INTERVIEW & INTRODUCTION BY STEVE OLSON
PHOTO BY JEFF DIVINE
In the out door… Casual is about right… Pushing, where others might have kicked out… Looking for what’s NOW… finding it, but does one really? It’s always happening NOW. At least that’s what I figured out… A Master all his own, and then some… From the water, into another form… Gerry Lopez is Gerry Lopez… There’s not another one like him, or you, as a matter of fact… Dig it… it’s really all good…
Hello, Gerry. Are you driving right now?
Yeah. We were down at our event in Doheny, the Battle of the Paddle, the biggest stand-up paddle event going right now. It was our sixth one and every one just gets bigger and bigger, so it’s kind of a scene, but it’s all good.
Are they racing each other paddling or riding waves or both?
It’s both. It’s actually a race in and out through the waves.
Have you been paddling for a long time?
SUP hasn’t been a long running sport, but I’ve been doing it since the beginning, which has been about ten years or so, maybe less? The years just fly by…. I kind of forget how long it’s been.
Do you prefer standup paddling now to regular surfing?
No. I love it all. It’s easier and sometimes more convenient on a stand-up board than it is on a surfboard, but I’ll get it any way I can.
I can dig it. Where were you born?
When did you start surfing?
I started surfing when I was ten years old.
Did you dig the ocean and feel it and just decide you were going to be surfing?
Pretty much everybody did. The ocean was everybody’s playground in Hawaii.
How was it growing up in Hawaii as a kid?
It was as good as it could be. Hawaii in the 1950’s and ‘60s was the best of times to be a kid growing up.
Did you play sports and stuff before you picked up surfing?
Yeah, I was into baseball, little league and pony league. Even when I started surfing, I was still playing a lot of baseball. By the end, I always played catcher.
Oh really? You get some action behind the plate, that’s for sure.
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s where the most action is.
Were you any good?
Well, we won the little league championship one year, so that was something. That was in 1960 or so.
Nice. Did you surf town in the beginning?
Yeah, that’s where I grew up, in town.
How did you transition out to the North Shore?
Once we started really getting into surfing, obviously, I wanted to go out during the wintertime and try the North Shore. It started in the small waves to begin with and, eventually, we worked our way up to bigger surf. We were pretty young.
How old were you when you started surfing the North Shore?
I think the first time I surfed Pipeline I was maybe 13 or 14. We had been surfing small Chuns and Haleiwa before that for a couple of years. I was probably 12 or 13. We weren’t very good, but we had a lot of enthusiasm.
Were you surfing Ala Moana and all the spots in town before going out there?
Yeah. We were mostly in Waikiki. We lived on the east side of Honolulu, so we surfed out there a lot.
Were you guys riding longboards at Haleiwa or was it in the transition time?
This was when it was all longboards, that’s what everyone rode.
Was that heavy, as a little kid, going out there, for you?
No, because we were going out in small surf. If it was big, we stayed on the beach and watched.
What guys were you watching that were out there charging Pipe?
Nobody was really charging Pipe yet. At Sunset it was George Downing, Buzzy Trent, Peter Cole, Greg Noll, Jose Angel, Paul Strauch and those guys.
Were Butch Van Arsdale and Jock Sutherland out there?
Yeah. Butch was the lifeguard on the North Shore … the only lifeguard for a while then Eddie Aikau was the 2nd one. Jock was the same age as us. He was surfing it, but he was pretty young too. It wasn’t until towards the end of high school that we really started hitting it all the time. The North Shore was good in the wintertime and we’d surf town in the summertime. Even though town is generally thought of as small surf, at times, it could get pretty big too. There was some pretty challenging stuff there as well.
“THE BOARD I HAD IN ‘70 AND ‘71 WAS ONE OF THE BEST BOARDS I HAD. IT LASTED ME TWO WINTERS. IT WAS THE ONLY ONE I WOULD USE AT PIPELINE. THAT WAS THE BOARD THAT I CALLED THE CORAL CRUISER. THAT WENT ON TO BE THE PROTOTYPE FOR ALL THE PIPELINE GUNS OF THE ‘70S.”
When did you start to figure out Pipeline?
It wasn’t until the boards went short in ‘68 and ‘69. That’s when I started campaigning the place and trying to be there for every swell. I was probably 20 years old by then.
I was there in ‘71 with my brother and I saw you out and you had the place wired, or it seemed that way to me.
[Laughs] Oh yeah?
You were just stuffing barrels like it was shore break, and it was pretty gnarly out there. That’s what I meant by wired.
Well, all through the last years of the ‘60s and all the way through the ‘70s, I was pretty much charging it as hard as I could, every time there were any waves there.
