“Growing up on the Gulf of Mexico,” says Cory Lopez, “I had no idea of what a pro surfer even was.” That all changed in the mid-80s, when he and his older brother, Shea, began venturing across Florida from their home in Indian Rocks to the hallowed grounds of First Peak, Sebastian Inlet. In the ultra-competitive wedges of First Peak, Cory encountered legends like Matt Kechele, Charlie Kuhn, Todd Holland, and Sean and Kelly Slater. “I feel lucky to have grown up in that era and been able to watch those guys,” he says. Cory quickly rose through the amateur ranks and joined the ASP World Tour in 1997, where he instantly positioned himself—alongside best friend Andy Irons—as one of the revolutionaries in surfing’s modern, above-the-lip era. His frontside tailslides became gospel, inspiration for grommets everywhere. Though Cory’s professional career is decorated—he finished third in the world in 2001—it was perhaps during the 1999 Gotcha Tahiti Pro that he secured his ironclad, legendary status. Teahupo’o was maxing out, but in an act of lunacy, Cory dropped into one of the biggest Teahupo’o waves ever paddled into at the time. The photograph of Cory, standing compactly inside an enormous tube, became an iconic Teahupo’o image and a hint at the future of big-wave paddle surfing.