Coco Ho shares the unseen aspects of being a surfing champion

Professional surfer Coco Ho opens up about managing atopic dermatitis, fighting climate change, and what her family legacy means as a woman in the waves.

Coco Ho’s likeness has come to represent what surfing has been, where it is today, and what the sport is destined to become.

Coco was born into one of Hawai’i’s most venerated surf families. She grew up seeing her father, Michael Ho, and his brother, Derek Ho, weave between waves after winning international competitions. At home, they were “Dad” and “Uncle Derek”, but in the water, Coco eventually saw what the world saw: they were two of Hawai’i’s greatest surfers.

“It was definitely something I learned over time. At home, they will always be Dad and Uncle Derek. Once I started to travel and hear stories from fans on the other side of the globe, I was like, ‘Whoa, they are the real deal.’

Nowadays, I realize they’re both icons of the sport, because I could be hundreds of miles away in another country check my Instagram and see that they’re getting the waves of the day.”

Michael, who’s considered to be the “godfather” of the North Shore surf scene in Oahu, dominated the surfing world in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Michael won “two Triple Crowns, appeared in five Pipe Masters finals (winning in 1982), eight Duke finals (winning in 1978 and ‘81) and finished No. 3 in the world,” per World Surf League.

Derek, who passed away in 2020, was someone who “personified the aloha spirit“, according to WSL’s Jake Howard.

“One of the best to ever surf Pipe, Ho’s natural affinity and comfort at the most deadly surf spot in the world not only elevated the art of barrel riding during his time as a Championship Tour competitor, but also fueled the dreams of generations to come.”

Hawai’i as a whole and the global surfing community continues to honor Derek, specifically with Derek Ho Day, a statewide holiday celebrated on July 23.

(L-R) Hawaii’s pro surfers Mason Ho, Bruce Irons and Derek Ho take part in the opening ceremony of the 2019 Eddie Aikau Big wave Invitational Surfing Event at Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii on December 5, 2019. (Photo by Brian Bielmann / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo by BRIAN BIELMANN/AFP via Getty Images)

Coco grew up with her father and uncle as role models, but it’s Coco’s older brother, Mason Ho, who Coco says engendered a competitive edge in her at a young age.

“My brother’s one of the most innovative surfers around, and I wanted to be just like him,” Coco once said.

Mason admits that Coco has also taught him a thing or two — about dropping in, at least.

For Coco, it all began at age seven, when she started launching herself into the water and paddling out to join her family. By age eight, she earned her first sponsorship. And ever since then, the 31-year-old surfer has been upholding her family name, introducing their legacy to a new generation of surfing fans.

Additionally, Coco’s success has illustrated what women can accomplish in surfing when given the access, platform, and resources. She is surfing’s present, but she still has her eyes set on what it can be.

One of the most pressing topics in outdoor sports is how natural landscapes are affected by climate change. Few athletes in the world see the way climate change is altering the nature of the world’s oceans, but Coco is one of them.

She uses her position in the surfing world to shed light on important conversations, which is why this summer, Coco wanted to spotlight a health issue that affects about one in ten Americans — and she is one of them.

Since her early twenties, Coco has experienced symptoms of atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema. For someone who has been in the public eye all her life — she famously starred in 2002’s Blue Crush as a young Anne Marie — dealing with eczema, which can have painful flare-ups aggravated by sun and water in summer months, was a “battle” for Ho.

Ho, along with Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy, partnered with Sanofi and Regeneron for “The Now Me: Beach Mode” program to share how eczema doesn’t have to prevent athletes from being in their element.

Ho spoke with FanSided about the adversity she’s faced battling eczema as one of the world’s leading surfers, illustrating how adversity prompts champions like herself to work endlessly to find a way.

LEMOORE, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 20: Coco Ho of Hawaii competes during the 2019 Freshwater Pro-WSL on September 20, 2019 in Lemoore, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Coco Ho opens up about life in surf fighting eczema and climate change

How did you discover you had atopic dermatitis, and how did you manage it early in your career?

I first discovered atopic dermatitis in my early twenties, which I feel like is a little lucky and later than some. I just realized it was a rash and I thought it go away, maybe stress-related, did all the Googling that everyone does.

And yeah, ten years later, I’m still dealing with it, but I’m learning the importance of working with a doctor and kind of figuring out what treatment plans can work for you. And that’s why I’m here today on behalf of Sanofi and Regeneron and talking about the “Now Me: Beach Mode” program to help inspire others.

I appreciate you doing that, because I was reading up about it and how it can really influence you. It can maybe shake you off your game, especially since you’re a surfer and are outside all the time.

You discovered it in your twenties, when you’d already been surfing for quite a long time. How did it influence your career at that point and affect your game, so to speak?

