Friendships are valuable, especially the ones that are as old as we are.
There’s a certain bond that exists between childhood friends. When we’re young, there’s so much to experience and learn, it’s nice having a close friend through it all and the bond you build within that time is one that will likely last forever.
Ashley and I go way back, and she’s that one friend who I can honestly say I’ve known since birth. I think we owe it all to our parents being long-time surf buddies. From weekend surf trips to the east coast of Florida with our dads, to getting caught trying to sneak out of bedroom windows in the middle of the night, we’ve experienced a lot together. When I went back home for the holidays a few weeks ago, we finally had the chance to catch up, probably the first time since graduating college. It’s one of those friendships where we can just pick right up where we left off.
I’ve always looked up to her adventurous spirit. Her upbringing had her out in the surf at an early age, where she learned a few pointers from two ASP World Tour surfers who also happen to be her older brothers, Cory and Shea Lopez, and her father, Pete. For anyone who follows the surf scene, these names should ring a bell. The Lopez family is legendary around our part of Florida. Rooted in surf culture, they’re some of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
With the launch of the new Beach Riot x Free People Collaboration, there couldn’t have been a better time to feature Ashley on BDLG 25, which is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time now. She embodies the true surf spirit, and her easy-going yet driven mindset is one that reminds me to stop sweating the small stuff and to tackle life full force. Friends, meet Ashley Lopez:
So before we get into it, can you tell us three things that anyone who doesn’t know you should probably know?
Hmm… I feel like I should say something like “I’m a total klutz,” or “I have a terrible sweet tooth,” but… I’m not a klutz (I’m actually very coordinated), and I don’t really like sweets, I’d rather have some Cuban food. My dad’s black beans are legendary. You might not guess but I’m a total math nerd. I’m not a great writer and I don’t read for fun, but I could solve math equations all day long. I have a dog named Bella — also known as “Panda” — we paddleboard together, take the boat out, go to the beach and do just about everything together. She recently flew out to California with me and spent two months living the puppy-dog dream. We’ve lived out of a suitcase for most of the past year and a half. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How would you describe the area that we grew up in? How has it helped shape the person that you are today?
I grew up in a quirky little Florida Gulf Coast town named Indian Rocks Beach. Our house is right on the water and I spent most of my life on boats, wakeboarding, surfing, tubing, and partying on islands. I prefer riding my bike over driving and rarely get in the car. My dad always told me “nothing good happens over the bridge”, so I try and stay on the island as much as possible. Most of my family lives and works in our little town. My grandparents own the oldest ‘mom and pop’ hotel on the beach and have lived there for over 40 years. Our family owns the local surf shop, Nekton, and vacation rentals on the beach. I’ve traveled around the world and never thought I would end up back here, but as Dorothy would say “there’s no place like home.”
You were pretty much immersed into surf culture at birth. What was it like growing up with two older brothers that were so well known in the scene?
When I was born, my older brothers’ surfing careers were just beginning to take off. The surf culture and industry is all I know and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I am so proud of my brothers. The Gulf Coast town we grew up in only gets windy, rainy, crowded, hurricane chop (or as some would call it, “waves”) about ten times a year, so our family has always been perpetual road warriors. Every weekend, my mom and dad would pack up our old, beat up surf van and we would all head to the east coast to chase waves. Money was tight, so when I was little, my bed for the night might have been a shower stall, a drawer, or a surfboard bag with blankets. I spent the days on the beach watching surf contests, playing in the sand and being pushed into waves by my dad. People told my parents they were crazy for putting all their time and effort into my brothers’ dreams of becoming professional athletes, but they believed in them and it paid off. When Shea and Cory made the Tour, they were gone most of the year, but when they came home, they’d bring me dolls from around the world. I remember staying up late to watch their heats, going through magazines to find their pictures, or tracking their surf spots on the map. I thought everyone surfed and knew about rails, fins, leashes, and wax. I am so proud of my brothers and my whole family. We are all very close. Now I take their kids surfing and love watching them learn the family trade.
(Ashley and her dad)
Would you say that surfing is something that bonds your family together?
Surfing is definitely the single biggest thing that bonds my family. Every family vacation was a surf vacation, with the exception of a few snowboarding trips. I remember the first time my friends told me that they were going to the beach with their family and I was so confused when they told me there were no waves. I had never gone to the beach for any reason other than to surf, so I truly didn’t understand what else one would do at the beach. I was on a surfboard before I could walk, and my dad would take me surfing every chance we had. When I was younger, my dad would take me surfing in New Smyrna Beach. The beach didn’t open till 8 am, which was too late for us to go out because it would be windy and crowded by then, so we would ‘Dawn Patrol’ it. My dad, my little brother Matty (probably around 7 or 8 at the time), and myself (around 10 or 11), would walk a mile down the beach at 5 in the morning with our surf boards. Fun fact about New Smyrna Beach: It’s the shark bite capital of the world, and the early morning or right before dark is shark feeding time. I remember lying on my board trying to keep my hands and feet out of the water as I watched 7 and 8 foot sharks swim around in the water below. As a kid, I thought I was safe because I was with my dad and my dad wouldn’t do anything crazy like that. Now I know that’s not always true. I often joke with my dad about what the hell he was thinking taking us out there, and I have yet to hear a logical answer other than that he got to spend time with us doing his favorite thing in the world. I love my dad for that. The two of us have been on a number of surf trips together. My friends often comment about how great our relationship is and how lucky we are to be able to spend so much time together doing something we love.
