Russell Bierke Conquering Fear

18-year old team O’Neill rider Russell Bierke won the heaviest surf contest in years when he took top spot at Red Bull’s Cape Fear. We caught up with him the morning after when the adrenalin spike had calmed down a bit…

Photo: Ed Sloane / Red Bull Content Pool

O’Neill: Firstly mate, congratulations on the result and making it back onto dry land/rock alive!
Russ: Thanks! Pretty happy to come out of it unscathed!

O’Neill: So what’s it like to compete in waves like that … did you have a strategy going into it, or were you just trying to stay in one piece?
Russ: It’s strange, it didn’t really feel like a competition. I was just stoked to see everyone get amazing waves. I guess my strategy was to not study it, haha, the more I watched it from shore the scarier and harder it looked to ride so I basically just hung up the back of the event before my heat and tried to relax.

O’Neill: Talk us through what it’s like to get whipped into one of those bigger set waves at Cape Fear, with the rocks and crowd right in front of you?
Russ: As soon as I saw a set I’d instantly forget about the crowd watching and the fact I was in a heat, it just felt like any day at a crazy slab. The cliff being so close and the backwash was definitely the scariest part, I really didn’t want to end up getting stuck against the cliff. Dropping down it was all about picking the right line between ledges and always keeping an eye out for backwash coming off the cliff.

Photo: Ed Sloane / Red Bull Content Pool

O’Neill: How are you feeling the morning after? You’ve just won what some are calling the world’s most dangerous/heaviest surf event?
Russ: I feel very beat up and sore! It’s still sinking in that I actually just did that. I keep thinking that I’m stuck in a dream .

O’Neill: Your mate Photographer Leroy Bellet mentioned there was a chance you guys were going to try to double-tow out there, are you guys still keen after all that?
Russ: I think Leroy’s glad he didn’t try it this swell! Might’ve been the last anyone saw of him. I think on a smaller and more perfect day out there we could definitely pull it off.

O’Neill: So what’s next for Russell Bierke? Tell us about your year so far, and what you’ve got planned for the rest.
Russ: This year has been amazing, I finished high school at the end of last year and went straight to Hawaii for a few months. I started this year off surfing Pipe, Jaws and a bunch of other waves over there then came back to non-stop swell in Australia. I’ve done a trip to Shipsterns, two to South Australia, one to West Australia and been chasing waves up and down the East Coast since I got back from Hawaii. I’m hoping to chase some big swells around the world and would love to get a wildcard into a Big Wave Tour event.

Photo: Ed Sloane / Red Bull Content Pool

O’Neill: And finally, can you fill us in on Kirk, your Dad’s, big wave history, the boards, and the Hawaiian connection, is that where your middle name Kanoa comes from?
Russ: My dad grew up surfing and shaping in California, he would go to Puerto Escondido in Mexico for months at a time and everyone kept telling him he should go to Hawaii. He finally planned to go there for a couple months and ended up spending nearly twenty years living on the North Shore shaping and surfing big waves. I was born in Hawaii and lived there until I was five before moving to Australia. Kanoa is Hawaiian for ‘free’.

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