HONOLULU (KHON2) — Derek Ho, Hawaii’s first native Hawaiian men’s surfing world champion, passed away on Friday, July 17. He was 55-years-old.

Ho allegedly had a heart attack and slipped into a coma before passing away.

Family, friends, and the surfing world mourned his sudden death but remembered the legacy he left behind in the lineup.

“You knew every time there was a good swell he was going to be out there and he was going to get the best wave and high-five everyone on his way back out to the lineup,” said friend and award-winning surf photographer Brian Bielmann.

Derek Ho was born in Kailua in 1964 and began surfing at a young age.

In the 80s, he would begin to solidify his name for eternity at Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore.

“Everyone who thinks of Derek thinks of Pipeline,” said Bielmann, who has taken surf photos at Pipeline since the late 70s. “He’s been around so long that he had all the respect, he got any wave he wanted, deservingly so, and he was super stylish and smooth and because he’s been around all these decades he had that sort-of style from that era and he brought it into now.”

Derek Ho won the Triple Crown four times in 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1990.

The Kailua High School grad also won the prestigious Pipe Masters in 1986 and 1993.

At 29-years-old, he became the first Native Hawaiian to win a world surfing champion.

KHON2 interviewed Ho after he won the world title back in 1993. “It’s kind-of Peter Pan story, but a Cinderella type of thing. But here we are, here it is, and it feels really great,” he said.

“Everyone was ecstatic and so proud because we know all the best surfers are from Hawaii, simply because we have the best waves in the world, and for somebody to get that and have that and we were able to hold that trophy high for all of Hawaii was really cool,” Bielmann said.

The World Surf League sent out a statement on Saturday saying:

“It’s horribly sad to learn of the passing of Derek Ho. A four-time Triple Crown Winner, a two-time Pipe Master and the winner of the 1993 World Title, Derek left an indelible mark on the international surfing world and has been a pillar of the North Shore community for five decades. Our hearts are with his loved ones. He will be missed. He will be remembered.”

Bielmann has taken tens of thousands of photos since 1978, but there is one photo in particular that stands out to him.  

“In April 2020, we had a beautiful swell and Derek caught probably the best wave, the best photo I got of the whole session. It was a beautiful, beautiful wave, and he’s starting to stumble as he takes off at the bottom and falls backwards, catches his balance, and that’s right when I got the shot that I did. The reason I love the shot so much is because it’s got this sort-of heavenly appeal to it, the clouds are absolutely beautiful, the white water looks airbrushed and he’s just in this super stylish pose that’s just reminiscent of Gerry Lopez who obviously is one of his heroes and influences,” he said.

“I think the surfing community lost a world champion, and the North Shore lost a brother, but Pipeline lost a king, and I think that’s how everyone’s going to see it,” Bielmann concluded.  

Latest Stories on KHON2