Stab Magazine | Now...This: Russ Bierke On Jaws, Surfing Small Waves, And Why He Hasn't Surfed A Wavepool

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Now…This: Russ Bierke On Jaws, Surfing Small Waves, And Why He Hasn’t Surfed A Wavepool

The answer to that last part is simple: no one has asked him!

style // Dec 17, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Russell Bierke was nominated for three SURFER Awards this year: best barrel, heavy water, and short of the year. In the end, he only took out one of these—heavy water, which goes to the year’s best big wave surfer—as there would’ve been few complaints had he won all three.

But frankly, he probably should have won the other two. 

The first for what is arguably the best barrel ever ridden, let alone paddled, at Shipsterns, and the last for a film which stood it’s ground among notable shorts such as Craig Anderson’s, The Quieter You Are The More You Can Hear, and Creed McTaggart’s Cult of Freedom part. 

Last week, during the Jaws comp, Russ also happened to paddle the best wave he’s ever caught there. It was his first wave of the day, and while Russ confirmed he prefers to nab a smaller ‘warm-up’ wave prior to catching a set, it was clear he didn’t need it. In his own words, Russ started the comp catching his best ever wave at Jaws and ended it by cutting his foot on the ocean floor.

Yeah, somehow, Russ hit the bottom at Jaws. And according to him a number of other competitors suffered the same fate that day. 

Anyway, let’s start the transcript from there… Russ’ foot.

stab mag russel bierke 21 of 4

Russ near home going for a non-life threatening surf.


Max Zappas

Stab: How is the foot anyway? 

Russell Bierke: Yeah, it’s alright. I’ll just have to stay out of the water for a few days. You don’t really expect to hit the bottom going out at Jaws.

Yeah, what happened?

I don’t know, but a fair few people did the other day. It happens of course, but it’s usually pretty rare. Jamie Mitchell ripped the ass out of his wetty from hitting the bottom. 

Your foot isn’t too bad or anything though is it? Like you won’t be out of the water again for a few months…

Nah, just a couple of little chunks, which will heal pretty quick. If there were waves at home right now I could surf, but I’m just going to keep it from turning into a giant ulcer. 

How’s the fire situation down where you are as well [South Coast of NSW]?

When I left for Hawaii it was really bad, but I think they’re more under control now.

There’s still parts burning, but they’re contained. It stopped short of Bawley but further south some places burned right up until the water. My girlfriend’s house, for example, was burned all around the property, but thankfully their house was fine. The photos from it are mental. 

We’ll go onto something a little less morbid. I’m glad the situation is improving.

Back onto Jaws, we heard there was a fair amount of hassling going on in the water at Jaws, particularly from the local guys, was this the case?

I guess in a heat situation everyone is trying to jockey [for position], but for my two heats it was relatively cruisey. The final would’ve escalated a bit though, everyone is pretty hungry when there’s a title on the line. 

Everyone’s out there to win of course, but it’s still gentleman’s rules when the waves are that size. You’re looking out for each other and talking about your last wave and whatnot. Some crew take it more seriously than others, but that’s natural throughout all parts of surfing.

It’s not quite the same pressure cooker that I imagine at CT event is like. 

Do you think that added element of competition pushes people to go on waves they wouldn’t usually?

Definitely. Usually when you paddle out Jaws you’ll spend four hours out there and only catch two waves. So when you only have 45 minutes to try and get two good scores it forces you to take off on waves you wouldn’t normally and sit in different positions. 

What about that barrel you got, would you have normally paddled for that?

Yeah, it looked pretty good. It was my first wave of the morning, so I normally like to ease into it a little more than that [laughs], but in a heat you have to go and roll the dice. 

I’ve had some nice pocket rides at Jaws and a few barrels I’ve fallen on, but that was my first proper barrel out there. I was worried about that chandelier the whole time, normally when that lands on you at Jaws you fall straight off your board, but I managed to sneak under it.

So, Billy has won Jaws four times now, what do you think makes him so good out there?

I guess he just wants it. He’s very competitive, he’ll do anything to win, and that’s what you have to do. He’s probably one of the gnarliest competitors out there. 

You saw that at the Pipe trials too [which he won]—he just has a mind for competition. And, of course, he’s an amazing surfer. 

Chopes has been announced as the official spot for the Olympics in 2024. How do you think that’ll work with some of the more inexperienced surfers?