(Ashley as a tot and her dad surfing the waves)
Can you describe the feeling you get when riding a wave?
It is unlike anything in the world. My most recent trip to Pavones, Costa Rica, I caught the biggest and longest wave of my life. It was a huge day. My dad and I had surfed all morning and we were on our second session of the day. I was so tired I could barely paddle and the waves were a few feet overhead. My dad had given me two perfect, (but huge) waves, but I backed out at the last second on both. I told my dad I needed to stop being scared and just charge it… then another big set came through and I took off on a solid 8 or 9 foot wave. I dropped in and raced down the wave to make each section as far as I could until I literally looked up and I had almost hit the rocks. I was so happy but my legs were shaking. I’d gone so far down the beach, it was too far to paddle back. As I walked back up the beach, I expected people to be lined up cheering and high fiving me after my all-time best ride. Unfortunately, the beach was empty, but I will never forget that feeling. Riding that one perfect wave makes you want to get out there and do it all over again
You’ve been on many surf trips over the years. Do you have a favorite one, or favorite memory from one of those trips?
My favorite place in the entire world is Pavones, Costa Rica. We have been going there for about 15 years. It is the southern most point in Costa Rica, about an hour from the Panama border. The first time we went there we drove on a bumpy dirt road for over eight hours. Pavones is a tiny little town that can be explored in about five minutes; the waves are perfect, the people are friendly, and the scenery is out of this world. No cell phones. No TV. We just surf, eat and sleep. We stay right on the river which lets out right where we surf so all we have to do is hop in the river, lay on our boards, and let the river take us right out to the line-up. It is a surfer’s paradise.
You did some travelling post college. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience?
My college roommate Thomas and I traveled all throughout Southeast Asia for six months. We started in Japan and went though South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The reason we chose Southeast Asia over Europe, Australia, or other options is we wanted something completely different. We wanted a culture shock and a culture shock is what we got. Both of us had traveled extensively, but the Asian culture is unlike any other. The people are so friendly and wonderful. We did a lot of couch surfing while we were there and those were some of our best experiences. Couch surfing is an online community of people who offer their homes to people who are traveling. We stayed with families and individuals, sometimes in a spare room but mostly on their couch or on the floor. When it comes to experiencing the culture, that is about as close as it gets. We were taken to all of the local spots, made home cooked traditional meals, and were treated like family.
What advice would you give someone who has the travel bug, but can’t quite commit to booking that first flight?
Stop thinking about it and just do it. You don’t need that much money. You don’t need plans, you just need a sense of adventure and an openness to the great big world out there. I have told many people about my trip and most people respond with the same thing, “I wish I could do that”, and I would always respond with “Why can’t you?” People would give the money excuse, or they would be afraid of the unknown. I worked three jobs to save money before the trip, some days working 14 hours, but it was so worth it. We didn’t plan anything past our plane tickets there. We arrived in Japan after a 25 hour flight and didn’t even have an idea of where to stay. We sat in the airport using the free wifi for about ten minutes, found the least expensive hostel, and hopped on the train. From then on that’s pretty much how our trip went. If we wanted to go somewhere, we went. If we wanted to stay somewhere longer we stayed. We did not plan further than the very next day. You have to remember that people all over the world have the same need for food, clothing and shelter and by traveling around you see how those needs get met. Every day was an adventure, and we just rolled with it. We slept on floors in huts and overnight buses, ate snake, and scorpion, took cold showers with a bucket. You name it. Funny thing: we constantly ran into the same people over and over, and I really began to see the big scary world as a little friendly place.
Now that you’ve seen the world, what are some of your goals for the future?
I might need to put on my big girl pants and get a job. It will have to be flexible, interesting, and understanding of the six-foot and glassy rule. I’ve been working at my family’s surf shop for years and will be launching my own online boutique “Salt City” this year. I still have lots of places I want to see and lots of waves I want to surf.
Do you think you’ll stay in Florida for a while?
Absolutely. I am a Florida girl born and raised and I love it. I do not do cold weather. My body shuts down and I go into hibernation. I have my whole family here and I can’t imagine being too far from them. I wish we had better waves here, but good waves are just a flight away.
What’s one quote you live your life by?
“Go big or go home.” I am an all or nothing kind of person. If I want to do something I will make it happen. I truly believe that anyone can do anything they put their mind to. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.
What does being “free” mean to you?
I know that I am free to do whatever I put my mind to. People laugh when they hear some of the conversations our family has, but we are dreamers and doers. I am so fortunate to have a family that supports me in everything I do, no matter how crazy the idea. I love that I’m free to travel, explore, and change.
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