Review: The Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
The Depth Test

Part review, part powwow with the zen king of Pipeline.

It’s been decades since Gerry Lopez was at his surfing peak, cakewalking at Pipeline, pioneering at G-Land, so the question of ‘why now’ had me curious. Why did The Yin and Yang of Gerry Lopez come out now?

“I don’t know,” Gerry responded blankly when I asked him, “that’s just the way things happened.”

Clearly I was looking for meaning in all the wrong places.

Gerry wasn’t being evasive or difficult in his answer, however he unknowingly gave me an insight into his mindset. For someone who for years has animated the surfing world, Lopez is surprisingly passive. Almost a dreamer. Though ‘observer’ would be a better description of the things that just happen around him. While keenly aware, he makes no judgement, holds no firm opinion. If it wasn’t so cliched I’d say he simply goes with the flow.

Over the years there have been a few filmmakers who’ve wanted to make a Gerry Lopez biopic, and Gerry admits to being keen, however they could never get the angle or the story right. “Stacy [Peralta] contacted me just after he made ‘Riding Giants’,” says Gerry, “and told me he wants to make a film.”

“I thought ‘OK’,” says Gerry, again flowing with the current, “and we made a start before hitting a few hurdles and stopping.” That was fifteen years ago. Recently, Patagonia started up a film division, encouraging Stacy and Gerry to revisit the project and see it through. Thus it’s not timed to coincide with anything in particular, and nor is it rushed before he falls off the perch - after all, he’s in terrific nick for a septuagenarian - the timing just is.

Which is fitting for a guy who flows like water.

I’m not sure what it says about myself, but I watched the film hoping for more of the yin than the yang - more darkness, more dirt. The title promises balance - of dark and light, bad and good, weak and strong - but it only partly delivers on that commitment.

The story is largely told chronologically, with a few digressions for good measure, but the storytelling rests upon the yin/yang device. It works as a starting point, and is very true when considering how a softly-spoken, lightly-built surfer came to rule the world’s most brutal wave, but the idea peters out as the film advances. That’s fine, it doesn’t detract from the show in any way, human lives are too complex for one-dimensional explanations anyway.

More curious, at least to this critic, is how Gerry even came to be a surf star, leave alone retaining his star power fifty-something years after he started up Lightning Bolt Surfboards with Jack Shipley. Of course, he had the poise of Nureyev on a surfboard and was calm like Colonel Kilgore on a battlefield, yet so much of his life happened by chance. Lopez came to surfing late -  only applying himself after a premonition in his college years - became a commercial shaper by accident, careened into the coolest brand of the 70s, and bounced out of it blemish-free when it imploded, fell in with scoundrels on the make in Kuta who opened a whole new world for him, and later moved to Oregon on a whim, making a success of that too.

Contrast all this against, say, the ambitions of the modern sports star, or the manipulative world of PR and brand management and Gerry proves a point: that maybe there’s a place in this world for dreamers, the people that simply leave things to chance, as long as they’re happy with where their decisions take them. By all indications, Gerry appears very happy with where his lack of forward planning has taken him, even when it’s hundreds of miles from the ocean. Wherever he goes, there he is.

So, no, they’re isn’t much yin, or darkness, in the film because he’s simply not an unpleasant person - he knows which wolf to feed. Don’t expect dirt or controversy of any kind, because despite the title allusion there’s little to be found. Gerry Lopez’ story isn’t one of fraternity, we don’t relate to him as another flawed human being, but as an example for our better selves to follow.

All very spiritual, no? 

While chatting, Gerry told me that his next project is a follow up to his 2008 book ‘Surf Is Where You Find It’, only this time he’s exploring the spiritual dimension of surfing. Twice during our conversation he wonders about, what I’d call, ‘the intangible benefits’ of a surfing life. A clear mind. Vitality. Purpose. Even social order. Dora’s cynical quip about life being a waste of time plays no part in Gerry’s surfing worldview.