It’ll be pretty interesting [laughs]. Especially if they get a proper swell for it. It will, however, be a whole lot less entertaining for the surfers out of the water, compared to spending time in the Olympic village in France. 

How do you think the women will go? Considering they don’t have a CT event there at the moment. 

Recently there’s been a lot of the women really killing it out there, Vahine Fierro—who just won women’s best barrel—and people like Tatiana [Weston-Webb] who have been surfing really well out there. Give it four more years and they’ll have a much bigger presence there. 

Alright, we’ll move onto some regular questions.

Favourite men’s surfer? Can be on the CT, whatever.

As far as watching people surf I can’t really go past John John. It’ll be sick to see him back, hopefully injury-free.

Favourite female?

I don’t think I can go past Steph, I would love to surf like Steph. 

She gets a mention every week. 

It’s pretty cliche I guess [laughs].

Yeah but it’s warranted. She’s the best women’s comp surfer of all time and it’s hard to move past her style. 

What about your favourite grom, under-18?

Well just from the Jaws championship it would have to be Ty Simpson-Kane who is only 15 years old. He was hucking himself over the ledge at 25-foot Jaws which impressed me a hell of a lot. Shane Dorian gave up his spot, he had a bad back, so Ty got in. And in my eyes he showed that he deserved it.

Even last year when the comp was called off, he borrowed one of Kai Lenny’s boards and pulled into a massive pit out there. He was 14 then. 

I’d have to mention Jackson Dorian as well, he’s getting really good.

What’s your favourite clip from this year?

There were so many good clips this year, but I would’ve watched Creed McTaggart’s the most. His surfing in the Indo section was sick to watch. I loved watching him ride that slightly longer board as well. I think we’re going to see a lot more people reading longer boards after that.

Noa’s clip was really rad as well. All those high-performance clips were really good.

I guess we mostly see you riding big waves in your clips, easy to forget you surf normal waves as well [laughs].

Well I grew up on the East Coast of Australia, so I’ve grown up surfing beachies all the time.

Do you still get psyched to surf, like, 3-4 foot clean waves?

Yeah for sure. I love surfing normal, fun waves as well. I think it actually makes me react a lot quicker when you transition to bigger waves. If I’ve been surfing three-foot beachies for a while and then go and surf some big barrel I feel like I surf it better. All the movements are so fast, it’s probably harder to do three short sharp turns on a beachie than to set a straight line in a barrel. 

[laughs] I don’t know whether everyone would agree with that.

Well mentally it’s a different story, but the reaction time and speed you need is really quick in that high-performance small wave surfing. 

Have you surfed in a wave pool?

No I haven’t, I would like to try it out though.

The one down in Melbourne looks super fun. I would love to go to one and just try and dial in a few airs on the same section over and over. 

You’ll have to slide them a DM.

I’ve been thinking about it, I’d love to get down there. 

There’s a lot of nay-sayers out there about the pools, but if you don’t like it just go and surf in the ocean [laughs]. 

What’s your favourite hobby outside of surfing?

It’s got to be snowboarding. I’ve been going down a fair bit the last few years. I’ve been to Japan twice to board as well.

Recently I’ve been getting into backcountry and it’s great to do when the surf is kind of average.

How long have you been boarding for?

Since I was around 15 or 16, but I’ve been putting in a fair bit of time these last couple of years. It’s different to surfing of course, but you can still draw lines and get a tonne of speed. 

If you’re a surfer you might be able to pick it up quicker at the start, but when you’re actually going down a mountain it’s a whole different thing. 

So you’re mostly doing backcountry? And I won’t see you on Friday Flats?

Yeah mostly backcountry and staying away from the kickers. I broke my wrist a few years ago and try to avoid those.

In Australia lapping the same resort all day can get a little boring so it’s nice to go out for the day hiking and get a few runs in.

What are your thoughts on social media? Do the negatives outweigh the positives or vice versa?

I think the positives do outweigh the negatives. There are negatives like people spending a lot of time on it, but its capability to spread awareness around issues and bring people together outweighs that.

Things like reducing plastic use and climate issues, social media has been great in bringing people together who care about these causes. 

Alright, last one. Favourite band or artist…

Ahh it changes a lot.

What about just at the moment?

Well, last big drive down to the desert we were playing a lot of John Maus, so I’m pretty hooked on him at the moment. We were getting into a bunch of old Euro synth stuff as well.

That’s sort of been my program at the moment. 


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