How did you develop your style?
It just developed from the boards I was riding and the spots we were surfing.
You just seemed to have this Zen and be one with it. I guess that’s one way to describe it.
Well, you had no choice. It was either find some harmony with it or take some heavy gas. Obviously, everyone did that, myself included, but you learn how to figure out the best way to do it, the most efficient way to do it, or you give up. I guess I was one of those guys that just kept breaking all my boards in half, then building a new one until I came up with a board that really would work well there. If you were there in ‘71, that was the board I had. The board I had in ‘70 and ‘71 was one of the best boards I had. It lasted me two winters. It was the only one I would use at Pipeline. That was the board that I called the Coral Cruiser. That went on to be the prototype for all the Pipeline guns of the ‘70s.
You shaped all your boards then?
Did you glass them as well?
[Laughs] Yeah, I did.
You did everything.
We did everything.
Did you come up with Lightning Bolt?
I did. Jack Shipley and I started that in 1970. The Hobie Surfboard Shop was going out of business and we knew the guy and he said, “Do you guys want to buy the lease and all the fixtures in the shop?” He practically just gave it to us. We said, “Yeah. Let’s try it and start a shop of our own.” So we came up with that name.
How did you come up with that name?
I don’t know why we thought that would be a good name, but at first it wasn’t because people would call up looking for the surf shop and we’d say, “Lightning Bolt” and they’d hang up before we got to say the Surfboards part.
They were jumping on it.
[Laughs] We kept at it and got a reputation for building pretty good surfboards. Pretty soon, we got pretty well known. Actually, maybe we even went on to become the most well-known surfboard brand of that period.
Did you expect that?
No. We just needed a job. Working for ourselves was better than working for somebody else.
How was it at the beginning of doing the shop?
Well, we knew what we were doing because we had been doing it for a bunch of years already, so we just kept doing what we knew how to do. Rent was cheap and as long as we sold some boards, we did okay. I was still living at my parents’ house, and overhead was pretty minimal. You didn’t need much.
What did your parents think of you rushing Pipeline and that whole surfer lifestyle back then?
They kept asking me what I was going to do when I grew up. At one point, my dad goes, “Well, I guess this is what you’re going to do, huh?” I said, “Well, it seems to be working.” He was like, “I guess you have more of a job than all your friends, so what the heck.” They were both educated people. My mom was a teacher and my dad worked for the newspaper. He was one of the editors. I guess they had hoped I would do something more with my life. Surfing, at that time, was certainly not regarded in the same light as it is today. It certainly wasn’t considered a career. It was actually more of a disease than anything else. It all started to change right then, although slowly at first, but it was in the transition of becoming more acceptable. Once the shop started having more success, we went on to do the clothing thing, which was in ‘75. Then my parents said, “Oh, now I guess this is okay.” I dropped out of college the last semester of my senior year to pursue the shaping and surfing thing, mostly because it was a really good spring season to surf, but we also had the shop going and we were into it.
What were you majoring in when you were in college?
So you were into design as well. Did you come up with the Lightning Bolt logo?
Yeah, I did.
It’s probably one of the strongest logos ever, in my opinion.
Surfing was definitely a small world back then, but in that world, at that time, it was pretty big.
How was it jumping from just building surfboards into the whole clothing world for you guys?
Well, it was a shock, but we actually had more instant success doing that than we did with the surfboards. Right off the bat the thing took off, so it was fun.
Who were your competitors back then, Hang Ten and Golden Breed or other surf companies?
Those guys had already choked up, so we didn’t really have any real competition, there was Sundek and they weren’t really a surf brand like we were. Even though they were selling swimwear, we were selling anything we could put the lightning bolt on and people would buy it. It was a great thing. Those were great times because it was uphill the whole way.
How did you start picking cats to ride for Lightning Bolt, like Rory [Russell] and [Jeff] Crawford?
They were just all the best surfers. They actually wanted to ride for us. Everybody wanted to ride for us, so we pretty much took them all, especially in Hawaii. I think that’s why the clothing thing did so well because you could look at a Surfer Magazine and any feature of surfing in Hawaii would show pretty much everyone riding a Lightning Bolt board. It was all the top guys, whether they were from Hawaii or California or Australia or wherever. They all wanted to ride our boards and that made it even more popular.
You put in all this work, so when did it feel like it started paying off a little bit?
