Uncle Dez, unfiltered…
(Later today, Matt Warshaw, keeper of surfing’s flame, will send this unpublished interview with Derek Ho to subscribers of his Encyclopedia of Surfing. It’s a beautiful little piece. “I forgot how forthcoming he was during this short conversation,” says Warshaw. “I’d interviewed him a couple of times before, once with Michael at Mike’s big beautiful house at Sunset, and I guess he felt comfortable enough with me to go unfiltered, at least for a few minutes.”)
This interview was recorded at the Lacanau Pro, France, in 1994. Ho was the defending world champion, but had just lost an early-round heat in terrible surf.
What goes through your mind in a heat where the waves are that shitty? Is is a different thing compared to when the surf is good?
Different, for sure. You lose motivation. In fact, you almost don’t care if you win or lose. In this situation [the heat he’d just finished], I figured I’d win either way, ’cause if I lost I’d be on a plane back to Hawaii tonight.
I talked to Gary [Elkerton] earlier today, and he thinks that with events like this we’re all missing the point. Not just the surfers, but the sponsors, the people on the beach, everybody.
Some of these events are held in the worst locations, at the worst times. If it’s all about promoting products, that’s okay. But we can do just as good of a job—or a lot better, actually—by going to good spots. Same countries, better spots.
How would that come about?
I think the surfers are too soft on the ASP officials. We do a lot of talking among ourselves, but then nobody stands up and says much. Right now, for instance, the surf is barely one foot. We should have the balls to say we’re not going out.
Will that ever happen?
[Pause] I don’t know. I doubt it. Maybe. Surfing is such an individual thing, which is good in a way, but it also means everyone is out for themselves. So in a lot of cases, if something ain’t benefitting a particular person at a particular moment, they’ll just let it go—even if standing up and fighting would be to their benefit in the long run.
What would you yourself like to see?
[Another pause]. Remember when those guys pulled out of the contest at Waimea [1986 Billabong Pro], ’cause they were scared shitless? I’d like to see more of that. And less of this [gestures to the beach]. We’re not reaching for that level of excitement anymore. We just do these boring little neutral events. It’s senseless for us to be out in these tiny waves hopping and jumping around. We should be carving, slamming, disappearing into huge barrels. It ought to be everyone looking forward to these things, surfers, sponsors, fans. Everybody should be jumping out of their skin, you know?
How are you feeling, personally, in terms of where your career is?
I’ve been doing the tour now for 12 years. A lot of times, in good surf, I feel like I haven’t yet hit my peak. I’m still in good shape. I don’t have any chronic injuries. And the will is there—that’s just as important. Yeah, when the waves are cranking, I’m so stoked I can’t believe it, it’s like I’m a kid. I could compete at a high level for another five years. But these kinds of events [another head gesture toward the beach], all of a sudden it’s like—I’m 30, I feel old.
It also seems to me like, even though you’re the champ, everybody lately is kinda rushing past you and paying attention to Kelly [Slater].
[Shrugs] Yeah, I don’t know. Part of that’s my fault, I guess. I never follow the photographers around to get shots. If anyone gets a shot, I’m stoked, I’ll take it. I don’t look for attention, though. I’m stoked for Kelly, you know? But yeah, this whole year so far, it’s like he’s world champion, as if he didn’t lose it last year—like he’s going straight from ’92 to ’94.
Are you bummed?
No. I’ve got too much pride, I think.
You sound a little bummed.
Yeah, I’m a little bummed. But I don’t dwell on it. I guess that’s what I mean. I laugh at a lot of this stuff, in fact. I know what I did last year. And I did it for myself and my family—especially my Dad and my brother. I don’t take things that aren’t mine. But what is mine, I hold on to it. Yeah, I know what I did.