in the world. Don’t get me wrong, it feels great to land a huge air clean and pull off a crazy power turn, but there’s just something about riding the barrel that gets me and my family. We barrel hunt all time for that feeling. Uncle D had some of the best barrels in the world along with my dad and I’m just trying to catch up. Getting barreled is definitely in our legacy. It’s not scientifically proven, but in the barrel there’s a vacuum suck-back that really stings your lips and face. Maybe it’s secretly keeping my family young forever wink wink. Barrel is botox. I just try to relate everything to the barrel, It’s my favorite thing to do.
What was the Triple Crown like for you growing up?
MASON: To me, when I was young, the Triple Crown used to be a maze of trouble. I used to dig holes under the scaffold and bury big cases of soda there. Then when the contest moved, I’d have all my marks set up and I could just dig up a case of Mountain Dew and drag it over to my spot. The best was when the contest was on a weekday, my Dad would take us out from school. So yeah, at first, it was a carnival of fun. But that’s because it always was a special time for me. After watching my Dad and Uncle Derek compete more, I began to take the competition side more seriously.
What kind of mistakes do surfers commonly make?
MASON: I feel like if you are not born and raised here on the North Shore, it’s easy to feel obligated to go surf when the waves are not ideal or way too big. I see it on guy’s faces. It’s cool I respect it, but I’m not that into it. I got my own theories to follow.
So when did Coco come into the surfing picture?
DEREK: Coco was just trying to keep up with Mason. Catching his skateboard, falling on her face, skateboard in her teeth. One day she came back from the beach and wanted to be a surfer.
MIKE: Coco did not want to get left behind. She would just say “I’m going to the beach with you guys!” and I said “Okay.” When Mason started doing all the NSSA contest, Coco would start following Mason and Cheeseburger down to the beach and surfing.
MASON: So my Dad started becoming proud of me because I started winning contests and Coco wasn’t gonna sit by let me take all the glory. I gave her a board that was a little too small for me and she picked it up instantly. She went into a contest her first week and made the final. Then she just went on a roll, made a bunch of finals throughout the year and qualified in the top of her division at 8 years old. She wrecked it all throughout the amateurs, then right out the gate she qualifies for the world tour and the rest is history. I always found inspiration from her performances, while I’m over here chucking away. Coolest little sister ever, that’s for sure.
MIKE: She picked it up pretty quick and was really good right away. Before I knew it, she was doing turns around me saying “Sorry Dad.” She got on Tour really quick too, when she was 17 and has been on ever since. But it’s tough. You make mistakes here and there and misjudge your decisions, but you can’t know if it’s right or wrong when you’re competing in a subjective system. There’s only 10 spots, there should maybe be 16 at the cut off. There are way too many girl surfers that could be on tour.
Coco, at what point did you realize that your Father and Uncle were icons and legends of the sport? Was it something you learned over time?
COCO: It was definitely something I learned over time. At home they will always be Dad and Uncle Derek. Once I started to travel and hear stories from fans on the other side of the globe I was like “Woah they are the real deal.” Nowadays I realize they’re both icons of the sport because I could be hundreds of miles away in another country check my Instagram and see that they’re getting the waves of the day.
How was growing up with Mason Ho for a brother?
COCO: Growing up with Mason, everything was funny. I swear his goal in life was to have me constantly laughing still to this day. I have so many funny memories though- posting up at Shores in this little bush we carved out into our hut. We’d load up on goodies from Ted’s Bakery or Poptarts and stay there and surf all day. I don’t even think that’s funny. It’s just a really fond memory I have growing up with Mason.
What are some life lessons your family has taught you, both in and out of the water?
COCO: Every year of my career I feel like there has been a theme and a huge lesson they’ve all collectively taught me… recently it’s been don’t get down from losses. No matter what someone is going through it’s sick, because there are 3 of us to console and compare to. This year, my Dad kept reminding me of this year he lost first round every country and how he didn’t let it discourage him. It’s little advices like these that help so much, makes me feel human.
What do you think of the WSL World Tour format presently?
MIKE: Today’s format right now is great. You have 2 chances to surf! I don’t remember ever having that. It was normal for me to fly halfway across the globe, surf one 20-25 min heat, top 3 waves, no priority. If things didn’t go my way, I was going home. Airplane. I just spent $2,000… Now you got 2 chances to surf, priority, 30+ min heats. Qualifying is still the hardest part. You have to grind hard. It seems like staying on tour is pretty tough also, because every guy rips.
How often does surfing come up at meal time?
MIKE: We talk about surfing everyday we have a meal. Surfing in general and competing always comes up. We talk about lineups while we’re out in the water and little things here and there like tides and conditions. But when it comes to the surfing part, that’s their deal. They have to watch and learn.
What more do you want for your family now?
DEREK: I’ve been getting good waves out here for 20 years. I get the same feeling every time I go out to Pipeline. It’s what keeps me ticking.
MIKE: Nowadays, I just want my kids to land in airplanes safely and stay home when they can. I’m over all the traveling, I’m over the airplanes and airports. These contests are driving me nuts. I just want them home so I can be with them and surf. Everyday’s an adventure. Nowadays we got Coco, we got Mason, and me and Derek constantly checking conditions. It’s unreal. We just go surf. Love of surfing is our legacy.