You wouldn’t expect a lifelong surf addict, let alone one of the most famous and influential surfers of modern times, to blissfully call inland Oregon home, but that’s exactly what Gerry Lopez has been doing for the past 15 years. Known the world over simply as “Mr. Pipeline”-a nickname derived from his casual, harmonious, and downright artistic approach to tube riding the most dangerous waves on the planet-the Hawaiian-born goofy foot now coming up fast on 60 years young has been celebrated for years as a surf pioneer of the highest degree.
From revolutionary barrel riding at the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore to groundbreaking surf travel in the wilds of Indonesia to world-class board shaping skills and an often overlooked role in the birth of modern big-wave surfing, Lopez has been drawing crucial lines across the landscape of surf culture for the better part of four decades. His choices are informed not just by a deeper understanding of the act of wave sliding, but also, and perhaps most importantly, by an unwavering and ever increasing faith in the spiritual power of the act itself.
As Lopez explained it recently, speaking from his home in Bend, Oregon, with a late-season snowstorm fresh on the mountain passes around him, “My first 20 years [of surfing] were just a test to see if I was interested, and then, you know, things started to reveal themselves to me and I started to see that, wow, there’s really a lot more going on than just paddling out and riding a wave. I found my religion inside of myself through years of just spending time out in the ocean and being in nature.”
In his book Surf Is Where You Find It, released just last week by the folks at Patagonia, Lopez deftly continues the long-standing surf tradition of “talking story,” providing a humorous, easy-to-read, and wisdom-filled literary treat for lifelong surfers and salt water neophytes alike. Essentially a compilation of 38 stories about what the author calls “characters, good wipeouts, and big days” from his life less ordinary, Surf Is Where You Find It is an unintended spiritual ode to Lopez’s journey down the path of life. “I didn’t really have a message in mind when I wrote it, and I certainly didn’t have one in mind when I was living most of these stories,” explained Lopez. “But I believe there is a message in it just like I know that there are a lot of messages, important messages, in surfing. But they are for each person to interpret however he does that or not.” In his opinion, the book is the product of little more than his desire to “write things down before I forget them,” and the fact that he “has always liked a good story and had a few good stories” himself.
That being said, it’s clear from both his debut book and listening to him speak that there are great rewards to be had from living a life in step with nature and the moment that surrounds you. Surf Is Where You Find It, at its best, provides anecdotal evidence that inspires you to leave behind the dead weight of a life lived via recollection and anticipation and open yourself up to the infinite power of the now. “When I wake up each morning, the first thing I do is check the surf, and then I plan my day or, now, when it’s snowing like it has, I wake up and check the snow,” said Lopez. “To me, that’s the best way to be: To live a harmonious life that’s as closely in tune to nature as you’re able to be in this modern world.” And then, after a short and telling laugh, he added, “It’s not that easy.”
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard will introduce Gerry Lopez, who will speak at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Tuesday, May 6, at 8 p.m. Copies of Lopez’s book will be available for purchase and signing. For tickets or more information, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.