Director Stacy Peralta’s an award-winning documentary filmmaker and one of the most influential skateboarders of all time. His documentary Dogtown and the Z-Boys won him the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival and his brand new film, The Yin & Yang Of Gerry Lopez turns its attention to Gerry Lopez.
While “Mr. Pipeline” is famously known for his calm demeanor in the tube, Gerry built his career with aggressive surfing that left behind a trail of blood and tears. He’s one of the most influential surfers and surfboard shapers of all time, an entrepreneur, a family man, a movie star and a lifelong yogi who brought surfing to new frontiers.
Can you tell us about how you first got into surfing?
GL: I spent a lot of time at the beach growing up. My mother was a teacher and some of her students had a surfboard concession. I don’t know whether they were bad boys or maybe she gave them a break on homework or something, but when I was ten, and my younger brother was eight, she took us down to the beach in Waikiki and her students let us use two rental surfboards. And so, that was the first time and we paddled out with my mother. She was a very good swimmer and she pushed me into the first wave. The feeling of gliding, the French call it La Glisse and somehow, when the French speak of it, it has much more than just a physical feeling to it. It has much deeper metaphorical connotations. Just La Glisse, it’s the glide. And I remember that, the gliding of just the wave pushing the surfboard. I didn’t understand it. All I did was feel it and it made me feel really good. And it made me feel like I wanted to do it again and again – and my whole life changed. Actually, it didn’t change right away because it took a few years more before I really started to get into surfing. But that first time was feeling that glide and just, having that wave carry you along like that, it was a real magical feeling.
And then how did you get from there to the North Shore and eventually to the pipeline?
By high school I was really into surfing. I mean more than just the fun of it. You know, in high school you need to be somebody. You have to find some kind of identity. I wasn’t good at sports or big enough to play football or baseball. So, I guess I was a surfer because it was really easy to be – you didn’t even have to be good at it, you just had to identify with it. That was my identity.
When you’re 15, you can get a license in Hawaii. So, I was 14 and my friend was already 15, so he was able to drive and we would go to the North Shore. And one day he wanted to go to the pipeline, and that winter for some reason the surf was very small. That day at the pipeline, the biggest wave was maybe four or five feet. But it was a beautiful day, and we were the only ones on the whole beach, so there was nothing scary about it.
The pipeline already had a little bit of a reputation. But this day was very calm and very friendly looking. So, we went out and the waves at the pipeline break very, very fast and it’s very steep and on longboards that are very straight with no rocker, it’s difficult. You can catch the wave, but then to make the take-off is really hard because the wave stands up so fast that the nose goes down and you end up swimming to the beach. And that’s what happened to me and my friend. Every wave, we would just wipe out, wave after wave. Then another kid came paddling out and we saw it was Jock Sutherland and he already had a reputation. He’s the same age as we were but he grew up on the North Shore, so he had done quite a bit of surfing and he was very good and he helped us to make the take off.
Jock and I went on to become great friends and he was a great mentor to me in those very early days of surfing, because he was a much better surfer. He taught me a lot of things at the pipeline in the very beginning.
You talk in the film about stealing waves. How has that mindset shaped the way that you surf?
If you wanted to get better at surfing and there were lots of people already surfing in your spot, then you have to be aggressive, because the only way you can get better at surfing is by riding a lot of waves and you have to practice.
If there’s a lot of other guys taking waves, you know, sometimes you just don’t want to wait until it’s your turn again. You want to cut in line. And I did a lot of that, which wasn’t very nice, but that’s how I was back then. I’m not like that anymore.
When I was at Eisbach recently, I noticed that there was a line and everybody had to wait their turn. And I went “Wow, that’s a great thing, you know?” And I’ve experienced that here with our river wave that the attitude, the vibe, is really like the early days of surfing, where everybody welcomes everyone and is really helpful and everybody’s having a good time and smiling. I thought about that a lot and went “Yeah, it’s really simple.” Everybody knows who’s turn it is why we can’t embrace that? The world would be a much better place if everybody took their turn.
Another very important part of your life is yoga. How has that influenced you?
I was already really into surfing, but in 1968, I started making my own surfboards as well, so I guess it’s coincidental that yoga came at that point in time too. Looking back on it all, I think that was just the way it was supposed to be, because for every difficult question I’ve ever had in life, every meaningful question, yoga has had the answer.
For example, what happened when I felt so bad losing a contest? I learned from yoga that nothing in life is about winning. It’s about mastering and when you’re able to master something, then you never lose. Even if you got last place, you still won something. That was a light bulb moment for me.
Really the ultimate platform of yoga is the spirituality of it. It lets us know that’s what life’s all about.
Thanks for taking time, Gerry. Any parting words for us?
I really believe that all of us surfers are very fortunate because surfing is a gift that keeps on giving, because there’s so much depth to it. None of us have really examined the deepest secrets that surfing holds – maybe Duke Kahanamoku came the closest. Surfing is something that can really bring a person eternal happiness. And you know when you have that, there’s nothing wrong. Ever.
For tickets to the special Q&A screenings with Gerry Lopez and Stacy Peralta or to find out more about The Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez visit Patagonia.com.au/gerrylopez.