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Does discovery equal downfall? Photo: Trevor Murphy


The Inertia

I have always found the stories of pioneers and adventurers uplifting and awe inspiring. Men who conquer the seas, climb the highest mountain peaks, or cross immense deserts and forests have always captivated my imagination. What is it that these men seek? Adrenaline? A sudden rush of blood to the head in the midst of danger? They might indeed seek these things, but I believe they seek a solitude and closeness with nature that can only be found in the uninhabited corners of the globe. Inevitably, these men uncover new possibilities for others, others who usually follow in their footsteps and “colonize” what they have discovered. Unfortunately, their discoveries often end up being their curse, since the places they unearthed are quickly inhabited by hordes of humans, eager to partake in the beauty and action these pioneers enjoyed. I think the story of Gerry Lopez serves as a blueprint for this phenomenon. His story illustrates the perils of discovery and subsequently, paradise lost.

Gerry started surfing Pipeline in the early ’60s with some of his surf buddies after watching surfers like Jock Sutherland ride a wave that many considered unrideable. They quickly became accustomed with the spot and, following the shortboard revolution, came to dominate the peak. Gerry won the Pipeline Masters in 1972 and 1973, and eventually came to be called Mr. Pipeline due to his uncanny ability to ride deep in the tube. But his discovery and subsequent success was also the point’s curse. Legions of fans, mesmerized by photos of Gerry in the tube at Pipe, flocked to the spot. Pipeline became a morass of crowds and a supposed cash cow for the surf industry. The previously uncrowded spot was ruined.

Gerry noticed this, and in the early ’70s had already begun his migration to another, even more spectacular wave in Indonesia: G-Land. He and other surfers like Mike Boyum stumbled upon a perfect left hand pointbreak, with reeling tubes that seemed to go on forever over shallow reef. The point was located in an isolated natural reserve on the island of Java and was bordered by tropical forests on all sides. Certainly now, in this remote location, Gerry and friends wouldn’t be bothered by hordes of surfers right? Wrong. The surf media eventually spilled the beans on G-Land, and the spot quickly became commercialized. Nowadays, there are four surf camps at the spot and boats that take surfers to G-Land on a regular basis.

After G-Land’s demise, Gerry wandered the globe for a bit and eventually settled in Bend, Oregon. You heard it right. Mr. Pipeline now lives in landlocked Bend, Oregon, and has taken up snowboarding and yoga among other things. So what drove Mr. Pipeline to such an “exotic” location? Why did he exchange two surfing paradises for Bend’s cold, mountainous terrain? While Gerry has always been elusive as to the reasons for his move, interviews offer us a glimpse of the motivations behind the man. In an interview for Korduroy TV, when asked why he moved to Bend, Gerry stated that “In fifty years of surfing, you don’t have to surf a perfect wave; it can be any wave, I still get the same thrill.” In a separate episode of  “Talkin Surf” held at the Patagonia Shop in Cardiff, when asked if he would return to Pipeline to surf if he could have the lineup all to himself, Gerry replied: “You bet.”

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Although I haven’t personally discussed this theory with Gerry, I can begin to understand his reasoning by taking these pieces of evidence into consideration. I suspect that Bend probably bears some resemblance to the Pipe and G-Land of yore in that it contains two things: solitude…and the stoke of surfing. It hasn’t been ruined by the adrenaline seeking masses. It permits a closeness with nature and an understanding of one’s very soul. I believe this is precisely what Gerry seeks. Before, he used to find it in the tube; now, he finds it on the mountainous slopes or on the onshore swells of Oregon. In the end, the pioneers seek solitude and a deeper knowledge of themselves. In his book Surf Is Where You Find It, Gerry labels this pursuit “surfing.” But, as the title suggests, surf is where you find it, whether in the tube at Pipe or G-Land, or on a snowy mountain peak.

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