Well, financially, it never really paid off, but it was a whole lot of fun. [Laughs] Finally, in 1980, I ended up selling out my interests. Jack Shipley and I had started the Lightning Bolt Surf Shop, just the two of us. With the clothing thing, we ended up getting involved with a whole bunch of other guys. We still had the surf shop, which was a separate business, but the clothing thing involved a bunch of other partners and once that started getting really successful, they started fighting with each other over the money. We never had any money, so we were on the side watching these guys battle it out and having to choose sides. It seemed to take away from whole reason that Jack and I started the thing and why we were doing it. I ended up selling my interest in the clothing thing and the surf shop as well because I just wanted to go surfing in Indonesia. I was already living on Maui and I was moving on. I just went surfing, which is what I’d been doing the whole time.
“WE ARE MORE SERIOUS ABOUT OUR SURFING THAN OUR IMAGE.”
How did you guys figure out that Indonesia would have these amazing waves? Was that from looking at maps or what?
No. We used to go to Australia quite a bit because we had a guy down in Australia making our Lighting Bolt boards. The pro contest started up down there, so we started doing that. Going from Australia to Bali is like going from the West Coast to Hawaii. It’s pretty close. We went the first time and it was like, “Holy cow! This is great!” Then we just kept going back.
Your first trips were to the mainland of Bali or did you guys go out to G-land?
In 1974, we went to Bali and that was the best surf we’d ever seen anywhere in our whole lives and no one was there. A couple of years later, we started going to G-land, and we’d go back and forth between G-land and Bali. The whole time, it was getting more popular in Bali, so we ended up staying more in G-land and spending as much time as we could down there.
And there was no one out?
It was not a lot of people.
That’s pretty epic. Did you guys ever venture to Tahiti to surf back in the day?
Yeah. In the early ‘80s, before Teahupoo and all that stuff, we went to Moorea, Raiatea, and Huahine and surfed the spots there.
Have you surfed Teahupoo since? That’s a heavy wave.
No, we only went to Tahiti that one time.
Did you have to surf in the Huntington U.S. Surfing Championships back when you had to wear those orange helmets?
I did, and those helmets were huge.
I was a little kid watching and those helmets looked so heavy.
They were heavy and worse when they filled up with water. That’s when it was all happening, man. Huntington Beach, David Nuuihwa… It was really cool.
Did you enjoy contest surfing?
Yeah. At first, it was a normal part of surfing. There weren’t that many contests, but surfing is pretty competitive and the contest was more of a get-together. Everybody would come, so it was a gathering, and then you’d have the contest. Usually, the best part about it was that you got to surf whatever surf spot they held the contest at with just a couple of guys in the water, and we all liked that. Of course, if you won, that would be great. If you didn’t, that was okay too. It didn’t really matter. They weren’t that big a deal. Of course, when they started to go professional and having prize money, that was even more incentive, but I wasn’t a great contest surfer. I didn’t have as much success as a lot of the other guys. It was just something we all did.
How many times did you win the Pipe Masters?
I think it was a couple of times.
When you were surfing in the Pipe Masters did you feel pressure to do good to keep pushing your products or was it like that for you guys?
No. We were lucky and stoked we had a job because most of the guys surfing down at the beach didn’t. It wasn’t that much of a job building surfboards, but it was kind of a job.
It’s a job. If you’re doing something and turning it for a profit of some sort, it’s a job, whether the people agree or not.
Yeah, it’s the parents mostly who you’re trying to live up to.
My parents were pretty cool about it but they were like, “What are you going to do with your life?” I said, “I’m doing it and it’s not that bad.”
My parents were the same and, finally, they just went, “Oh.” It became a moment of realization for them. They looked at me and saw that I was happy and I wasn’t doing that bad and I could pay my own rent so they just accepted it.
I have a kid and I know that for the love of your kid, you just want them to be cool or whatever.
Yeah. You just want them to be happy.
So when you first started surfing you were just like, “Okay, this is what I love the most.”
That really didn’t happen until after high school. I enjoyed it, but it was more recreation than anything serious. It wasn’t until I went to college in Whittier, in 1966, and it was at the end of the first big boom in surfing and the whole Gidget, Beach Boys thing. I had an association with a surfboard company in Newport Beach called Ramsey Jay Surfboards. It was a small little company. They’re not even around anymore. Being from Hawaii, I showed up there one day. I was more into school than I was surfing, but we went to the beach because it wasn’t that far. We drove down Valley View straight to the beach, to Huntington and saw those guys at the shop and they were so stoked that they gave me a board to ride. They told everybody, “Yeah, this is our guy from Hawaii, our team rider.” I was like, “Wow!”
[Laughs] Just because you were from Hawaii.
Well, I had gotten a board from them before, so I had a relationship with them, but showing up like that, they gave me a board to ride and there was a lot of love. It was cool. Of course, in ‘66, there was a lot of love going around anyway.
[Laughs] It was a crazy time and you were one of the cats living it. I’m just living vicariously hearing you talk about it.
