Talking Story with Gerry Lopez

Talking Story with Gerry Lopez

Title photo by Anonymous. Other photography by Angel Doane-Mau.

Gerry Lopez, with his classic surfing style and reputation as “Mr Pipeline,” is no doubt an iconic figure in the surfing world. A few months ago, I was given the opportunity by Patagonia and Insight Editions to read and review the revised and expanded edition of his autobiography, Surf is Where You Find It” Little did I know that I would soon be able to meet him and talk a bit more with him one-on-one. I was fascinated and humbled to have a glimpse of life through the eyes of Gerry Lopez.

Before I read his book, I had heard of Gerry Lopez, but I didn’t know much about him. However, as I began to read his story, I was quickly drawn into his world. His writing is transparent and modest but also entwined with humor and genuine passion. He writes about surfing and life in a way that anyone can appreciate.

Talking with Gerry in person is like talking to a friend, even if it is just a brief first conversation. It is evident that this is a man who loves what he does. He has been such a part of surfing history, but his demeanor is unassuming and kind, with an air of wisdom gained by living a full and adventurous life. I am so appreciative of his eagerness to share his story and the lessons that he has learned.

What is it that inspires you to continue doing what you do even when things get tough, even in the ups and downs?

Because I’ve done it so long, had such a good time doing it in the past. You know how you tend to continue doing the things that make you feel good. The things that make you feel right, feel right themselves. They – surfing and yoga – have paid off pretty big time for me for pretty much my whole life, so I just keep going down that same path, and it’s not like they’re the kind of endeavors that you ever… I never feel that I peak at any of them. Obviously, when you’re a little younger, you can get away with a little more, but each in itself is an ongoing learning process, and I think that’s really important for anyone. I’ve always felt if you were the smartest guy in the room, you probably were in the wrong place, so I really enjoy continuing to have these things both keep teaching me. And a lot of it’s reminding really, because a lot of stuff you probably already knew, but you forget, and you have to be reminded to keep doing it.

What makes you feel most fulfilled in life?

Just getting through the day smoothly and having a feeling of some contentment even if it may be only momentary. I think that’s what we’re all striving for, and it’s a constant challenge. It’s like surfing. [In surfing] you can’t really have too many expectations because it’s constantly changing. It’s always something different. That’s the thing about surfing. For me anyway, I’ve always felt that it’s a continual surprise. You never truly, really know what’s going to happen. Every time you catch a wave, there’s either a big surprise or at least a small one. Maybe it’s not like that for Kelly Slater or the top surfers of today, but pretty much their whole surfing experience is such a top-level, acute skill level that really no one else in the history of the sport has ever done before. So maybe the surprises are less for them than they are for the rest of us. But I think that when you get through the surprises of the day and feel like you’ve had a pretty good day, you’ve done well.

If there were one thing that you could tell my generation, what would it be?

It kind of went without saying in my time, just because there were a lot fewer surfers, and there was always the guy that we looked up to as being the best surfer, the guy that kind of ran the show, whether he was really running it or not. Everybody regarded him as being the guy that surfed the best and knew which were the best waves, knew where to take off, who also kind of kept his eye on everyone. Because he was probably the most aware person out there, we all not only sought to emulate him but to learn as much as we could from him. No matter how bad you screwed up, if you had shown the proper respect up until then, he would most likely give you a break and maybe even give you a lesson by telling a story or something so that you learned something from the experience and hopefully never did it again. In that way, not only the lessons, but the general etiquette, the manners, were passed down from the older surfers to the younger ones, and you didn’t have the free-for-all that you have today. That’s not to say that’s because there’s any less respect, but there’s just so many guys and so much stuff happening and changing and moving that it’s very common and easy for people to feel that they’re not getting what they want or hope to get, and therefore tensions do arise. I think that the message that I might have for the generation of today is not only to try and surf with Aloha but to just live with Aloha as well. When I was talking about Duke [Kahanamoku], what his card said… that is something all of us should try and keep close to our hearts.

With women’s surfing, how have you seen that progress? I know it’s not your specialty, but what’s your opinion on that, as it’s definitely been getting bigger?

My son’s girlfriend, she surfs circles around me, and I’m so proud of her that she has taken her surfing to that level, and she’s just one of many. The top women’s surfers of today have definitely proved that they’re easily as good as most of the men, and, in a lot of cases, a lot better.

Mahalo nui loa Gerry for taking the time to talk story with me and for being so willing to share a bit more about yourself. Thank you also to Alessandra Wike, Patagonia, and Insight Editions for giving me the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book.


Maddie Buresh is a writer and photographer with an unquenchable desire to explore the great outdoors, from the ocean to the mountains. She finds joy in trying new things, living in community, and crafting stories that encourage people to go outside, have adventures, and enjoy this big, beautiful world.