The early 70’s was an exciting time, when surfing was elevated to a new dimension. Like in many sports, pioneers progressed into legends, and set the standards for future generations to follow. Victor Lopez’s life has revolved around the ocean, a place where has gathered strength and wisdom to help make this planet a better place to surf.
It was at the University of Hawaii where Victor’s parents met, his mother was from Kauai, and his father was from the East Coast. Both shared the same love for the ocean which they passed onto their children.
Waikiki was where Victor and his brother Gerry were to learn how to surf. “My mom took us to the beach and rented us boards,” he says. “That was it, we were hooked.” Both were active in other sports for a while, yet by pre-teen years, life was all about surfing.
“When we were young, we were fortunate enough to surf with some of Hawaii’s most classic surfers,” he says. “Joey Cabell, Conrad Cunha, Buffalo, Phil Edwards and Billy Hamilton all had a big influence on us.”
Gerry is two years older than Victor and like most older brothers, has pushed him to excel. “My brother was a natural, and was into contest surfing,” he says. “I was more into having a good time.” He reflects back to the time before leashes were used. He would paddle out Gerry’s extra board at Sunset for the Duke contest. “I remember dodging bombs out there, yet the vantage point I had watching truly the best surfers in the world was incredible,” he says.
Despite growing up in the surfing capitol of the world, Victor successfully completed high school and went on to receive his degree in Psychology from the University of Hawaii. With his parent’s influence and his own perception of the world, he was able to realize the importance of education. “I worked at the Lightning Bolt surf shop and did construction to pay my through school,” he says. He feels that in such a competitive world, it is very important for young people to prepare themselves for the uncertainties life offers.
After college, Victor was planning on Law school, but while vacationing on Maui, all his plans changed. “My wife Terry and I came to Maui and fell in love with this place, we then decided to make it our home,” he says. Victor started his own construction company, which is still his livelihood today.
“Some of the positive changes I have seen here since the mid-70s are the improvements in the school system and the addition of the cultural center,” he says. “On the downside, there are far too many hotels and too much beach access has been cut off from the locals who use the ocean as a way of life.” His advice to surfers who would like to help preserve the island: “Care,” he says. “Get involved with ocean related causes and attend the Sierra Club meetings.”
Speaking highly of the strap team and their water safety techniques, Victor feels he has learned a lot while watching and being a part of the Jaws experience. “Buzzy and I do our own thing out there, yet I have so much respect for the level Laird and the boys have taken the sport,” he says. “I’ve had a couple of close calls; I was once on an 18-footer and pulled in. The wave sucked out and I went down. I was dragged for a long while and when I finally came up, Mike Waltze was right there; he has nerves of steel. Another 20-footer hit us and we lost the ski. Mike put himself in harm’s way to save me and I can never thank him enough, I call him my angel.”
Victor was an early traveler of Indonesia, where he and his brother explored virtually uncharted terrain. “It was a great bunch of guys we travelled with back then,” he says. “We hooked up with Peter McCabe and his mates. The waves were so perfect and uncrowded.”
He speaks of his brother as a best friend, and tells about the countless surf trips they have experienced throughout the years. Fiji stands out as his favorite travel destination. “The people are so friendly and the waves so perfect,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time at Tavarua.”
A proud father, he glows when talking about his children’s accomplishments. “My son Shaun has been charging these days, he’s spending the summer in Tavarua as a boatman,” he says. “My daughter Allyson was recently asked to be on the Roxy surf team.” They both are attending college in San Diego this fall, and Victor couldn’t be happier that his kids are carrying on the Lopez dynasty.
With the friends and family that have filled his life with meaning, Victor truly appreciates and embraces his fortune. His style and character personify the legendary life of a true Hawaiian waterman and indicate one who is indeed soulfully blessed.
This story originally ran in MauiTime’s June 9, 1998 issue.
Photos: Erik Aeder Photography, Denjiro Sato and Peter Sterling