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World Champ Derek Ho Ushers in New Hope for Hawaiians

January 06, 1994|Rick Fignetti and David Reyes | Rockin' Fig is Rick Fignetti, a Huntington Beach surfer/shop owner. Times staff writer David Reyes has reported on U.S. surf teams competing in Bali and Brazil

With Derek Ho's victory in the Pipeline Masters clinching the 1993 world championship tour for him, it may signal a push by Hawaiians into the top circle of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals (ASP).

"And, I think it's the first time that a Hawaiian has ever won the world title, " Rockin' Fig said.

And he's right. Ho is, indeed, the first Hawaiian to win in the 18-year history of the world circuit, the ASP confirmed.

Though Hawaiians originated the sport that is intertwined in island folklore, only a few Hawaiian pros have ever cracked the Top 10. In fact, the upper rungs of the competitive ladder have been held mostly by Australian and U.S. surfers.

Fig and I called Ho at his Oahu residence to congratulate him and talk about his victory.

We're pretty stoked for you , Derek . You're the first Hawaiian!

"It's been pretty exciting," said a very happy-sounding Ho. "And, busy. My phone hasn't stopped ringing. And, my message machine has been swamped. Everybody wants to know about me."

No fewer than six pro surfers had a shot at the world championship, and it all came down to the Pipeline contest. The other five were Australians Gary Elkerton, Dave Macaulay and Damien Hardman, and Americans Rob Machado of Cardiff and defending champion Kelly Slater of Florida.

Ho was in fifth place on the tour coming into Hawaii with one event left.

"A lot of things had to happen," he said, recalling that Pipeline had four- to seven-foot waves with larger sets. "Classic Pipe."

Elkerton, who placed second to Ho in the world ratings, was devastated after the semifinal. He was only seconds away from qualifying for the Masters final and a shot at the title, but a strong ride by Larry Rios, another Hawaiian, pushed Elkerton into third place.

Did you know before the finals that you had clinched the tour?

"Well, once Elkerton got eliminated in the semifinal, I thought I had to win the contest to win the title," Ho explained. "But later I heard that I only had to take a second. The pressure was still there, though. You know, Pipe is the place where if you make one little mistake . . . "

How did you feel when Rios took out Elkerton?

"That was a big moment. When he took out Elkerton, it was big for the Hawaiians. When you go out in a heat like Elkerton did and you've got a shot at the big title, it's big. (Remember,) it doesn't matter if you take first or second in a contest. You got to make the final. That's the big thing."

We've seen Australians , a couple of Californians and Slater take the title. This has gotta bring some glory to the guys in the islands.

"I definitely think it's a door-opening situation," Ho said. "I think it's opened a door for Sunny (Garcia, who finished 10th on the 1993 tour) and Kaipo (Jaquias, who finished 26th) because they definitely have the potential for world status. For me, doing it at this age, it says something too."

At 29, and a father of an 18-month-old daughter, Ho also became the oldest world champion.

He wasn't sure if this was his seventh or eighth time he made a Pipeline final. It was, though, definitely his second Masters victory.

I asked Ho why he competed earlier in the year at Imperial Beach, Calif., of all places, at a U.S. Bud Tour event. It's like Lenny Dykstra of the Philadelphia Phillies visiting a triple AAA ball club and asking to play.

Ho won the contest in dinky surf, which, he said, was part of an overall strategy to try and win every contest he entered in 1993.

"That was a confidence booster for me," Ho said. "To show up and win in one- to two-foot surf and to beat guys like Rob Machado, who are great in small surf."

Hey, people on the Bud Tour a re stoked to get great pros on their tour. It pumps it up.

Ho said we caught him just going out the door to the beach.

"Hey, Fig," Ho said, with a slight dig. "The waves are about four to six feet."

I asked where he was headed.

"Oh, Pipeline or Backdoor."

Rough choice, eh?

Derek, what are your '94 plans.

"I'm coming back and defending the title. Hey, tell the Huntington boys, 'Right on!' for supporting me and congratulating me. Huntington is like my home when I come to California."

More Gifts: Ann Beasley, Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum director, thanked graphic artists Forrest Healy and Eric Speigler, both of Newport Beach for creating new museum posters as fund-raisers. Beasley said an anonymous benefactor put up $2,000 to print them as a Christmas gift to the museum. One of the poster slogans read: "We were built on sand, water and zinc oxide."

The big THREE OH! San Clemente-based SURFING magazine celebrates its 30th anniversary in 1994. The magazine plans to publish three collector editions this year, "30 Epic Photos," "30 Greatest Moments in Surfing History," and "The 30 Biggest Waves Ever Ridden."

Offshore: There have been some fun days with north, northwest swells rolling through and lots of offshore winds. Fig heard Rincon was pumping and scored an epic day of good, head-high plus sets.

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