Yeah, it was a really important part of that time in my career. I felt it really inflamed during stress, high stress. And that was all in my twenties, of course, in competition. And I realized a lot of it can kind of trigger from heat, and a lot of surfing locations are in really hot climates.

It was a battle for sure. The burning sensation in the saltwater didn’t help. My sport and the ocean and the beach were a really hard place to learn to deal with eczema, but here we are today.

Here we are, and you prove that whatever the environment is, you can power through this.

Was there competition where you were dealing with it and powered through, and you felt really proud — not only of your accomplishment during that competition, but that you were dealing with eczema at the time and the world wasn’t even aware?

Almost every day that I surf, I have the inflammation and the pain, I get through the day without… I barely told people about it, even the people closest to me.

Getting over that hurdle of dealing with it and putting on my big girl pants and getting out there and competing and not even letting it affect me was a trophy for that day.

It has been like a constant learning curve, but also yeah, it kind of empowers me each day to be like, ‘Wow, I could do it with this.’ I’ve barely had to complain, but I have reached out to doctors and figured out what could help me work on this.

Definitely, that is so empowering.

I know you’ve been preparing for the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach, which kicked off on July 30. What’s your daily routine as you prepare for the competition?

Preparing for competition is actually quite fun because you kind of stop with the gym training. It’s more about surfing and focusing on equipment and the ocean, and it kind of clicks into just you and the ocean.

So I really enjoy the the few days leading up to events because it’s just surfing, so I’m in that mode now, and it’s very fun.

I recently saw that you did a shoot in Biarritz, France, and I actually surfed there several summers ago. What’s one of your favorite surfing spots in the world that’s a little off the beaten path?

Yeah, I think the south of France. People don’t believe we get to go to the south of France to surf, so that’s really special. Spain too.

And I think off the beaten path, the Maldives has been a very fun one that we’ve been going to. It’s very far out there, but yeah, it’s a beautiful location. We’re very lucky that we get to travel to those exotic places.

I didn’t know you could surf there, so I’m glad to know! 

Speaking of global surf spots, you’ve spoken about how climate change is affecting the world’s oceans in a way that few others have really seen because you’re a pro surfer traveling the world. If we don’t take action against climate change, how is this going to shape the future of the sport?

Yeah, it is really scary to see, even just erosion and beach tides changing so much in my time of being in the ocean.

We’re right in the forefront of it, and we’re the ones that have to kind of bring that awareness to people that maybe don’t surf every day and notice these changes of the ocean and the climate.

It’s just learning and then being able to teach and do what we can. Do our part.

And that’s why you’re such an important ambassador for this cause.

In women’s sports, there’s been a lot of discussion about disparities in prize pools between men and women, and we’ve seen the NWSL making strides in that regard. Over the course of your career, how have things improved for women in surfing?

Surfing is right at the top of being one of the best sports for women. We’ve had equality and equal pay for over five years now.

I think it’s a very good example of, coming into soccer and all the other sports, of saying, ‘Yeah, we do deserve this.’ Just having the Federation the foundations and the organizations really supporting females. I’m really proud to be a surfer for that aspect.

Yeah, that’s incredible. Especially, as you said, being an example and leading the way for other sports to follow suit. 

I saw on your Instagram that Hawai’i just celebrated Uncle Derek Day on July 23, which began in 2020. So how did you spend that day this year and what does that Day mean to you?

Yeah, that was a really special thing for my family. This day, honoring my uncle’s passing and celebrating him as the first Hawai’ian World Champion, is really big.

And this year, I was actually on a surf trip, and I think he would want me to be there. If wasn’t at home with everyone else, [then] definitely surfing somewhere. I was in Mexico, so it was really fun.

TOPSHOT – Hawaii’s pro-surfer Derek Ho is practicing for Da Hui Backdoor shootout contest on January 3, 2019 at the Pipeline Masters on Oahu’s North Shore. – Da Hui Backdoor Shootout surf contest will take place from january 4 to January 16, 2019 at Ehukai Beach Park on Oahu’s North Shore. (Photo by brian bielmann / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE (Photo credit should read BRIAN BIELMANN/AFP via Getty Images)

That’s beautiful. As long as you’re surfing, you’re honoring him, and that’s exactly what he would want.

What are you looking forward to as far as the US Open of Surfing? 

It is hard coming into the US Open because I did so well there last year. I was just a heat or two away from maybe a victory.

This year, I feel like there is some pressure to want to at least get that result or better. So yeah, kind of just head down and try to get to that final and take the trophy this year.

Coco Ho currently ranks No. 19 on the WSL Women’s Championship Tour, and she came in at No. 25 at the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach this August. 

Coco and Olympic swimmer Ryan Murphy have teamed up to join “The Now Me: Beach Mode” program, in partnership with Dupixent, to educate the public about the realities and challenges people with moderate-to-severe AD face, helping them find treatment plans so they can activate “Beach Mode” all year long. 

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