Rumors swirl about the origin of the Lightning Bolt logo. Some say the Bolt was a graphic metaphor for a particularly strong strain of marijuana circulating the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1960s.
Company co-founder Gerry Lopez fouls that off: “IT WAS ABOUT THE ENERGY.”
In 60s and into the 70s, Hawaiian surfers were energized by the Shortboard Revolution. Nat Young shook up the world with his “Total Involvement” surfing, taking his foot off the nose and on the tail of surfboards that were evolving shorter, lighter and faster by the season. In Hawaii, that meant mini-guns – light, narrow-backed pintails that were a universe away from the 10-foot elephant guns of the mid-1960s.
Mini-guns allowed surfers to boldly go where no surfers had gone before – deeper, faster, higher and lower: Deep into the gizzards of Pipeline, up high in the lip at Sunset, right into the Backdoor at Pipeline.
And then there was Gerry Lopez. Standing 5’ 8” and weighing maybe 135 pounds, Lopez came flying out of the late 60s and into the 1970s, engulfed in Pipeline spit, standing limp in the eye of the storm, making something very difficult look like a cakewalk. Thousands of words and images have swirled around Lopez at Pipeline, but Tom Curren might have said it best: “It’s like letting an arrow fly.”
Lopez was the picture of cool and calm surfing The Pipeline when surfers were taking their sport back and taking it underground. Real surfers were appalled by what mainstream culture had done to surfing in the 1960s: Frankie and Annette riding the wild surf bom dip da dip da dip. It was phony BS into the 1970s, all of a sudden it was uncool to be cool. Be visible. Lopez was an exception to that. The world was mesmerized by a man who matched Pipeline’s power and beauty with grace. Lopez’ fast-twitch, German/Japanese physiology was part of the act, but what was under his feet was also important.
Matt Warshaw detailed the influence of Gerry Lopez as figurehead/godhead in The Encyclopedia of Surfing:
Lopez was the most-filmed surfer of his generation - a protracted Lopez-at-Pipeline sequence was part of nearly every surf movie made between 1971 and 1978, including Morning of the Earth (1972), Five Summer Stories (1972), Going Surfin’ (1974), Super Session (1975), Tales from the Tube (1975), and In Search of Tubular Swells (1977).
Lopez needed surfboards that were as lithe, quick and fast as he was - so around 1970, Lopez teamed up with experienced Surf Line Hawaii store manager Jack Shipley to form an elite boutique for Hawaii’s best surfer/shapers. The symbol was the Lightning Bolt and the symbol meant energy – the energy of Hawaiian surf, but also the energy of human physicality and artistry to make the surfboards to ride that energy deeper, faster and more radical.
Gerry, BK, Reno and Tom Parrish, regarded as the most influential shapers in the Lightning Bolt stable, were surfers who mattered, making surfboards that mattered, for surfers that mattered: “It was an honor to work for Lightning Bolt,” Tommy Nellis said. “It was a very democratic place. They would accept your boards as long as they were accepted by the public. If your boards didn’t sell, it didn’t matter who you were. They appreciated consistency, and at that time in the surfboard business it was easy to be consistent.”
And the result was energy. Gerry Lopez dropping in at Pipeline or Barry Kanaiaupuni’s power-hula through the bowl at Sunset: The Lightning Bolt logo thundered throughout Hawaii, and then resonated across the Pacific and around the world – a combination of sincere talent, perfect timing and clever marketing of a needed product.
Beautiful, finely-crafted Hawaiian guns were at the foundation of Lightning Bolt. This was a strikingly new era in surfing that was changing fast and dramatic. In free surfs and in competition – like the newfangled Pipeline Masters contest that began with a card table and a megaphone in 1971 – surfers and surfboards were evolving incredibly fast, and as the calendar clicked through the months and seasons of the early 1970s, Lightning Bolt became ubiquitous.
THE MARKETING STRATEGY WAS PRETTY SIMPLE: IF A SURFER WAS HOT,
PUT A BOLT UNDER THEIR FEET & A QUIVER ON THEIR CAR.
A simple strategy that worked. Within the first half of the decade, the Lightning Bolt logo was ubiquitous in ads, magazine editorials and especially on the big screen.
Not everyone had the time and money to travel to Hawaii and buy a bolt, or the skill to take over at Pipeline, Sunset and Waimea Bay. Lightning Bolt was a surfboard company first and last, but in the mid ‘70s the company moved into clothing: Nothing fancy, just practical trunks for surfing, and t-shirts for cruising. But the world wanted that Bolt energy, and the clothing line exploded like a spitting wave at the Pipeline.
ALL PHOTOS ON THIS PAGE BY JEFF DIVINE AND ART BREWER.