When I was in college, I wasn’t a surfer, really, in my mind. I was a student. I was serious about that. After that visit to Ramsey Jay and seeing what the scene was, I got into it and said, “This is cool.” We took a trip down to Ensenada with a guy that lived in Whittier that was into surfing and that changed everything for me.
Oh really? It was the trip to Ensenada?
That was when I figured out that this was what I wanted to do. I want to be a surfer.
It seems as the whole surf thing was seen as just beach bums hanging out on the beach, but it seemed like a pretty good life choice when I was a kid.
That was the whole thing with my parents going, “What about school?” I go, “What about it?” I still went to school, but I was going surfing more and more. Then I transferred back to the University of Hawaii, after my first year at Whittier.
So you split college right before you were about to graduate?
Yeah, but that wasn’t until 1970 when I started Lightning Bolt. This was just when shortboards were starting and all that. That didn’t happen until late ‘67 and early ‘68. It was all happening right then, like you said.
It seemed like a crazy time to be a surfer with the subculture of free love and the hippie thing and everything else that went with it. It seemed like everybody was pretty wide open.
It was, and surfing was too. It was a great time for surfing. It really was. There was the whole transition from longboards to shortboards and how we were able to ride the waves, especially at places like the Pipeline.
That was all changing too.
Totally. That’s when tube riding started happening. Before that it was luck more than skill.
How did you master riding the barrel?
I just kept working at it. We knew what we wanted to do and we just kept trying to make it happen.
There had to be a time where you were like, “Okay, now I understand what I have to do to be able to slide into the barrel and then pull out.”
Well, yeah. [Laughs] You learn that, but you never stop learning it. You just get slightly better at it as time goes on and you get to do it more.
C’mon, you were one of the first dudes to have it wired, as they say.
Well, you know, I mean, we had good boards.
So you give it all to the boards.
Well, it wouldn’t have happened any other way.
It just seems like some cats had it more wired than other cats back then, and you seemed to have it wired the most. Maybe I’m just giving you some props.
Well, I mean, you know, there’s not really any other way to ride the Pipeline very well because it’s pretty goddamn hollow so you have to ride through the barrel. Before, the boards didn’t allow you to do that very well. When they did, and when I had figured out that first board, then I was like, “Wow, this is cool. I can dig this.” Then the whole Lightning Bolt thing was happening and I had a pretty good job.
Everything just seemed to come together, right?
Yeah. It was good times.
Do you think that college made you understand a little bit more?
[Laughs] Design. Business. I don’t know. I don’t want to use the word serious or professional, but did it make you more focused and disciplined to pull it off than cats that didn’t have that?
No, I don’t think so. I had just come from a period in society where everybody went to school. Do you remember Larry Bertlemann?
He was the first guy at the beach that didn’t go to school. The truant officer would come and ask us, ‘Hey, have you seen Bertlemann?” We’d go, “No.” We all looked out for each other, so we covered for him, even though we had seen him. The truant officer would leave and then Bertlemann would come out of hiding. We were like, “Dude, they really wanted you. You better go to school.” Well he didn’t but he did end up to be one of the best surfers of that time. Before that, everybody went to school. It was a whole different mentality. It was through those times in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s when everything started changing everywhere, in school and in society and in the surf. It was a good time. Life was good.
[Laughs] Were you involved with that Rainbow Bridge movie?
There was a lot of stuff happening when you were growing up as a kid.
Yeah, the ‘60s were happening, really happening.
[Laughs] It was all happening, man.
What about your involvement with Big Wednesday when that was going down with Jan-Michael [Vincent] and all those guys?
That was fun.
How did that come about for you?
I just got a phone call one day from John Milius, out of the blue. He asked if I wanted to be in the movie and I said, “Sure.”
Were you a stunt double?
No, I actually played myself in the movie.
So you filmed down in El Salvador and Mexico?
We shot some second unit stuff down in El Salvador but they never got what they wanted. They filmed most of the movie around Los Angeles. We spent a few weeks up at the Bixby Ranch, north of the Hollister Ranch. Then they decided that they were going to go over to Hawaii and shoot the final surf scene in Hawaii. That was around December.
How was it to deal with the Hollywood thing?
It was great. I think everyone would like to have a chance to go to Hollywood and have that experience and I did. I had a good time.
You also did Conan the Barbarian, right? You were Conan’s sidekick?
Yeah, I was the second lead in Conan, behind Arnold.
Did you enjoy acting?
I enjoyed it while I was doing it, but I didn’t think I wanted to make a career out of it.
I didn’t particularly care for that lifestyle. I liked the surfing lifestyle a little better.
