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Coco Style: Born into a long line of surfing legends, Coco Ho makes her own break.
Less than two hours south of Hollywood in Encinitas, California, the action sports athletes are the celebrities. This is where I met Coco Ho, a 25-year-old pro surfer from Hawaii. Ho had just returned from the White Buffalo Women’s Pro Tour in Japan and had a few days to breathe (and train, surf and wakeboard) before heading to International Beach Festival in Sydney, Australia. We stopped for coffee at a small café, and before she could take one sip of her morning jolt, a fan approached her for a photo. “Good thing we have a photographer,” she laughed, and cheerfully posed. Throughout the day, this stoked-on-life smile never left her face, on or off camera.

That afternoon, the 5’3” athlete suited up, waxed her board in the back of an Audi Q7, and paddled out at D Street. This sand-bottomed beach offers playful right and left breaks year-round. That day, the onshore wind had picked up and the tide was low, making conditions less than ideal. She ran out into the water, and the next thing I knew, she was powering through waves with a fluidity and grace that was clearly instinctual. Leave it to the pros to make the most out of little.
Coco’s drive to make her family proud is what made her switch from a boogie board to a surf board when she was just seven years old.
Driven by tradition
Surfing has come to Ho by blood and geography; the Ho family is widely known as Hawaiian surfing royalty. In our conversations, nothing sparked her energy more than talking about her relatives, a line of world-class pros from the North Shore of Oahu. Her father, Michael, won the Pipeline Masters in 1982 and the World Cup in 1983, 1984 and 1985. Both events are part of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing and now known as the Billabong Pipe Masters and Vans World Cup. Her uncle, Derek, became the first Hawaiian World Champion in 1993. Her brother, Mason, also an award-winning pro surfer, has been called one of the most entertaining surfers on Earth by Surfer Magazine. Coco’s face lit up with admiration and amusement as she told me about her brother Mason’s notoriously hilarious interviews or trying to keep up with her dad, who has as much fire at 60 as he did during his competitive days. “At the end of the day, I get to share something I love—something we all love—with each other every day,” she said.
Coco’s drive to make her family proud is what made her switch from a boogie board to a surf board when she was just seven years old. A year later, she went up to Volcom coach Dave Riddle and said, “Hey Uncle Dave, I wanna ride for you.”
Riddle, who started coaching for Volcom in the early 1990s, was tasked with developing a Hawaii team. Over the course of his career, he’s coached an impressive roster of surf legends including Bruce and Andy Irons. Coco was the first female surfer on the team. One morning, he saw her waiting for the school bus at 7 a.m. with soaking wet hair. Later that day, he asked her about it, and she explained that she had surfed Sunset Point at daybreak, rushed home to grab her books and then ran to catch the bus. This became a daily routine. Riddle says this was when he identified her intensity and passion and knew she would be a part of the Ho legacy. “When you see those three [Coco, Michael and Mason] in the water, either together or individually,” he said, “you know they are expressing this feeling and this freedom that shows through their surfing.”
“Your style is your art. The way you read your wave is an art.”
The North Shore is home to some of the heaviest and biggest breaks in the world. This “Seven Mile Miracle” attracts massive crowds, especially between November and December, when all the top surfers in the world flood the beaches for Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. “The challenges are really heavy ’cause the waves are really heavy,” Riddle said. “They are death-defying at times.”
That area’s world-class waves and high stakes make it challenging to earn your place in the lineup, especially for a female surfer. Riddle said Coco is one to lead the charge in this male-dominated arena. “It’s so crowded out there, and she finds these little windows of opportunity,” he said. “There are 40 guys out there, and Coco gets a great one.”
Powerful form
Though Ho grew up navigating some of the most punishing waves on the planet, she considers driving on California’s freeways her most challenging undertaking. She spends her summers chasing waves up and down California’s coast and plays with a different Audi every year. Last year, she braved the 405 and 5 freeways in the 2016 Audi Q7, which she describes as “insanity” in a good way, because Audi active lane assist helped her stay in her lane.[1]
Ho said she felt untouchable in the Audi Q7, but her favorite is the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron®,[2] which she drove to a friend’s bachelorette party in the desert. “It was just so sick to be electric and small and maneuverable, and I still had everything there,” she said.

Small, electric and maneuverable: much like Ho’s surfing that I witnessed in Encinitas. Riddle calls it the Coco style. Though she emulates her father and brother, she has powerful turns and off-the-lips that she’s developed on her own. “She’s got this backside that’s become really fluid and really fast and all Coco,” Riddle said.
For Ho, surfing is a canvas. “Your style is your art. The way you read your wave is an art. Just looking at the ocean alone is art,” she said. Her ability to make surfing look beautiful and effortless in conditions that most surfers wouldn’t even bother paddling out in speaks to the thousands of hours she’s dedicated to perfecting her craft.
Raw talent alone doesn’t win heats, and as Ho matures as an athlete, she is realizing how critical strategy is to the sport. Women’s surfing has gained popularity and made huge strides in recent years; the women are getting paid more, and more stops have been added to the tour. With this progress comes tougher competition, and Ho is getting more serious about her plan of attack. Uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges in competitive surfing, and success in a heat is often contingent on the ocean. Ho focuses on controlling her controllables: preparing mentally, studying her opponents and watching the waves. It seems to be working. She came back from Europe with some of her best results all year.
From summers in California to winters on the North Shore and contests all over the world, professional surfing has no off-season. Ho competes on the World Surf League’s Qualifying Series. Being on tour is mentally and physically exhausting, and the hassle of a life in transit can take its toll. Despite long nights sleeping on airplanes and in airports, and months without being home, Ho doesn’t take this life for granted. When she feels especially overwhelmed, she said, a good laugh and a good surf is her cure. She takes a step back and tells herself, “Wait, this thing that’s killing me actually frees me.”