Gerry Lopez is widely known as the most graceful tube-rider in the history of pro surfing. Watching Lopez was to witness his pure reverence for the wave - his fluid acceptance of its shape, speed and thrust.
Born in Honolulu, Lopez began surfing at the age of 9, and won the Junior Hawaiian State Championships in 1966. He was a three-time finalist in the state titles (1968, 1969, and 1972), and a finalist in the U.S. Championships in 1969 and 1970. In the 1970s, Lopez’ masterful handling of the merciless Banzai Pipeline earned him the nickname “Mr. Pipeline.” And in 1972 and 1973, Lopez won two back-to-back Pipeline Master contests.
In 1970, Lopez created Lightning Bolt surfboards. Their sleek shape changed the face of modern surfing. Lopez continues to shape boards and snowboards in Bend, Oregon where he now lives with his wife and son.
With a spirit of aloha, Gerry Lopez agreed to share his thoughts on how yoga surfed into his life in 1968, and how his life has flowed along ever since.
Yoga comes into people’s lives exactly when it’s supposed to. For some people, it can circle around any number of times before it sinks in. It’s a timing thing. I think yoga comes into your life when you are ready for it to be a part of your life. And, at that point, if you accept it, yoga is there for good … forever.
And it’s there for a very good reason.
Yoga came into my life at the University of Hawaii in 1968. I saw some girls looking at a bulletin board – I would like to think I came up to them asking, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Most likely I peeked over their shoulders and saw they were going to a yoga class. And I probably went to that class hoping to see those girls again. What happened was something entirely unexpected.
That yoga class changed my life. From that moment forward, yoga became a part of my life.
A fortuitous thing happened there. I thought about it deeply a lot since then, about why that happens…
That very first experience at that yoga class – I was sitting there, probably a little nervous, not knowing what to expect. But I remember watching this teacher move – she was so smooth and fluid as she moved from one asana to the next and I remember thinking at the time, Wow, if you could move like that on a surfboard…
That’s what we were all trying to do back then with our surfing. The idea was to make surfing look and be as fluid and effortless as possible.
That’s where I thought yoga would really help. A great deal of flexibility is required in surfing. Yoga is all about increasing flexibility as well as building strength so it fits perfectly with surfing.
It was just the right time in my life, in this life cycle...for me and yoga to connect. It so happened that at the same time, I was trying to find myself in surfing, trying to carve my path. Me, surfing and yoga all kind of serendipitously came together in that class. Perhaps were were all trying to find each other at the same time.
Yoga is the science of breathing.
Breathing also has a great deal to do with surfing.
You know, I wasn’t a big strong guy like a lot of guys were. But I was able to be held down a long time by waves and be okay and not be afraid. Because I was able to relax down there and wouldn’t panic and therefore I could survive the wipeouts and not get freaked out. Surfing back then was wipe out, swim in, get your board, and go back out again. Being able to hold your breath certainly pays off in a big wipeout. Learning to relax makes what breath you do have last quite a bit longer.
But the whole practice of yoga breathing takes a lifetime to understand, develop and see the depth and all the nuisances. You practice and practice and suddenly there comes a time when you need it and it's there for you.
I’ve always believed that the first twenty years of surfing was just a test to see if I was really interested in it. After that, I started to see that, Wow, there’s really a lot of great lessons to learn in surfing. The lessons have a lot more to do with life back on the beach. Dealing with the complexities and difficulties of our everyday existence – the more that I surf, the longer that I do it, I see that really that’s what it’s all about. That's why surfing is such a great metaphor for life.
In the ocean everything is moving - in constant motion all around you. Life is like that, too. It never holds still for you. If you don’t move with it, life just passes you right by. This applies to everything you do. You have to be open, aware, spontaneous and ready to move. That’s yoga. That’s surfing, too.
To become grounded to a wave, you really have to find some sort of harmony with the wave and that translates further into life. To ride a good wave, you need to be like that wave, very smooth too. That was what we’re looking for, what we were seeking, we were trying to become like the waves.
I always felt that surfing was some of the deepest meditation practices that I have ever done. It requires a deep level of focus and concentration and even more so when the waves are big. Surfing can give you a framework that makes that focus a little easier to reach. As soon as you lose that focus, you get slapped by the wave. But if you keep your focus, and ride the wave you are given, it can take your mind and body and spirit to a deeper level …
You have to pay attention.
That’s why we're here in life - to learn how to properly pay attention.
And when we really do finally learn this lesson, we get to get off this wheel of life.
Here's Gerry -- gracefully paying attention
To read more of Gerry’s reflections on surfing and life – check out his collection of essays, “Surf Is Where You Find It,” published by Patagonia books.
Thanks to the Encyclopedia of Surfing for this video