Throughout the course of surfing history certain surfers
have become synonymous with certain aspects of the sport, be it with a certain
kind of board, a style of surfing, or in the case of Gerry Lopez, a location.
Lopez rose to international notoriety in the seventies for his cool and elegant
surfing in waves of serious consequence, most notably at the reefs of Hawaii’s
famed Pipeline. The calm focus that Lopez was able to achieve in situations
that would keep many surfers on the beach was due in part to the confidence
that comes from knowing you’re riding the right equipment for the waves at hand,
in this case, equipment that he himself had helped design. Gerry and his iconic
Lightning Bolt Surfboards played a huge role in the shortboard revolution that
was happening in that era and helped to establish a radical new style of
surfing and its accompanying aesthetic. Over the next few decades he helped lay
the groundwork for what we consider modern high performance surfing while
influencing several generations of surfers and shapers. It comes as no surprise
that Lopez will be joining the ranks of such influential shapers as Rusty
Preisendorfer, Dick Brewer, and Ben Aipa among others to be honored in this
years Icons of Foam shape-off for his
contributions to the surfing world. Six shapers (Ryan Burch, Ryan Lovelace,
Roger Hinds, Pat Rawson, Ron House, and Ward Coffey) have been chosen by Lopez
himself to attempt to recreate one of his classic Lightning Bolt boards, so we
sat down to talk with the Mr. Pipeline himself about The Boardroom show,
surfboard design, and his insights on the past, present, and future of surfing
that could only come from a lifetime spent in the water and in the shaping
FOAM E-Z: When did you
first find out you were going to be honored for this years Boardroom Show, what
was your reaction to that?
Lopez: I was down here in January working with Robby Naish at the HanoHano
Race, the first event of the stand-up paddleboard season. Rob Machado and I were surfing in
front of his house at Cardiff Reef and ran into Scott [Bass, creator of the Boardroom Show] in the parking lot, and
he asked me if I could come to the show this year. I came one year when he had
it up in Ventura and I came I think the year before that when they had it in
Del Mar, just briefly, and so I said ‘well I don’t know…’ And he said he wanted
to do the Icons of Foam thing, and I said ‘I don’t know, I don’t know…’ And he
just kept pressing me, so it was kind of hard to say no to him so finally I
said o.k. [laughs].
FOAM E-Z: Sounds pretty informal.
Lopez: Yeah kinda like most surfer things, so… here we are [laughs].
FOAM E-Z: How did you go about choosing the six shapers for the
shape off to replicate one of your classic boards?
Lopez: Well that was really easy, I just thought about all these guys
that I’ve shaped with and some of the young guys I’ve seen and when he [Scott
Bass] said ‘Who do you want?,’ I just reeled the names off. The only guy who we
couldn’t get a hold of was Tom Eberly so I said ‘Well what about Rawson? See if he
wants to do it.’ And Pat said he would.
F-EZ: No doubt they all jumped on the opportunity. It seems like your choices cover several
generations of shapers, was this the intent?
Lopez: Yeah I feel like we’ve really covered a lot of ground here. Ron
House and I used to build boards together, you know back in the late sixties
and all through the seventies. And Ward, he was younger, but he was always that
shaper who I really admired his work and his surfing. And Roger, I’ve known him forever, and he
was the returning winner*. With the Two Ryan’s I’ve always really liked the
work they do and the stuff that happens on those boards that they make. So
that’s what I suggested to Scott and he said that sounded good to him so I said
F-EZ: How often do you find yourself shaping boards these days?
Lopez: Oh, well I mean as much as possible. You know, the shop is about
ten minutes from my house, and my son is very interested in shaping so, yeah I
spend a lot of time down there. I don’t produce a great deal, but I’m in there
F-EZ: You spend a majority of your time living in Oregon now, what
is your shaping set up like there? Is it pretty similar to what you would have
somewhere else, say in Hawaii or California for instance, or is it something
Lopez: No, I mean yeah my shop’s in Bend, but you know, I’ve set up a
lot of surfboard factories in my time and they’re pretty easy to do so it’s pretty much like all the rest.
F-EZ: You’ve got it down to a science now eh?
Lopez: [Laughs] Yeah I guess… it’s a nice little set-up though.
