Derek at 55 had one last great winter at Pipeline. Photo Brian Bielmann

PIPE HAD HIS BACK

From SW412: Tom Carroll remembers great friend and rival, Derek Ho.

“It’s weird when I look at that wave in slow motion. 

“I’ve watched it numerous times since he died, and it says a lot about him. Man, he was just going for it. It was last winter, he was 55, and it was a big Second Reef day. He was inside this thing, leaning back, right on the edge of losing it… but also in total control. You know the way a cat always lands on its feet? That was Derek at Pipe. That’s exactly it. He skimmed through life out there somehow. It was like Pipe had his back. Pipe always had his back. 

“Mike Ho, I knew. I met Mike when I first went to Hawaii in ‘78 and hung out with him on my first trip to Japan when I was 17. I got on well with Mike from the get-go, but I didn’t really know much about his younger brother. Derek appeared down the track a bit further. Unlike a lot of the Australians in the ‘70s I had some Hawaiian friends who welcomed me in – Michael, Dane, Mark Liddell and Buttons – that crew were welcoming to me. Louie Ferreira came over to Australia and stayed at my place at Newport, so there was an exchange going on, but I’d never heard of Derek. Then suddenly it was like, fuck, who’s this guy? 

“In the ’85 Pipe final I was sandwiched by both of them, Mike and Derek. I was getting fully bamboozled by the Ho brothers at Second Reef. I couldn’t get anything. They were just working me over. Twelve minutes went by without a wave. I was like fuck it, here comes a wave, I don’t care… I’m going this thing! I took off in total frustration and I’ve tried to lay this radical snap. It didn’t go so well. I was on a 7’6” Rusty Preisendorfer Widowmaker and just got fucking annihilated. I came up near the shore from way outside. I think I came fifth in that final. While the Ho’s and I were paddling around out wide, Occy was on the inside getting all the waves and he cleaned us up. 

“That same year Derek and I ended up in the wavepool final at Allentown, Pennsylvania. He had the wavepool fully worked out. The waves looked identical, but they weren’t. I knew it and Derek knew it. That’s how we made the final. But put him in his zone at Pipe and it was something else again. He knew exactly what the wave was going to do, three waves out. He read the patterns in waves and could read it in a very sophisticated manner. It didn’t matter how big it was, whether it was Allentown, Pennsylvania or at Pipe, Derek could do that stuff. 

“Derek wasn’t a big guy. He was very slight and very delicate. You gave him a hug and there was nothing of him. You’re thinking,  if he gets flogged at Pipe he’s going to snap. But that’s the thing… he never did! He was like a cat and could move around out there on the perfect line. He’d ride the most wafer thin boards that looked like they were ready to snap, but he just never fell off. He’d sit there at Pipe and watch it and watch it and watch it, and his relationship to that wave was incredibly close, right up until his last days. 

“That wave in the ’91 Pipe final is how many people remember us. Me getting that wave was big, because getting any wave off Derek at Pipe was hard. I had to play his bluff. The wave was capping, and Derek was paddling wide looking at it. I was trying to hold Derek back from paddling too far toward the shoulder because he would have gone. But he didn’t have a great position and I could feel it. 

“He couldn’t spin around with confidence and I felt I was a good chance. I was thinking, I’ve got to swing on this thing. I got the wave and it was a 10. But every time going out against him, especially during those years where he and I were winning at Pipe, it was on. I wanted to win at Pipe, he wanted to win at Pipe. 

“I was wondering where that move was going to take us in ‘91, but I think if anything it brought us closer. I always had a good rapport with Derek, and it got better as we got older. Derek had a lot of respect for people in the zone, people on his level. He loved to see people doing it. He loved the game and being in those intense situations and unless you were a complete dickhead, he’d respect you. He had fairness in him. He was a little guy like me, and if you walk around with your chest out you need good back-up… and in Hawaii he had good back-up. He had strong family ties and the boys all loved him. Even down the track people maintained a love for him. In surfing he had so much respect.

“Derek’s world title in ’93 was massive for the Hawaiians. It gave every Hawaiian surfer hope. They were so stoked. The experience of Dane missing out a few years earlier had created some bitterness about world titles in Hawaii, but to see Derek win was brilliant, right in the middle of the Kelly zone. There’s an eerie feeling though now with those Hawaiian world titles and kind of sad when you look what happened to Andy, Sunny, and now Derek. 

“Derek and I would catch up in Hawaii. Before I got clean, we’d party a bit and have fun. The boys up there at his house, we’d have big nights and crawl out of there in the morning. Having a laugh, playing these long ping pong matches. But in particular the last five years we were getting closer again and I saw him more. I went up to see him and Tanya. I had some good surfs with him and left a couple of boards up at his house. He didn’t have any boards there for a while. Our relationship was warm. It was always warm.

“The Hawaiians place him up there, high. All the way through to the underground crew there’s a deep respect. They see him as Pipe’s greatest surfer. He was there on the big stage and he surfed it till the end. 

“I was blown out watching him surf Pipe last winter. I was home in Australia and hanging to get over there and surf. Kelly was geeing me up, saying, “Have you seen what Derek’s been doing out at Pipe?”  I had, and I was shitting myself. I was thinking, I’m going to have to go over there and surf Pipe with Derek again! Derek and Michael! They were going so hard and I’m thinking, I’m too old for this shit! 

“For me, Derek was my great rival in Hawaii and a guy who made me step up. He was always respectful, and you can see that in his nephew, Mason. I love Mason; he’s a classic and he’s got that same mischievous sense of fun his dad and his uncle both possessed. I remember I had a breakfast one morning a couple of years ago with Mason and Derek in Haleiwa. We had a long couple of hours talking about surf and life and it was really nice. That would have been one of the last times I saw him.”

SW