Renowned surf legend Gerry Lopez (aka “Mr. Pipeline”) rumbled into Bend on a Harley in the summer of 1992. He was on a road trip from his then home in Maui through the Pacific Northwest that took him up through the Klamath Basin, for a stopover in Fort Klamath to quench his interest in Captain Jack. Next he was on to Crater Lake. “A beautiful sight,” he says. He followed Highway 97 through Sunriver, up toward Mt. Bachelor then back into Bend. He says, “When we went by Drake Park, we were hooked.”
Lopez made his mark early in his surf career through the late ’60s and ’70s establishing tube riding on the North Shore of Oahu. His accolades include two Pipeline Masters wins, revolutionizing short board riding, and pioneering surf spots around the world, not to mention starring in some of the most celebrated Hollywood surf movies including “Big Wednesday” and “North Shore.”
On that first trip to Bend, Lopez wandered into a snowboard shop called North Shore — the namesake of both the legendary Oahu beach where he made his name and the movie he starred in. Impressed with what he saw, he returned to Bend that winter just in time to experience the now legendary monster winter of 1992-93. The nonstop powder and unique snowboarding terrain of Mt. Bachelor Ski Area wowed Lopez. While Bend seems like a far-fetched place for a Hawaiian surf legend to relocate, Lopez did just that along with his wife Toni and then four-year-old son Alex. Twenty-seven years later, Lopez and his family still happily call Bend home.
Lopez’s relaxed surfing style translates perfectly to snowboarding and to the terrain of Mt. Bachelor, especially the halfpipe-shaped windlips sloping down from the summit of the mountain. These natural volcanic formations capture the blowing snow and form vertical sets of waves across the mountain. Lopez says, “They look every bit as great as a wave in the ocean. The great thing about it is that they’re frozen there for that moment.”
This wave garden off the backside of the Summit lift is undeniably Lopez’s favorite terrain, where he finds lefts and rights to slash and air, even getting an occasional barrel if the snow conditions are just right.
Over the nearly three decades of surfing these ski features, Lopez gained an easy familiarity with the terrain, dubbing individual features with names of famous surf breaks around the world. It was this enthusiasm for the overlap between surfing and snowboarding that led Lopez to create the Big Wave Challenge, an annual event held every April at Mt. Bachelor where, Lopez succinctly explains, “We build waves out of snow and hold a surf contest.” The event welcomes top surfers from around the world, alongside soulful snowboarders, including scholars of the turn from Japan, fellow Patagonia ambassadors and everyday riders who quickly sign up when registration opens. The 2020 event (April 13-14, 2020) will mark the 10thanniversary of this now benchmark occasion at Mt. Bachelor.
Lopez works with Mt. Bachelor’s snow shapers to model the Big Wave Challenge features in the man-made course after iconic waves, including his home breaks of Pipeline and Sunset. The competition walks the line between a surf contest and a snowboard contest with competitors awarded not only for tricks, but also for power, speed and control — much like a surfer in a wave. The event even includes a division specifically for pro surfers; entrants in this category have included top surfers Ian Walsh, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Ryan Burch, Kohl Christensen, Matt Meola, Albee Layer and Jamie O’Brien, to name a few. Lopez also emphasizes the importance of fun.
“The old beach boys of Waikiki used to say, ‘The best surfer is the one having the most fun,’” he says.
Riders are treated to a northwestern luau and traditional island music during the competition, as well as a soulful yoga class led by Lopez, a longtime practitioner and teacher of yoga, at the mountaintop lodge. Proceeds from the 2019 event went to benefit local snowshaper Pat Malendoski, who is battling brain cancer — a gesture emblematic of the spirit of Aloha that guides Lopez.
Gerry Lopez’s Oregon
When he’s not snowboarding or traveling, Lopez fills his days with yoga, shaping surfboards, kiteboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing the river waves and other outdoor pursuits. Did we mention that he recently celebrated his 70th birthday? He was generous enough to share these keys to the fountain of youth with us:
- Snowboarding at Mt. Bachelor, riding the windlips off the summit with fresh powder.
- Surfing at Pacific City all year long. “Anytime the surf is good.”
- Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) the Columbia River Gorge or the Oregon Coast. Lopez is also recognized as an early pioneer in this sport.
- Kiteboarding in Hood River and the eastern Columbia River Gorge in Rufus. “June through September, when the wind blows from the West and it’s warm.”
- River surfing in the Bend Whitewater Park. Check the webcam for current conditions.