“You Australians get it,” says Gerry about the social standing of surfing down here, going on to explain how surprised Stacy has been at the aftershow Q&As. “Most of the questions have been about yoga, or about looking after yourself through surfing.” Stacy apparently was taken aback, though Gerry, who last visited Australia eight years ago, and retains many friendships down here, expected as much.

The film itself is classically Peralta, in that it has all the stylistic flourishes of Stacy’s earlier work including jump cut editing and lens flare effects. Surfers of a certain age who have opening film sequences of Gerry’s Pipeline bottom turn/stall combo seared into their brain may be a tad disappointed that Stacy uses minimal slow-mo. The film is very much paced for a modern audience.

A large bonus is that much of the period footage either hasn’t been seen before, or it can’t easily be found on digital platforms. The producers have worked hard to source rare footage. For some viewers it’ll be entirely new - I’d never seen the drop in footage of Shaun on Gerry - while for older surfers it’ll be a case of deja vu all over again.

Though The Yin and Yang of Gerry Lopez will get a digital release later in the year, it’s playing in select cinemas now and it goes without saying the big screen is its natural home.

Comments

PCS PeterPan's picture
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PCS PeterPan Thursday, 13 Oct 2022 at 10:23pm

Stu , great summation of the movie . I saw it at the Ritz with crew and was amped beforehand , but felt flat on its close . Totally agree with wanting more grit from the story. Mabey Gerry did just dream through life .
During the Q and A at the end I asked the question about if he has a current association with the likes of Tom Parrish and Bill Barnfield .A vague question at best which he kind of brushed off . Having been in on a conversation with Bill and having listened to Tom Parrish's story , I get the feeling he was very adept at reading people and situations . And in doing so , seized his opportunity in a polite way . I'm probably reading too much into it and I guess it was 1970's surf industry rules back then.
If they ever do one on Jeff Hakman , that would be a story .

lost's picture
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lost Thursday, 13 Oct 2022 at 11:32pm

Mr Sunset - The Jeff Hakman story is a cracker read if you haven’t already read it.

juegasiempre's picture
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juegasiempre Wednesday, 19 Oct 2022 at 6:40am

Got that from an OP shop for a dollar. Certainly a crazy life.

dandandan's picture
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dandandan Thursday, 13 Oct 2022 at 10:57pm

A nice review Stu - thoughtfully put together.

I wonder how much of the longevity of Gerry's popularity is his ability to sell things, given that there's very few people who are popular or well known in mainstream surfing who aren't somehow the face for a product or their own personal brand. There's t-shirts, mugs, wall clocks, prints etc with his likeness on it. If his image and his aesthetic weren't for sale, would there be as much of a mainstream following for him?

If you were trying to dig up an alternative side to the meditating yoga surfer image of Gerry, Stacy could have looked at Gerry's weird deal with Costco mass producing $99 soft tops, but it would make for pretty messy storytelling given his sponsorship with Patagonia.

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memlasurf Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 11:08am

Yes and by a mate who surfed with him at Ulu's he was a major hassler in the water and would have no problem dropping in as much as he liked. There is always more to a story and the Yanks love to only tell the good bits. I wonder why so much flys under the radar the only extended bit of surf journalism I have read lately that gets under the hood is stab's 'How surfers get paid'. Tells it like it was rather than a white wash.

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Thursday, 13 Oct 2022 at 11:40pm

Good writing Stu as always, some mystery, elusiveness always adds to the legend, always thought Gerry managed his way through the crazy years of his rule well given some of the "characters" around at the time. .

simba's picture
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simba Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 7:18am

yes as i focus said above it would be nice to hear about his relationship with the enforcers that supposedly were his followers back in the day especially in the early Bali days ?

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus Saturday, 15 Oct 2022 at 11:55am

Mate got king hit by "Eddy" in Bali back in the day was told Gerry was with the same group.