[Laughs] I don’t blame you. When you guys were shooting Conan, where did you shoot that? Was that in Hollywood or on location?
That was in Spain. We were six months in Spain, four months in Madrid and a couple of months down in the South of Spain on the Mediterranean.
How did they get to you? Was it through Big Wednesday?
Yeah. It was John Milius who did Conan. All the films I did were with John.
That’s cool. He used to surf, no?
Yeah, he grew up in Malibu.
How did you get into snowboarding?
My wife suggested it one time and we went and we both loved it. Generally, before snowboarding, she used to ski. In the wintertime, she used to try to get me to go skiing with her, but the wintertime is when the big surf came and I was afraid I might miss something, so I never went skiing. Snowboarding came at a time in my life when the opportunity presented itself, and it ended up and still is more like surfing than any of the other offshoots-from-surfing sports like skateboarding or windsurfing. It was a natural thing. Once I started doing it, I really got into it. Here I am, 20 years later, in Oregon, still loving it.
Where do you snowboard up in Oregon?
Do you feel surfing and snowboarding in powder are basically parallel?
Yeah. There’s no tube rides but you can leap off a cliff or get a big jump. Unless you ride powder snow, it’s hard to relate, but in the soft snow it is parallel to the surfing feeling.
Dropping in on the giant face of a wave and dropping in on the giant face of a mountain going as fast as you can go, it seems like such a match to both of those worlds. It’s within that world of water, frozen or the ocean. It’s amazing.
Yeah, it is.
What year did you first hook up with snowboarding?
I started snowboarding in 1989. My wife’s folks lived in Redding and we were trying to go to Shasta, but they didn’t have any snow that year, so we drove up to Ashland. That was our first time into Oregon, and we had a great time. We were living in Maui, so you had to take a snowboard trip if you wanted to go ride, so we did that a bunch of times. We took a trip up to Bend and rode Mt. Bachelor in the ‘92/’93 winter, and we liked it so much that we bought a place up there and started spending more time there and we’re still there.
Do you surf up there?
As much as I can. I’m surfing here more now than I did at first. At first, the only thing I wanted to do up here was snowboard.
Was it a hard transition to figuring out edges when you were snowboarding?
No, everybody picked up on it pretty quick. The quickest was one of my team riders, Eric Totah who had it nailed within about an hour. He was just going off in an hour. It happens pretty quickly when you come from surfing to snowboarding. If you can learn in powder, you’re going to learn really quickly if you’re a surfer.
Have you ever snowboarded on the big island?
No, I haven’t. I rode my motorcycle through the snow up there a few times. It’s a hit and miss deal with the snow on Mauna Kea. I just never was there at the right time.
When you got into snowboarding, did you immediately go to the world of heli-skiing and all of that?
Well, I had a couple of opportunities and I got to do it a few times, so that was cool. For me, because I’d never spent any time in the snow world, just going to the mountain was cool. You go up there and it’s not like a surf spot where everyone is all in the same spot. You get up the mountain and you get off the lift and you go one way and within a few minutes you’re all by yourself.
Which is insane.
It’s great. There’s a lot of space. I think that’s what appealed to me so much about Oregon. There’s all this open space.
Do you ride parallel or surf stance?
Surf stance. I’m not a duck stance kind of guy.
I just think snowboarding is one of the coolest things that man ever invented.
It is pretty cool.
It’s insane. I’m into snowboarding myself.
Now the skis have gotten better, but for a long time, it was so much better on a snowboard in powder than it was on skis. Now that’s changed. The snowboards actually influenced the ski designs quite a bit; so now skiing is really cool again too.
Do you ski?
No. I Nordic ski a little bit, but I’m a kook. I just do cross country for the work out.
Are you into yoga and that whole scene?
How did you ever get into yoga?
It was the ‘60s, man. I was a hippie. I just saw it and got interested in it. Now it’s become a large part of my life. I’ve also discovered that it comes into people’s lives right when it’s supposed to. I guess it was supposed to come into my life when I was 20 years old, so that’s when it happened.
“AT SOME POINT, YOU UNDERSTAND THAT IT’S MORE ABOUT THE PROCESS THEN REALLY TRYING TO GET TO THAT DESTINATION OR TO THAT GOAL.”
Did it help you with surfing and every other aspect of your life?
Yeah. It did. It helps with everything.
You figured out how to tube ride and you figured out how to do yoga, so you were setting trends early on.
Well, I was just trying to do my thing and what I was doing happened to work.
What is a normal day like for you now up in Oregon, if you’re not snowboarding?
I get up in the morning and mostly spend the first half of the day doing yoga.
How many hours?
Anywhere between two and four.
Is there a certain type of yoga that you practice?
