When she was just seven years old, Coco Ho learned to surf in a spirited effort to impress her older brother. “My brother’s one of the most innovative surfers around, and I wanted to be just like him,” says Coco, now 21, of professional surfer Mason Ho. “My first memory surfing was going before school on a new board I got for my birthday, and coming to class with wet hair and telling everyone I went surfing before school,” she adds. “I thought I was so cool.” But while her family also includes surf legends Michael Ho (her dad) and Derek Ho (her uncle), Coco soon became an idol in her own right. Qualifying for the Association of Surfing Professionals Women’s World Tour at age 17—and repeatedly voted a top three fan favorite in Surfer magazine’s Surfer Poll—Coco now seeks to build on her award-studded surf career while inspiring other girls to break through barriers and pursue their passions.

Earning her first sponsorship at age eight, Coco has racked up dozens of triumphs in major surfing events, including first place in the 2011 World Qualifying Series and the Rookie of the Year award in 2009. Through the years, she’s found that the thrill of performing has amply fueled her love of competition. “What I wanted to do was impress the people on the beach,” she says of her first time competing professionally. “I still do. Performing is my drive.” At the same time, Coco wholly embraces a sense of ease that infuses her surfing style.

“When I surf I keep things natural and graceful and never try to force anything.” – Coco

Coco credits that smooth and serene approach in part to her parents, a surfing couple who met in the water. “My mom and dad never wanted to push me into competing, and that’s probably a big part of the reason why I love the sport so much,” she says. “They just sat back and let me fall in love with surfing on my own.”

A social-media darling, Coco uses platforms like Twitter and Instagram to send out messages of courage and confidence to motivate her female fans in striving for what they love. To further help others in following through on own their ambitions, Coco also regularly volunteers for kid-supporting charities like the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii. “My family’s left such a strong legacy with surfing, and I’m definitely going to keep on competing for as long as I can perform at my top level,” she says. “But at the same time I want to do whatever I can to help kids go after their goals and dreams—to give them the kind of encouragement and positivity that absolutely helped get me to where I am today.”