WHICH ONE'S YOUR FAVOURITE GURU? BY LUKE KENNEDY
At face value their portfolios look very similar. Both are revered shapers and goofy foot tube aficionados who became icons of the 70s and 80s. Similarly, they each ascended to guru status at two of the world's preeminent waves. Lopez will always be the messiah of Pipeline, but close observers generally give Grub McCabe the nod as The Lord of the Jungle in G-land.
Despite the similarities in their respective resumes and their shared experiences at G-land, Lopez and McCabe took very different paths in life. Gerry has always had the aura of the whispering Zen master who elevated himself to a higher plane of consciousness through his pursuit of yoga, healthy food and the art of graceful wave sliding. With the benefit of slick US marketing Gerry became a bankable pin-up for alternative living long before the likes of Rasta came into being.
Conversely McCabe is more an example of the Aussie everyman whose exceptional talent is matched by a distinct unwillingness to play self promoter. He's happiest when he has a beer in hand and is talking story with a few of his Novocastrian mates who call him 'Grub' instead of guru.
At the height of his surfing fame, Hollywood came calling for Lopez and he eventually played himself in and Arnie's offsider in Meanwhile, McCabe wound up in a New Caledonian gaol after being busted for running drugs with Svengali figure Mike Boyum. This is nowhere near the whole story for either of them, but it does provide a snapshot of how their lives diverged after the halcyon days they spent together at G-land in the late 70s and early 80s.
When I first met Gerry he was out at Sunset on a moody, uncrowded day, navigating a SUP with all the delicacy and poise he'd handled his Lightning Bolt guns in the Pipe glory days. In an hour and a half I didn't see him put a foot wrong as he swooped into late drops, casually escaped dredging shut downs and deftly used his paddle to leverage turns. It wasn't Gerry at Pipe but it was still like watching a cat walk nonchalantly across the top of a half-inch-thick wooden fence.
With only a few people in the water, Lopez was happy to make small talk. Perhaps it's easy to project traits upon people but he definitely had that kind of otherworldly presence that gave you the impression he was tapped into a dimension that only a few had discovered. When a set came my way he just smiled and ushered me in. At the time I remember it feeling like the Dalai Lama of surfing had just blessed me with a wave.
I first met McCabe after the final of this year's Surfest event, at the Beach Hotel at Newcastle. Matt Hoy and a cast of Newcastle's finest were chewing the fat and having a few ales with their mate Grub who was lamenting the loss of several photos that documented some of his better sessions. There is slim tolerance for the pretentious in these parts and McCabe was definitely no exception. Nothing in Grub's demeanour or language insinuated he was trying to pass himself off as a legend. He talked about his lost photos like a 1980s tradie who'd dropped his pay packet at the pub on a Friday arvo, not a surfing icon who had misplaced an important part of his legacy. There was disappointment in his voice but it didn't really matter because he still had the memories and his mates around him to talk story.
This month we bring McCabe and Gerry back together in G-land, the site of some of their most memorable sessions. Not surprisingly they arrived with very different entourages. Gerry was flanked by the likes of Rasta and Machado while McCabe made sure his best Newcastle mates were there to help celebrate his 60th birthday and 40-year Indonesian reunion. Despite the incongruity of the crews the stories flowed and the grandiose G-land stage easily hosted the cast of legends.
Perhaps in a perfect world one surfer would be the amalgamation of McCabe and Lopez. A tube-loving yogi who can stand on his head while drinking schooners and enthusiastically sharing entertaining stories about the Zen and now. Absurdist delusions aside, whether you were part of the Lopez/McCabe era or not, Dave Sparkes' story on the recent trip and subsequent interview with Peter McCabe gives a compelling insight into what it was like to be a surfer when Indo's best waves were a playground for a privileged few, tigers still roamed the east Java jungle and Hollywood actors like Bill Murray made cameos at the G-land camp. Reading the feature was enough to inspire me to book a trip to Grajagan. I suggest you be careful when you pick it up because there's a good chance you'll wind up with a case of jungle fever too.