F-EZ: Has the change of climate affected your processes much?
Lopez: The resin actually works really good up there, the air’s really
dry. I mean it’s cold so you have to heat it, but in some ways it’s easier to
work with the resin and the foam there than it was in Hawaii.
F-EZ: Has your knowledge from shaping surfboards affected how you
approach shaping stand-up paddle boards, or has what you’ve learned from
shaping SUP’s affected the way you approach shaping surfboards at all?
Lopez: No, I mean the stand-up boards are just big surfboards. That’s
all a standup board is.
F-EZ: It seems like the level of interest in events like The
Boardroom show and surfboard shaping /design in general continues to grow every
year. Would you say that the shaping community is more open and willing to
share some of it’s secrets and processes to the average surfer who is just
curious or looking to learn shape their own boards now than was in previous
Lopez: Well in a nutshell, first of all there aren’t any secrets
[laughs]. Everything that’s being done now had been done before. Definitely Bob
Simmons has done most of it before anyone, shape and construction-wise. Secondly it’s really not that hard to build a surfboard. If I can do it anyone can
do it, and you know once someone does build their own board, whether they just
shape a board or go through the whole process and glass it as well, they figure
that out in a hurry. Then they also experience the satisfaction and everything
else that comes with taking that board that they made out in the water and
riding it and seeing that it actually surfs pretty damn good. From that point
forward it’s just they want to do it again and do it better. And I don’t think
that that’s changed, going back to the ancient Hawaiians, even though maybe it
was a little more…eh, it wasn’t as easy to do back then.
the steps are the same, as far as going surfing, liking it, wanting to get
better at it, and getting to a level where you’re pretty good at it, but not
being able to go beyond a level that the shape of your surfboard kept you at.
So you either get a better board or build yourself a better board and in that
way you advance your surfing skills. And so if you build a board yourself at
least you’re understanding the design of the board. Like I said, I don’t think
that has changed since the very beginning of surfing.
F-EZ: Would you say that having knowledge of surfboard design and
the shaping/glassing process has the ability to improve a person’s actual
surfing ability? If so, in what ways?
Lopez: I think so. I think when you understand things better you get a
clearer picture of how it’s supposed to work.
F-EZ: Briefly, what do you think are the some of the most
progressive as well as most detrimental trends in surfboard design happening
Lopez: Well I think it all helps in one way or another, just that some
things help more than others. I think that there is really a lot of people
interested in what was done in the past more now than ever before. At one point
everybody was looking ahead and didn’t maybe grasp the concept that it’s all
been done before, but maybe in the wrong combination of design features and
factors. So putting them together in a different way might have a different
outcome, and you really see almost as much experimentation in shape now as you
saw when the boards first went short in the late sixties. The understanding
that comes by seeing guys like Ryan Burch or Craig Anderson, or these guys that
are riding these boards that are really not considered mainstream-type designs
and are riding the hell out of them in like heavy-duty kinds of waves, or any
kinds of waves, really making them work like you wish you could surf. Like Rob
[Machado], he’s been riding boards here that are way off the grid for a
long time and really riding them well. And you look at the board and you go
‘wow, I didn’t think you could do that on that board.’ I think that and I’ve
been surfing boards for, shit, almost sixty years. And I thought I knew some
stuff about it, and the more time goes on I realize more and more that I hardly
F-EZ: Especially now with the internet as a factor, it’s not even
just about what you’ve personally experimented with, there’s also everything
you can see or read about that other people all over the world are
experimenting with, which you can take and apply to your own shapes and
Lopez: And that’s being done especially now because there’re way more
surfers, on a greater scale than it was when the first short-boards started
coming out and no one knew what they were supposed to look like, but everyone
knew what they were supposed to work like. They were just supposed to work
better than the boards we had before [laughs].
F-EZ: You’ve said that one should not try to ride the smallest
board they possibly can ride, rather they should aim to ride the biggest board
they can that will allow them to do what they want to do, why is this an
important rule to keep in mind?
