When I connect with Gerry Lopez, he’s traveling in San Jose del Cabo with his family. “I’m going through this phase in my life where I’m learning to become a surfer again,” Gerry jokes. “It’s not easy, man is it rewarding.”
Despite what his humble words might suggest, Lopez is no novice when it comes to catching waves. The Hawaii-born surfer found what would become a lifelong passion in 1958, when his schoolteacher mother brought a 10-year old Gerry and his brother down to the beach at Waikiki, where some of her students ran a board rental stand. “In Hawaii in the 1950s, all life revolved around The Beach.” Lopez tells me. “People would refer to Waikiki simply as that, The Beach, as though there were no other.”
Since catching that first wave, he was hooked. “That first time you surf—it’s the most extraordinary sensation,” says Lopez. “There’s this feeling of gliding—you feel as free as a bird. Most surfers spend their entire lives trying to re-discover that initial sensation.”
When Gerry and his brother were teenagers, they would frequently go down to the beach on weekdays to surf. “I started to notice that it was only us kids and old guys” he recalls. “I actually asked one of the older guys where all of the 20 and 30 year olds were and he said ‘well, they’re working.’ I thought about that a lot.” He explains that he knew then and there that he never wanted that kind of lifestyle that would keep him from the waves—and he never did.
Led by his fervent desire to have the freedom to surf, Gerry was able to carve a life for himself that didn’t revolve around the typical 9–5 desk job, but rather operated on nature’s time. Surfing, perhaps more than any other practice, is intrinsically reliant on weather patterns.
“Now they have all of these apps that tell you how the surf is going to be, but back then, you never knew until you actually went down to the shore and looked,” says Gerry. In order to be around when the waves were good, he began a small business repairing and making boards—a craft he learned by doing.
“Today surfing has become such a major industry,” says Gerry, “but back then, it was so simple.” He laughs, noting that “since all of my clients were surfers, it was just understood that if the surf was good on a certain day, it might take longer to get their board, because of course we were all out there on the waves.”
In 1968, Gerry began practicing yoga, as he considered that it would enhance his surfing. However, over time the practice became equally as important to his daily life. When he and his wife moved to Oregon in the ‘90s, he had more time to devote to the practice. “They are truly parallel paths,” he says. “They each require a certain meditative state or flow state, where you are completely focused and wayward thoughts don’t inhibit you. When you’re not in that flow state, you will not be in harmony with the wave, or with yourself.”
Gerry’s easy-going temperament and humble wisdom is staggering as he describes traveling around the world looking for surf, and living his life in accordance with nature. A sentiment that he continually repeats is this mantra that “movement is medicine.” He speaks with this sense of trust in the natural flow of things as he describes this state of harmony in which effort becomes bliss. “We just have to keep paddling,” says Gerry, “on the waves and also in life.”
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga