Stab Magazine | Russell Bierke: Cape Fear's Reigning Champ
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Russell Bierke: Cape Fear’s Reigning Champ

We spoke to Russ about the location switch, the lineup, and the differences between comp and freesurfing in big waves. 

news // Sep 4, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Russell Bierke won the most psychotic surfing event to have ever been run, let alone live streamed back in 2016 – Red Bull’s Cape Fear at Cape Solander. The event ran during June courtesy of an enormous north-east swell which has been thrown the title ‘swell of a generation’ on more than one occasion.

It destroyed a surf club at Coogee, battered coastal houses, and rendered most of the East Coast unsurfable for the majority of us for a number of days. 

The East Coast of Australia is far from wave-starved, but swells such as this are somewhat of a rarity, we don’t often see 15-foot of swell bombarding our coast from a northerly direction.  

According to Russ, this is part of the reason they transferred the Cape Fear event down to Shipstern Bluff in Tasmania. The wave is just as, if not more iconic than Solander, and is peppered by significantly more swell than the comparatively fickle spot in Botany Bay. 

This year, the lineup is also significantly heftier than 2016. The removal of the WSL’s Red Bull event exemption has allowed Kai Lenny, Nathan Florence, and Billy Kemper to join Mick Fanning, Jamie O’Brien, Ross Clarke Jones and a bunch of other international and local names.  

The waiting period for Cape Fear is open and will be until the New Year. And while there’s no telling exactly when the comp will run, we thought it’d be best to dial up Russ before he was on a last minute flight down to Tassie, or off hunting some other monumental lump of swell. He is the reigning event champ, and while this ain’t quite the CT, there’s no doubting there’s a bit of a target sitting on Bierke’s back.

Russ Bierke Cape Fear

Winning the (arguably) heaviest surfing event in history is no small feat.

Photography

Red Bull

Stab: Hey Russ, how’ve you been? 

Russ: Yeah pretty good, just got back from a trip over in Indo!

I had a bit of a foot injury four months ago, bruised a couple bones in my foot doing a backside airdrop gone wrong, so it’s nice to be surfing again. Thankfully I didn’t break or tear anything, but a bone bruise actually takes just as long to heal as a full break.

Fuck, you’ve had a rough trot with injuries, especially after last years concussion. 

Yeah it hasn’t been great. With that one [the concussion] I was only out of the water for two weeks. It was a pretty nuts injury but nothing was broken or torn afterwards at least. 

I was back surfing again after two weeks. 

Yeah, stoked you’re alright, and that this foot injury is healing too. Did you at least get into some of that solid Indo swell over there?

Nah I flew over the day after the huge swell, I didn’t want to redo my foot with that sized swell, especially with the Shippies comp and the ongoing Big Wave World Tour. Definitely still got waves, just nothing as massive as what went down in that huge swell.

I missed that huge Cloudbreak swell because of this injury too, I did it about a week beforehand and if it wasn’t for that I would’ve been there! 

Russel Bierke Home

The home training ground ain’t a bad alternative.

Photography

Phil Gallagher

Speaking of the Shippies comp, what do you think about the move down there for Cape Fear?

I think it’s a smart move really, you’re never going to top that swell we got back at Cape Solander in 2016. So why try? Shippies gets multiple swells a year that you could run the comp in and it’s a pretty spectacular wave. It might not be as thick as Solander, and doesn’t have the backwash, but it’s a lot taller and has more going on in the wave itself [steps, boils, etc.] 

I think it’ll blow everyone away watching a live comp out there. The first comp out there that I know of. 

It’s pretty remote though so I don’t know how the logistics are going to go. I’m just hoping they don’t make us walk in before the heat. It’s a solid hour in and it’s usually two hours getting back out.

Anyone you’re stressing about on the lineup competition wise?

It’s a pretty stacked lineup…[laughs]

But mostly the local boys, they’re the ones to stress about.

Marti Paradisis, Mikey Brennan, all those guys that live down there or who have surfed there a lot are dialled into it. It’s the sort of wave which you really need to know. There’s the weird step which comes up, but you need to predict that before it happens and figure out whether to avoid it, or hit it. 

There’s a lot of weird boils in the wave too, so having experience definitely comes in handy.

What about yourself? 

I’ve been down there a fair bit the last few years and have sort of figured out how to surf it I think. I haven’t actually towed it much while I’ve been there, although I find towing there harder than paddling. It’s really hard to line up and figure out where you are, and when to go when you’re just holding onto a rope and letting go on a lump of swell.  

The Cape Fear comp will be half paddle, half tow, but that’ll be condition depending [laughs].

Like back at Cape Solander they didn’t run paddle on the first day and the second day was still too mental. In the paddle session of the final I was pretty much going backwards the whole time because of the sweep [laughs].

Marti Paradisis

Marti taking a less than serious line out at a more than merry Bluff.

Photography

Stuart Gibson/Red Bull

Have you surfed shippies recently for preparation?

Last time I surfed it was in March, and that was probably the best I’ve ever seen it. So many good waves coming in, but I haven’t surfed it recently because it’s been freezing, plus the injury. 

There’s usually swell down there, but it’s tough to get clean conditions. I’m looking at the charts right now and it’s 30 knot onshores, it’s definitely pretty raw with all the storms over the top. You need a swell to form further south so you get better local conditions. 

What sort of swell does it usually need down there? Any particular direction? 

If it’s too west it can kind of miss it, so you do need the right direction to fill in. 

Sometimes certain swell directions can make it really peaky out there and that’s when you typically see the step. Whereas other times it’ll get a huge end bowl on it and that’s what you really want.

Typically as long as some swell is getting in, it’ll be fun.

Feeling any pressure being the previous winner?

[laughs] yeah sort of. There might be a bit of a target on my back, but I still feel like the local boys are the ones to be looking out for. That’s who everyone should be worried about. 

Although it’ll be really interesting to see how some of the international crew take it on. A lot of them haven’t surfed it before, so I’m keen to see their approach. They all charge, and are obviously insane surfers, but so much of Shipsterns is about wave knowledge.

Mick Fanning Andrew Chisholm

I guess Cape Fear was high on the retirement checklist for Mick.

Photography

Andrew Chisholm

What about Mick?

He kind of killed it the last few times he’s been there! His contest experience will definitely help too, he knows how to surf a heat and you can’t really say that for a lot of big wave guys?

How much comp practice had you had before the 2016 Cape Fear comp?

Growing up I did all the grom comps around home and what not. It had definitely been a few years before the Cape Fear comp since I’d worn a jersey, but I still think that competitive mindset from being a kid helped. Mostly its just focusing on knowing that you need two scores rather than just trying to get that one money wave that you normally do in a surf. 

Usually you’re just trying to get the tube or wave of the swell so you can nail a clip or photo, but in these comps you need two waves and two for every heat you surf. It’s tough when it’s inconsistent too. 

The waiting period runs from now until the 31st of December. Tasmania is constantly bombarded by swells, and as far as big wave locations go Shipstern Bluff is relatively consistent, but they’re not going to call Cape Fear on for your average swell. 

There’s 20 surfers, four, five man heats, and the winner from each heat will head straight through into the final. Each heat will feature half-tow and half-paddling, but of course, this is subject to conditions – they’re not going to send dudes out into utter oblivion.

For more info, head over here. 

The surfers:

Russell Bierke

Mick Fanning

Kai Lenny

Jamie O’Brien

Ryan Hipwood

Marti Paradisis

Ross Clarke Jones

Pedro Vianna

Laurie Towner

Billy Kemper

Nathan Florence

Alex Zawadzki

Daniel Griffiths 

Shaun Wallbank

James McKean

James Hollmer Cross

Tyler Hollmer Cross

Michael Brennan

Zebulon Critchlow

Brook Phillips

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