Now they have all these different names for yoga, but it’s all, basically, the same thing. It’s become very specialized these days.
How do you determine if you’re going to go surfing in Oregon, besides when the waves are good?
I just wait for some good surf, because we live in central Oregon, so it’s about 180 miles to the ocean.
Where do you surf up there?
We usually go to a place called Pacific City.
Is that anywhere near Lincoln City?
I think it’s about 30 miles north.
I surfed Lincoln City and it was so good. It was crazy. It was like sheet glass and it’s usually Victory at Sea kind of stormy, but this day was great. It was one of the best waves that I’ve gotten in a long time. I was flipped out. I was sleeping on the beach and I woke up and there were perfect glass peaks boiling everywhere.
Yeah. So what are the companies that you do now?
I work with Patagonia. I’m an ambassador there. I work with Rainbow Sandals and also with Maui Jim. I just started working for Naish International. That’s Robby’s company where I will be shaping boards for surf, SUP, sailing and kiting.
What does it mean that you’re an ambassador?
Well, I represent the company and get involved in events and promotions and I’m involved with the design of some of the gear and clothing and stuff like that. Patagonia has a big surfboard division. Fletcher Chouinard, Yvon’s son, runs that, so I’m involved a little bit with that as well.
They’re pretty eco friendly, no?
That’s the whole nature of everything that they do and has been since the beginning. You see a lot of other companies today that are trying to use that kind of thing to help with their image, but Patagonia is really the real deal as far as that goes. They’ve been like that from the start. It’s a good match for me because I’m an old hippie. [Laughs]
What do you mean you’re an old hippie exactly? I’m so curious about how the ‘60s were for you.
They were big. That’s when surfboards went from longboards to shortboards and that’s when I got turned on to yoga. It was a pretty mind-expanding period of time and it really set me on the path that I’m on today.
It seems like a lot of people are trying to find that same path now.
Well, it’s not that hard to find. Maybe it’s harder to accept, but it’s not that hard to find.
So you go from the ‘60s into the ‘70s… As a kid, it had a huge effect on me, when I would see Nuuihwa pulling up to Huntington in a Rolls Royce with a fur coat on and giant platforms and he had a board caddy. It was just wild. I was like, ‘Wow. That’s crazy.”
He was a surf star.
Yeah, but you were a surf star too, right?
No, not like that. I was more of a hippie. Then everything changed and that whole surf stardom thing wasn’t like it had been when David was King. Also, it didn’t matter that much to other people or to me. We were more serious about our surfing than our image.
When did it start hitting for you and you became Lopez?
Well, I don’t think it ever did.
Oh, it did. [Laughs] It did to us. We were like, “This guy is so casual in the barrel.” It seemed like a lot of people emulated how you were doing it.
Yeah, but by then I was on to something else. I was more into the things that I was doing and that I was going to do. Does that make sense? If you are in the present moment, then everything you already did is in the past and unless you learned something from what happened, it has no effect on the present. When we worry about the past or the future too much, we end up sad, depressed or anxious, so don’t worry, be happy.
Absolutely. From the outside looking in, I’m just curious how you perceived it.
I guess I never really thought it was that big a deal, which was probably a good way to look at it because you can certainly get caught up in that thing. I never wanted a Rolls Royce. I’d rather have a Volkswagen or a pick-up truck.
[Laughs] Right. So you were humble and you just did what you did.
Yeah, you know, you’re just doing it. You’re just going and doing one thing and then all of sudden something else comes along and the surfboards get better and you discover new surf spots and you keep constantly going from one thing to the next. You never really are trying to hold on to anything that you did. You’re trying to focus more on what you’re trying to do.
When you started to see your pictures in the magazine, it affects everyone differently, so I’m curious how that affected you. In the picture of you at Ala Moana on the cover of Surfer, you were in a pretty crucial part of the lip.
Yeah, that was kind of a cool picture. That was a big surprise when I saw that one. [Laughs]
I was like, “This dude is doing a turn under the lip.” It just looked cool.
Actually, I ate shit right after that, but it made a nice picture.
[Laughs] I love that. Why were you so casual when you were inside the barrel?
Well, there wasn’t really anything else to do in there.
[Laughs] Yeah, but how could you relax in situations of such intensity?
Well, you had more chance of making it if you kept your cool.
