Hawaiian tuberiding specialist, lauded for his cool-under-fire style at Pipeline in Hawaii, and still regarded as the model of wave-riding elegance and refinement. "What he does is poetry," fellow Pipeline ace Rory Russell once said. "For sheer beauty, no one else even comes close."
Lopez was born (1948) and raised in Honolulu, the son of a newspaperman father and a high school teacher mother; he began surfing in Waikiki at age nine, but didn't take the sport up in earnest until high school, when he was greatly influenced by silky-smooth Hawaiian regularfooter Paul Strauch. He won the Hawaiian Junior Championships in 1966, 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.
The shortboard revolution had by then enshrined the tuberide as the ultimate surfing maneuver, and while Lopez was in the high-performance vanguard, ricocheting off the curl and doing hairpin cutbacks, he began to focus on riding as far back inside the wave as possible. Taking cues from Pipeline ace Jock Sutherland, Lopez taught himself how to take the simplest but deepest line through the tube, first making the near-vertical drop down the wave face, then turning and positioning himself beneath the curl with an absolute minimum of adjustments, and finally assuming a tranquil posture within the tube itself, knees slightly bent, arms and hands lowered, gaze steady. "One movement, one breath . . . very Zen," three-time world champion surfer Tom Curren said of Lopez's tuberiding at Pipeline. "Like an archer pulling back and letting the arrow fly."
By 1972, progressive surfing was all but defined by images of the sinewy (5'8", 135 pounds) dark- haired Lopez atop a sleek pintail surfboard decorated with a narrow lightning bolt logo, racing deep inside the Pipeline. Asked a few years later by Sports Illustrated magazine how he was able to keep his cool while enclosed in a exploding funnel of water, Lopez said it was partly from choosing the right waves, but also a matter of focus and concentration. "The faster I go out there," the soft-voiced goofyfooter told the magazine, "the slower things seem to happen."
Lopez was the most-filmed surfer of his generation, and a protracted Lopez-at-Pipeline sequence was part of nearly every surf movie made between 1971 and 1978, including Morning of the Earth (1972), Five Summer Stories (1972), Going Surfin' (1974), Super Session (1975), Tales from the Tube (1975), and In Search of Tubular Swells (1977). While the yoga-practicing Lopez had doubts about the validity of surf competition ("Surfing's a dance," he said, "and when you're trying to squash your opponents it kind of takes away from that whole experience"), he nonetheless entered most of the pro events in Hawaii, winning the Pipeline Masters in 1972 and 1973, and making the finals in a handful of the meets held at Sunset Beach. He also traveled to Australia to compete during the nascent years of the world pro circuit.
Along with surf contest judge and board salesman Jack Shipley, Lopez opened the first Lightning Bolt Surfboards outlet in the summer of 1970. Mentored by boardmaking guru Dick Brewer, Lopez had been shaping for three years, and his boards were in demand. Bolt went on to become the decades' biggest and best-known surf company. Lopez sold his interest in Bolt in 1980, and for three years worked as the vice president of marketing for Pipeline surfwear. By that time he was spending at least a few weeks each year surfing in Indonesia, and was one of the first to stay in the tree-house camp at Grajagan in Java; he later said that he actually preferred the long tubes of Grajagan to the shorter, thicker, more intense waves at Pipeline. Lopez moved to Maui during this period, where he continued to shape surfboards under his own Gerry Lopez label.
Lopez also had costarring or cameo roles in nearly a dozen Hollywood films and TV shows, including Big Wednesday (1978), Conan the Barbarian (1982), North Shore (1987), Farewell to the King (1989), and Baywatch (1989).
Over the decades, Lopez has also written dozens of articles and columns for surf magazines, on topics ranging from travel to yoga to tow surfing. Lopez: The Classic Hawaiian Surfer, a short illustrated biography, was published in 1982, and a book of Lopez' own essays, Surf is Where You Find It," came out in 2008.
The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association gave Lopez its Waterman Achievement Award in 1999, and the following year he was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame. Surfing magazine named Lopez their 2002 "Shaper of the Year." He was cited in 2004 as one of the 16 best surfers in history by Surfing; in 2009 Lopez ranked fourth in Surfer magazine's list of the "50 Greatest Surfers of All Time."
In 1992 Lopez moved with his family to Bend, Oregon, where he opened a small snowboard manufacturing company. Lopez still lives in Bend, surfs the coast of Oregon, and works as a "brand ambassador" for Patagonia.