Muzdog's picture
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Muzdog Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 9:16am

I remember going to the old Surfers Paradise cinema and watching early surf movies , sitting in the canvas sack seats and watching Gerry in a barrel at pipe in slo mo whilst we all in unison yelled yewwwwwwwwwwwww !

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 2:16pm

Just wot the fans crave...#1 Surf Journo masterclass.
Are we not men ... We are dreamers.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 2:29pm

When the pro vs. non-pro era came to surfing; he managed to straddle both zen and non-commercialisation of zen, by getting paid by sponsors for non-competing; quite an achievement. But I'd say his main achievement was finding that same middle pathway when the non-competitive surfer/explorers (by and large) financed their lifestyle with drug dealing; so it's not just the third-eye perspective he has honed to perfection, over his lifetime, the blind eye perspective has served him well too.

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 2:59pm

Hmmm. What to think?

I came to surfing after the Lopez era, so there's no automatic reverence for him, but the old Pipe photos are hard to dismiss. It's hard, though, to get a handle on the man: is he trying to come across as the man without a personality/opinion, or is he that man? Is he very shy and hides behind that front?

The trailer doesn't sell the movie in my eyes. Looks and sounds too vanilla, and I keep waiting for Sam George to pipe up. Would much rather watch a Pete McCabe biopic.

Good article, though. Cheers, Stu

RichieMac's picture
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RichieMac Monday, 24 Oct 2022 at 7:57am

Have a look at Sea of Darkness,now that's Yin And Yang and Peter McCabe features heavily

brandonrooney14's picture
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brandonrooney14 Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 3:46pm

Went to the Cooly screening. Pretty cool experience. During Q&A, politely waiting her turn... a lady asks "Gerry, it's been a while since you've been here... tell me something about Michael Peterson?" Jerry went into story saying how much of an unbelievably fast surfer he was and that it was just a matter of going for second place (he said the same about Rabbit – can't remember if that was in the film or in a question). I had half-expected it was Joan Peterson asking that kinda question... I looked around in the crowd and it definitely took a few people by surprise (a few gasps of awe and the like) when she said "oh, that's nice, I'm Michaels' mother".

nicko74's picture
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nicko74 Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 4:10pm

Great write up Stu, I’m impressed at the quality and depth of your writings.

I reckon there’s an opening for you mate

“At the Movies with Stu and Margaret “

Going forward you’ll probably have to include a score out of 5 in future reviews?

Thanks mate

Weatherman's picture
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Weatherman Friday, 14 Oct 2022 at 5:03pm

Interesting article as usual Stu. Yes, he is certainly an enigma in many respects. He did apologize for all the waves he stole of people at the start of the film and was obviously a bit of an animal out at Pipe. But can you get to the absolute top of the tree at a place like Pipe by just being a mellow dude? I don't know. He certainly came across as someone who "goes with the flow" as you put it Stu. I was amazed that he showed no anger or malice when he talked about the Lightning Bolt shop getting burnt down by an arsonist. He will remain inspirational despite any negative aspects of his life or personality I think.

Great White Snark's picture
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Great White Snark Tuesday, 18 Oct 2022 at 11:41am

Lopez is walking marketing scheme

Blue Blue Room's picture
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Blue Blue Room Tuesday, 18 Oct 2022 at 9:22pm

Gerry in slo-mo perfectly in tune with his red board & yellow LB
All in harmony with Santana
The classic climax of some of those movies
I bought a couple of red boards in that era
No trainer wheels in those days, gotta respect that

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo Tuesday, 18 Oct 2022 at 9:48pm
PabloM's picture
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PabloM Monday, 31 Oct 2022 at 12:02pm

Love Gerry tube riding technique, such an stylist. Can’t wait to watch it. Great article Stu.

udo's picture
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udo Monday, 31 Oct 2022 at 4:39pm
the-u-turn's picture
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the-u-turn Monday, 31 Oct 2022 at 5:06pm

Well written and well described, Stu.
Any comparison between Lopez v Dora raises my left eyebrow, just a tad.