All Hail The King Of Pipeline
On the untimely death and enduring legacy of Uncle Derek Ho.
Derek Ho was one of the most stylish natural talents to ever surf Pipeline, a Lopez protege who synthesized the very best of the ‘70s single-fin stoicism with the lines and approach modern equipment allowed.
Consider his World Title, Pipe Masters, and Triple Crown win in 1993—at 29, a twelve-year tour vet, the year after the barnstorming arrival of New School sensation Kelly Slater during his first Title run the year prior.
Lopez was and is Mr.Pipeline. But for thirty years or more, Uncle Derek was Pipeline’s rightful chosen King.
Looking back on the past forty years of figureheads, there are but a handful of surfers who truly refined and matured their surfing at Pipeline into their 40s and 50s, and none as gracefully as Uncle Derek. To sit inside him at Pipe on a west swell and watch the crowd part—reverently, not fearfully—as he chipped in to a twilight second reef grower was to witness the most gorgeous poise and control under pressure and a deceptively zen economy of movement.
I’d enjoyed a few brief encounters with Uncle Derek over the years, exchanged pleasantries in the backyard at the Volcom Gerry House, and in the lineup at Pipe. But the first time I really got to know him was at the Weedmaps house of all places, the year the Orange County cannabis app rented out the Lassen compound on the beach at Sunset.
The house was full of visiting MMA fighters, the Weedmap’s skate team, a local company cooking organic meals for whoever strolled in the door. Dustin Barca sat in a chair watching the sunset, an IV next to him pumping a vitamin drip into his veins. A few dozen seemingly random mid-’20s white kids milled about, handing out paraphernalia, swag, and a sprawling variety of marijuana products, all young cannabis industry bigwigs being shown a good time on the North Shore by the brand.
I was there to meet up with Bruce Irons, who had just been given a wildcard into the Pipe Trials and had a fresh quiver of Rising Sun Arakawas in the mansion’s master suite. Bruce and I sat down upstairs next to a group of girls getting vitamin drips and began the interview, just as a somewhat confused looking Uncle Derek came upstairs for Bruce.
I assure you, one of my career highlights will be the twenty minutes I got to spend listening to Bruce Irons explain what WeedMaps was and that no one was here to buy or sell weed, it was a sponsored weed party, help yourself, etc.
Eventually, Bruce started asking Derek to tell a few stories. I turned off the microphone out of respect, as Derek played out his teenage criminal career, stories of big money Honolulu heists, getting caught by the police right before a heat on the South Shore. We stayed upstairs talking for an hour or so, before Bruce was ushered downstairs by someone from the brand for a game of pool.
Noa Deane showing uncle Derek one of Noa’s dad’s single fins.
Last winter, we spent two months at the Volcom House, filming with Noa Deane for the Electric Acid Surfboard Test. Not a morning passed without Derek coming through the boardroom and taking a seat on the back deck to watch Pipe. The first big west swell came in late October, and without fail Derek was out during the best windows, getting the boys on the back deck on their feet every time he got blown out of a good one.
One night we were all getting loose at the house after a big Pipe day in mid November, there was a solid little crew and Noa was holding court. Amongst the dozen or so Acid Test boards lined up in the railing, was one of Derek’s Timmy Patterson’s, with a massive painting he’d done on the deck. We’d been warned repeatedly that leaving the boards outside wasn’t the best idea.
“What is this doing out here!?” Noa slurred. “This. Is. A. God’s. Board. You can’t leave this outside!?”
That night Noa passed out with Derek’s gun safely nestled against his bed, and in the morning he was thoroughly asleep when Derek showed up early to see if there were any leftovers. There were, and immediately he was looking for his board.
“It’s inside,” someone said in the backyard. “Noa slept with it.”
When Bruce showed up last winter, Derek put him up at his house above Pupukea and drove him around, most trips ending at some point back at Pipe together, either sitting out the back at the top of the pecking order, or on the deck watching the scene. You could feel that little brother bond between Bruce and Derek, and you got the sense that in a world of fairweather friends and even family, Bruce really trusted Derek like a brother, implicitly.
I am thankful I was present enough to appreciate his company those mornings they’d walk through the Volcom gate. I’d bring out coffee, sit and watch the waves, most mornings Nathan Fletcher joined, and I’d roll spliffs while Derek let me ask him just way too many questions—about Pipe landmarks, the tour in the ‘80s and ‘90s, riding for Gotcha and working with Michael Tomson, or just about the crazy little trailer quad fins he was always customizing for his boards, carving FCS tabs into the base of fiberglass Futures fins so that he could get the fin’s positioning just right.
Uncle Derek and his acolytes.
Some of Uncle Derek’s prints.
One morning, Tai Van Dyke walked over with an enormous manila portfolio stuffed with paintings. The stack was just a handful of Derek’s prolific works, and Tai wanted to know how to make prints for a show they wanted to do with him a few weeks later. The paintings were jawdropping—psychedelic lineups, celestial bodies, vibrant, expressive bursts of color and form.
The last time I saw Derek was at his show at the Volcom House. Tai, Kaimana Henry, Lenny and Richie Olivares had erected an impressive gallery wall on the back deck, and set up a makeshift screen for us to show a teaser of what we’d been working on with Noa, a five minute short on the Pipe guns Derek’s longtime shaper, Wade Tokoro, had shaped for Noa. The board was built off one of Noa’s dad, Wayne Deane’s templates, a year after he’d passed away.
Like countless surfers over the last fifty years, Derek befriended Wayne during his decade’s long winter residences, and you could feel Derek’s special fondness for Noa last winter after his father’s passing. After we screened the clip, Noa came up and said he wanted to give Uncle D the Tokoro gun.
It’s been two days now, and we’re all still reeling from the news. We send photos back and forth to each other, from Surfer Polls, or the Wave Warriors shoots or from late-90s Surfing and Surfer. Our social feeds are filled with tributes and shared memories. Uncle Derek left an impression on everyone he met during his life. Derek leaves behind a cavernous hole in the middle of the Pipeline pecking order, as well as the hearts of the surfers he touched with his kind, generous nature and his zen-like approach in waves of consequence.
We’ll never forget you, Uncle Derek. The King of Pipeline. All Hail.
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