Water can be the great purifier, the immaculate teacher. As we learn to tap into the flow, not only does the ride become more liberating, but ultimately we find ourselves at one with the rhythm of the world.
Someone who has consistently found that freedom — be it on waves, snow or dirt — is legendary surfer Gerry Lopez.
Since dropping out of college in ‘69, and quickly becoming the hero for the short board hippy-generation of the 70’s, Lopez’s journey has taken him to points far and wide — from being the all-time master of the Banzai Pipeline (the contest is now named after him), acting in films (Conan the Barbarian, Return of the King, North Shore), to being named 1999’s Waterman of the Year in recognition of his efforts to the stress the importance of the ocean and its environmental preservation.
TGR: How did you get into snowboarding?
GL: My wife’s family lives in Redding, California. We went there one Christmas from Maui, where we were living, and she went down to a local store and rented us both equipment. We drove up to Ashland in Southern Oregon and on the first run down the hill we knew we were both hooked. That was in December of 1990.
TGR: And now you live in Bend, Oregon, home of Mt. Bachelor. How did that come about?
GL: My wife and I came to Bend with another couple the summer of ‘ 92 on Harleys. We were touring the Pacific Northwest and really liked the place. We came back that winter, which turned out to be one of the biggest winters in recent history, and bought a house. Been here ever since.
TGR: At 60 you make a 20-year-old look wimpy. How do you maintain such a great physical presence?
GL: When I’m not snowboarding or surfing I swim and paddle in the river. I do a lot of yoga every day, and I try to eat right.
TGR: How do you divide your time between snowboarding and surfing and what are your favorite spots?
GL: I snowboard as much as I can and probably get in over 100 days a season. Most of the snowboarding is at Mt. Bachelor.
TGR: And the surfing?
GL: I surf Indo between 2-4 weeks a year, a week in Mexico, a couple weeks in Hawaii (between Maui and the North Shore), and the rest on the Oregon Coast. I go to Pipe for the contest, but don’t get to surf it much any more.
TGR: Speaking of the Pipe, if getting barreled is the ultimate in surfing, what’s the ticket in snowboarding?
GL: Probably jumping or launching off a wind lip, like I wish I could on a wave. The good surfers nowadays can, but I’m not that good of a surfer to do it with any consistency on a wave. I can do it on a snowboard.
TGR: What gives you the biggest rush when snowboarding?
GL: Powder is the best, the deeper the better. It can be too deep, but those days are rare.
TGR: And in surfing?
GL: In surfing, at this point in my life, just getting any at all is a rush. It’s all good.
TGR: Any other surfing legends that you snowboard with?
GL: Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner, Derek Ho, Michael Ho, Sunny Garcia are all fun to board with and good snowboarders.
TGR: Do you see boarding (surf and snow) as an artistic expression?
GL: I do. Most people see it as sport and mostly physical, which they are. But I think both can be very spiritual and the emotional aspects are very deep.
TGR: How would you characterize your style in terms of your personality?
GL: Trying to be a natural part of the wave or the hill and not to impose myself on either. I’m not much of a dancer, but if the wave or the hill were the music, that’s what I’m trying to find the rhythm to.
TGR: How has your style evolved through the years, and did the jump to snowboarding influence your surfing?
GL: My style has evolved through a better understanding of the music I’m trying to dance to. I’m hearing and feeling it better. Snowboarding made me appreciate the surf even more than I did already.
TGR: And how has the surfing influenced your snowboarding?
GL: Snowboarding is like being able to surf a mountain. All surfers look at a mountain as lefts and rights. The banks and wind-lips on skiers left are all left slides, and on the other side, they’re all right slides. One side is backside and the other frontside, depending on if you’re goofy or regular foot. Guys who don’t surf have no idea what we’re talking about.
TGR: How would you grade the current generation of surfers?
GL: They’ve taken the sport to a level that we never even dreamed of. I marvel at what they can do and wonder where it can go next. The caliber of surfing on the pro tour is only a few steps shy of Jesus walking on water.
TGR: Which you’re not so bad at yourself. How has your knowledge of Eastern philosophy fed back into your board riding?
GL: I believe that surfing and snowboarding, to a certain extent, can create a space where we can contemplate moments in a pure state of mind, where our spirit is free to soar and head towards its true nature. Surfing, snowboarding and Yoga are all ways to stay in shape and be healthy. Physically to begin with, but when pursued with discipline and dedication, one can benefit mentally as well as spiritually.
TGR: Any particular stream of Eastern Philosophy that you have gravitate to?
GL: Zen seems to relate to surfing in a lot of ways. The level of concentration necessary to surf successfully is very Zen-like. The empty mind you seek when you sit zazen is the same empty mind you have when you surf best. Surfing is meditation, pure and simple.
TGR: How has the Hawaiian culture influenced your spirituality?
GL: My spirituality is based in a large part on my surfing lifestyle. Surfing was a sport that’s totally Hawaiian and maybe practiced as long as 1000 years ago or more. Hawaiian history is unrecorded and, like the American Indian tradition, it’s handed down through each generation by story telling — so we really are uncertain about surfing, except that it held a very special place in that history.
Obviously surfing has to do with a natural spirituality about being in close touch with the elements of the sea. It somehow relates to everything else that happens in life, as well as outside of it. The concept of waves are what most of life is based on, from the simple idea of our own birth, life, and death relating to the same life-cycle of the waves we surf.
TGR: When did you get into Yoga and why?
GL: It was 1968 and I was a surfer-hippie. Everyone was looking for a path to some enlightenment or at least: something enlightening. I also thought it fit with the lifestyle I was into, especially the surfing part. It has maintained my surfing at a level that would have been impossible to keep, had I not been doing Yoga. Flexibility is a key element of long-term surfing, and Yoga is the ultimate for staying flexible.
TGR: What else have you learned from Yoga?
GL: If one questions the why of it all, Yoga has answers. Life, as we know it, is never complete in happiness or satisfaction, and not without pain and suffering. But the Yogis tell us there is liberation beyond these limits and all of us have this lifetime as an opportunity to seek out this path to enlightenment. They call it “self-realization.” I think I’ve found a way towards this goal, I call it: “Surf Realization.”
TGR: Can you sum up our first lesson for us?
GL: It’s always easier to ride the horse (or wave) in the direction it’s going.
Check out Gerry’s latest book.