This story first appeared in L’Equipe Magazine-Adrenaline Magazine and is provided here permission.
Gerry Lopez is in Anglet, France these days for the promotion of the fascinating documentary film about his life “The Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez”. The 73-year-old American, who is one of the greatest surfing legends, gave an interview to L’Equipe. On the program: Pipeline, G-Land, yoga, meditation and snowboarding.
Your life is so rich that it is difficult to sum it up in a few words. But if you had to remember only three moments?
“First, I would say my marriage to my wife. It was in the 80s… well I forgot the year. I didn’t think I would get married one day but she said to me “Ok, so hi! I held him back: “Wait, wait, don’t go.” Let’s get married. Her: “Are you sure?” I said “Yes yes!” Then we went to the beach. The waves were good and she asked me which one I chose. “I choose you! I replied. And we went to get married. The second moment in my life is the birth of my son, in 1989. And then, I would remember my first good board made for surfing Pipeline, in the early 70s. It was a very narrow single fin (fin). I called it the Coral Cruiser, it became the prototype for most boards of the time”.
.”Beyond your life story, what are the important messages that you wanted to convey through your documentary film?
“That surfing has so many lessons to teach us about life. These lessons, I learned them while surfing. Basically, the most important message is to live with the spirit of “Aloha” (respect, kindness, love, friendship, calm…), and with the idea of never giving up. You always have to keep rowing, not just in surfing but in a broader, more metaphorical sense. Whenever there are trials or difficulties, you must not give up, but always keep moving forward.”
How do you explain that surfing has become so popular?
“The reason people started liking it is because it feels good. When you’re tired or depressed, you go to the beach and even if you think it’s too much of a hassle to pick up a board and paddle, you’re just going to do it because you know you’re going to feel better afterwards. Every time I’ve headed out to sea, I’ve never regretted doing it. It’s important in life to have something like that that you can rely on to cheer you up no matter what. Especially in the world we live in today, where there is a lot of turmoil and trouble”
How have yoga and meditation helped you become a better surfer and a better human?
“In life, it is often easy to lose focus. Keeping attention on one thing is not easy. Meditation teaches you to be attentive, to stay focused. What is the thing you are most proud of? Probably the fact that I still surf.”
You explain in the film that at some point you become one with the wave of G-Land, Indonesia. What does this special feeling look like?
“G-Land is a very difficult wave to master. To get there and understand how it works, it took a lot of unfinished falls and wrinkles. But luckily, as the atmosphere was very calm and there was no one around the spot, we could really concentrate totally on the wave. A bit like when you go to a Zen temple. You can meditate more easily. Imagine, like in school, a teacher behind you with a big stick. When you lose focus, he hits you hard with that stick. G-Land was the same. Except that it was not a stick but the lip of the wave which came to sanction us. So that really forced us to always stay fully focused. By doing this, we learned a lot about ourselves. And after a while, you realize that everything fits. Every time I came back and my feet touched the sand, my whole body felt good and in harmony with the environment. I was like at home. A feeling of warmth came over me. It was a lot of love.”
If you had to surf one last time before you died, would you enjoy G-Land or Pipeline?
“At this point I think I would ride any good wave. It doesn’t have to be Pipeline or G-Land. I got everything I wanted from Pipeline and G-Land. There are so many other guys today who want to surf them that it’s their time now. I leave them. My time there is over. It can therefore be anywhere, like here at the Chambre d’Amour (Anglet). I just gotta love this wave.”
You have shot some famous films like The Big Wednesday or Conan the Barbarian. What have you learned from these experiences in Hollywood?
“That I didn’t want this lifestyle. It’s too much fighting. And that’s not compatible with a life of surfing and yoga. Cinema, Hollywood, it’s interesting and it’s fun for a little while, but after a while it’s not anymore. And I saw what happened to some of my friends, like Jan-Michael Vincent (the Supercopter actor with whom he shot The Big Wednesday, editor’s note). His life has gone wrong, it’s very sad. I don’t know if you saw pictures of him before he died, he was unrecognizable. There was no way he was rowing and getting a final wave. Me, I want to be able to row until the end”.
Why snowboarding has become your favorite pastime and what pleasure do you get from it?
“My wife and I moved to Oregon to be in the mountains, and at first I naively thought snowboarding was like surfing without rowing. The chairlift takes care of that and all you have to do is glide. It’s great but just a lazy way to surf. I finally understood that we had settled in the mountains in order to balance my life. I had to understand this environment, find the tranquility specific to this type of place. My film is about that. Yin, relating to my inner self, filled by a lot of surfing. It is counterbalanced by the Yang, the mountains. Thanks to that, I have never been so balanced. And now I can go back to the ocean”
.Mathieu Crepel told us one day, with amazed eyes on the occasion of the release of his film Shaka, that every morning you were the first on the slopes, is that true?
“Yeah, I like to get there early, get in the chair first, see the mountain before everyone gets there and gets on it. It’s like after it snows, it’s a new world up there. The view is so inspiring, so beautiful. When I see that, it’s like a religious force. I receive the energy from it, I have the impression of being in the presence of God. The mountain is my church”
What relationship do you have with France and its surf spots?
” I have a long history with Biarritz. We landed in 1971 and at the time there weren’t that many surfers. I have vivid memories of La Barre (Anglet) and Hossegor. We could drive on the beach, go wherever we wanted. It’s a beautiful ocean here, with beautiful waves and now very good surfers. You should know that when you have good waves, you will always have good surfers”
What do you think of current surfing competitions and the dominance of Brazilians like Gabriel Medina, Italo Ferreira and Filipe Toledo?
“They seem to be the best and that’s in my opinion because maybe they’re more passionate than the others. They are so fierce in competition, it’s impressive. Filipe, Gabriel and especially Italo are great to see. I always watch them, I really appreciate them”
ITW by David Michel- Photography by L’Equipe Magazine-Adrenaline.