I saw a trend back in the eighties, where everybody was trying to ride a board
like Kelly was riding, and I tried it too. Potato chip boards are really narrow
with a lot of rocker, and I couldn’t catch any waves on it. And I realized
right then that I was kidding myself- that I wasn’t as quick or lively, or as
good as Kelly or Rob were. I needed more surfboard and I think that I’m more of
what most surfers are like, I’m an average surfer, and someone like Rob or Kelly or any of the top
guys are the cream floating on the top. Generally speaking, what they ride is
probably way more advanced than what most people could ever figure out how to
ride. So I think it’s better for the mainstream to pull back a little and just
catch the wave before you figure out how you’re going to ride it because you
can’t ride it until you catch it. A bigger surfboard is going to allow that to
happen way easier than one that’s way too small.
that, I mean surfing is a sport of tremendous and continual frustrations, I
think even for the really top guys, in lesser degrees of course. But if that’s
all it ends up being for guys of medium ability then how long is it gonna be
before they just go ‘screw-it, I’m not having any success, I’m gonna just go
play tennis or baseball or something.’? So yeah, with a little bit more foam
you can catch more waves and maybe learn a little bit more about riding because
then instead of missing all the waves, you’re actually getting some.
F-EZ: It seems like you and Grubby Clark are pretty close, did you
ever help him design/test any of the blanks back in the Clark Foam days?
Lopez: Oh yeah I’m pretty sure I used, at one time or another, all of them.
F-EZ: Were there any that you had a particular attachment to, maybe
that you put more time, effort, or attention into refining?
Lopez: Well I had a blank in 1980 that was one of the biggest selling
blanks that Clark Foam had just because that particular blank was a size (I
think it was 6’9, I can’t quite remember anymore) that was the size board that
everybody used. I mean you could get a lot of different sized boards out of
that blank. So it wasn’t really super specialized, but it was close enough to
shape and you could build a pretty strong surfboard out of it. When I built it for Clark I just made a blank that they didn’t have, and one that I could use to shape the majority of the boards that I was riding at that time.
way through Clark Foam Grubby and I were very close, we experimented with a lot
of different stuff, you know. The tow-in high density blanks are another thing
that comes to mind. I told him we needed to make the boards heavier and
stronger, and trying to do it with stringers or fiberglass wasn’t the way to do
it because the weight distribution kinda went askew. So I asked him, can you do
it with the foam, so he made up some tow-in foam that he said were just about
solid resin. But the foam was capable, it was actually really easy to shape,
like all Clark Foam Blanks were, and it was really hard too. But still managed
to have enough flex to have that factor into the design as well.
F-EZ: Where did you turn to for blanks after Clark Foam closed its
doors in 2005? What sort of blanks and materials do you like to work with now?
Lopez: Well U.S. Blanks, ‘cus that’s where everyone from Clark went
[laughs]. Yeah I still use P.U. [polyurethane] foam and polyester resin. We do epoxy
just because the paddle boards, SUP or prone, with polyurethane foam would just be too heavy,
so pretty much you have to do them with polystyrene [EPS foam]. But yeah, I
have a close relationship with U.S. Blanks, I think their service has just
carried on what Clark Foam had become at the end, and maybe even better now.
You can pretty much order what you want and get it pretty quick, the service at US Blanks is really outstanding.
F-EZ: Do you work with a CNC machine and shape design programs ever
or do you stick strictly to hand shaping?
shaping is from scratch. You know, I’m old school. I can probably, if you
include the indexing of the blank, beat any shaping machine around with my
planer [laughs]. And for me that’s the best part of the shaping, the planer
F-EZ: What sort of direction would you like to see surfing and
surfboard design head next?
Lopez: Well what I want doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going
to happen. I just enjoy watching what is happening, because like I said, I
think right now more is happening at the present than has almost ever happened
in any other time in my short history of surfing. You can build a surfboard for
any kind of wave and any level of surfer and make it so they can have fun on
it. I think that now more than ever guys that are building surfboards
understand that more clearly. That’s why you see such a wide variety of boards,
and also so many surfers.
F-EZ: Will shaping always be in the picture for you or do you
intend to retire from it at some point?
Lopez: Well why would I do that? [Laughs] I mean as long as I continue
to surf I’m always going to want to make my surfboards and all the boards for all
my friends and everyone else.
*Roger Hinds won the 2015 Icons of Foam shape-off honoring
the work of Rusty Preisendorfer.