If you got all excited and started thrashing around in there, you probably would have blown it. The thing with the Pipeline is that when we first started surfing there, you’re paddling out and you’re looking at the wave and looking into the tube as you’re paddling out and you’re watching it break and the wave is so steep and it breaks so fast and the thing is so hollow that you think that there is no way that a surfboard is going to ride in that kind of wave. That was the whole idea, to try and figure out how to do that. We spent a lot of time trying to figure that out and then you’d figure out a part of it and have some success and then that success would lead to more success. You never figured it all out, but you figured out a lot of the things that you didn’t know when you started, so it made it fun and it made it safer because when you weren’t making those waves, you were really getting tossed around by them. That was dangerous, so you wanted to make them and that was the goal. It was a process. At some point, you understand that it’s more about the process then really trying to get to that destination or to that goal. Once that realization came to you, everything got a lot easier. Everything was more okay. The wipeouts weren’t as disappointing because there was something to be learned from them. The frustrations weren’t as bad and the disappointments weren’t as great and things started to get better. Then you learn further from that process. Most of the times you were getting your butt kicked at the Pipeline, it really had more to do with life back on the beach. You took those lessons to the rest of your life and found some kind of grounding or at least a little bit of peace and that allowed you to get through life a little more easily. You know, a lot of people struggle, day-to-day, trying to get through life. I’m like, “Wow. What’s the battle about?” You just do it. You stay focused. You keep breathing. Concentrate on your breathing and everything else falls into place. Those things we talked about like the Hollywood thing, those are just things. You have dreams or big expectations about it and then you have the good fortune to experience them and they’re great, but they’re not really that great.
“I NEVER WANTED A ROLLS ROYCE. I’D RATHER HAVE A VOLKSWAGEN OR A PICK-UP TRUCK.”
It’s not everything, right?
How did you figure out how to duck out of the back of a wave when you’re in a situation instead of getting thrown back into the whitewash and the impact zone?
Well, most things in surfing, for most people, certainly for me, come from seeing someone else do it or come close to doing it first. That’s generally how it works. You see something and you try to copy it and then along the way you figure it out. There are a few surfers through history that have been truly creative. To be truly creative, you have to start with nothing. For a lot of the things, that I did, I had something to start with. I saw somebody else doing stuff like that and I just copied them. When you start with something, that’s not creativity. That’s change. Take somebody like Wayne Lynch. You remember him?
Of course, the goofy footer.
He was a truly creative surfer. We’ve become really good friends over the years and he’s working for Patagonia as well so we get to spend some time together. I asked him, “You know all those moves that you had back in the ‘60s, when you’d get high up on the lip, and pull it off?” It was like that photo that you mentioned at Ala Moana. He was doing stuff like that, but he was pulling it off. I asked him, “Where did you come up with those moves?” He told me that he used to go into this dream state when he was lying in bed and he was able to visualize himself doing these things. Then he’d try them out in the surf the next day. That’s true creativity. That’s very rare. There are not many guys that are able to do that. Kelly Slater is, obviously, a very creative surfer. He does stuff before anybody else. Most surfers just see something and they copy it and then they figure out how to do it and then they get the credit for inventing it. [Laughs] The real story, generally speaking, is that it comes from somewhere else.
Who were some of the guys that you enjoyed watching surf when you were coming up?
The biggest inspiration to me was a big surfer in the ‘50s and ‘60s from Hawaii named Paul Strauch. He was about five years ahead of me in school, but we went to the same high school. He was generally recognized by the surfers of my generation in Hawaii as the style master. He was the guy that we all wanted to look like when we surfed the wave. I learned a lot from him, not only about surfing. The way he was on the beach was just the way he surfed. He was just this really elegant, graceful guy, and it carried over into everything that he did, whether it was in the water or not. That was just the way he was. He lives down in San Clemente now, but he surfs San Onofre all the time. I can watch him ride a wave today and he still has that same elegance. There were a lot of great surfers in that time period. David Nuuihwa was fantastic. Donald Takayama, Phil Edwards, Miki Dora, Joey Cabell…they were all great surfers and they all had a great influence on me. There are surfers of every generation that I admire and like to watch ride a wave. I love watching Kelly Slater surf and I love watching Rob Machado surf. Craig Anderson from Australia is a terrific surfer. It’s really any of these guys. They’re all so good.
What do you think of their attack at Pipeline now?
They’re better than ever. It’s bordering on unbelievable. Jamie O’Brien and John John Florence and these guys have taken it to a level that is so superior to what’s ever been done before. Obviously, they’re still perfecting their whole act and they’re just getting better. They really are. They’re not just flash-in-the-pan guys. They’re really dedicated and they’re really serious about what they do and they work hard at it. Anytime you get to see them surf, it’s like a miracle.
There’s a wave that I saw of John John where he gets barreled on the outside at 2nd Reef and then he comes in to the inside and gets barreled again.
I remember that one. He was high up in the tube, and then he came into the inside and really doubled up. For such a young guy, he really has a lot of finesse in his style and a lot of really subtle things that he does that are amazing. They’re unbelievable really. He doesn’t seem to be caught up in the whole surf stardom thing. He’s pretty focused on his surfing and perfecting his craft.
I just remember when I would go to the surf theater in Huntington and I would see Saltwater Wine or Super Session or any of those movies. It was so intense, being a little kid and watching these sets rolling through Second Reef. All of a sudden, you see cats like yourself or the Big Monday thing. I could feel the intensity. I always wondered how insane and intense it was to be out there in the line up at that time.
It’s pretty intense. Any time the surf is big, it is. [Laughs]
Right. It seemed like you guys weren’t even intimidated by a 12-foot wave with a huge face. You were taking off deeper than most of these cats and then you were casually standing up in the barrel and being blown out by the spit. It blew my mind. I was like, “Wow. I want to pull that off one day.”
The photographers did a great job of capturing those images. For us guys that were doing it, we were into the moment. We weren’t doing it to get our pictures taken. We were doing it because we really dug doing it. That was our whole purpose. That was my life right then. Those moments were special, but they were just passing moments. You get to do those things and maybe somebody saw you and maybe nobody did. You got to feel those moments, as brief as they were, and then life went on. You learned at some point that you couldn’t really hold onto those moments. You could touch them when you had the opportunities, but you were more of a conduit as the moments passed through you. The lesson to be learned there was to live those moments to the fullest because that was all they were. After that, there were the next moments.
In living those moments, they pass by and become part of the past, but they were also setting a precedent for what was to be done in the future and what’s possible and then the next wave of cats took from what you guys did.
I don’t think we ever thought like that or had anything even close to those ideas when we were doing them.
In the essence of looking back, it did do that, even though you were living in the moment. It must be a nice thing to reflect on, I would think.
Yeah, it is. My son, who is 24, looks at something and is interested in it and I get to tell him how it was and that’s cool. It’s what’s here and now that’s really important. All those things that we did and all those moments led us to here. It was good.
[Laughs] Living in the now is really the only true existence of being it seems.
Yeah. So many people, ourselves included, spend a great deal of our lives living in recollection or anticipation. What that does is make us have a much less clear picture of what’s here and now, which is really what we should be focused on.
As you live your life, do you get closer to living in the now?
Obviously, that’s the goal. That’s what I try to do.
I get it. Does your kid surf?
Yeah, but he grew up a snowboarder. He grew up here in Oregon, so that’s his thing. Surfing is something that he’s starting to discover now. I think it’s worked really well for him the way his life has gone. He got to choose. Snowboarding was here and he’s really good at it. His work is snowboarding. Surfing, in my opinion, should be first and foremost a recreation. You take it from there if that’s the path of your choosing. That’s how it should begin and that’s how it should end. That’s how my life has been. For me, surfing started as recreation and then it became a pretty serious thing, almost to a professional level, and then that phased out and I’m back to being an amateur again, which is perfect. That’s how I want to be and that’s how everyone should be with surfing. It you take it to that professional level, it’s not something you want to stay at forever. In a way, it’s like Hollywood. It’s not life. It’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s something that you pass through it and, hopefully, have a good time doing it. Hopefully, it doesn’t suck you in and chew you up like it does to so many people.
As a parent now, being a dad to your kid, do you take the lessons that you learned and try to share those?
The learning process never stops. It’s an ongoing education. You try to do the best you can. You make mistakes along the way, but hopefully you learn from those mistakes and then you just push on and keep paddling. The biggest lesson that surfing teaches you is that it’s mostly paddling. You don’t look at it and think, “Wow, this is a lot of work. What do I get from this? What’s my reward?” I get to ride a wave for 10 seconds or 20 seconds and that’s it and then I paddle for an hour to get another ride like that. Life is like that. It’s really a lot of work and you have to put up with a lot of shit, but you get these brief rides that make it all worthwhile. Being a father is one of those things that make it all worthwhile because it’s a good thing.
Yeah. I have a 27-year-old and I find it really amazing. I was a skateboarder back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and I did okay with it and then my kid came along and one day he said to me, “Hey dad, I’m a skateboarder.” I was like, “Yeah? That’s weird.” It was just all of a sudden. Now he’s on his own path and it’s cool to see the influence that dads have on their kids a little bit. I just find it so interesting and cool in a really good way.
In the best cases, most sons look up to their dads. I know I always did when my dad was alive. After he was gone, I realized that I should have listened and paid more attention and acknowledged him a lot more than I did, but that’s life. Those are hard lessons. You do have regrets about opportunities and waves that you missed, but there’s always another one coming, whether it’s a wave or an opportunity. Being in the present moment, gives you a better chance of having that moment and living those moments when they come.