In 2010 BLs Blast Off experienced it’s biggest conditions ever with solid 6-8 foot south swells hitting the Northern Beaches of Sydney on the final day.
Was this the day that gave now, 17 year old big wave surfer Russell Bierke his taste for slabs?
(Top – Frame grab from Russell surfing The Right filmed by Tim Bonython)
Russell is from Ulladulla on the NSW South Coast. Along with his little sister Claire, he has competed in 5 BLs Blast Off events, which he started when he was 10 years old. Each year his family travel North to spend the week of the September school holidays surfing and making new friends.
In 2010 Russell was just 12 years old as the swell picked up and we moved the event to the most protected point that was South Palm Beach. Without any hesitation and a look of hunger on his face, Russ took aim and sprinted out on the south rip into the soupie, storm swell.
Barton Lynch about seeing the snowy-white, bob-haired 12-year-old taking off, “When you first saw Russ as a kid and even today for that matter, you worry for him because he isn’t the biggest kid going around. Back then he was tiny, but the minute he hits the water he grows in stature.”
“That day he wanted it, he wasn’t scared at all and was ready to charge! He does it so well above his age and weight and he is a truly amazing young man with a scary amount of courage and the talent to match. That day he was a absolute standout – the biggest surf we have ever had for Blast Off in 10 years!”
One arm after the other he stroked out with his tiny board where he sat in waiting to claim Blast Off glory…
“The big day at palmy was epic” Said Russ, “I was so excited to get solid waves in a contest. I’d always hassle dad to tag along with him when there was a bit of swell and if it wasn’t huge he’d let me come out, so I was pretty confident in waves that size. In saying that it was still big enough to make me pretty nervous!”
“I saw a bunch of good waves coming through outside of where everyone was sitting and they were a lot bigger. I thought I’d try to get one in the final, after sitting there for most of the heat a wave finally came to me and the strategy paid off.” (see above)
Russell’s dad is Hawaiian big wave surfer and board shaper Kirk Bierke. Russ says, it’s his Dad’s passion for the big waves that lit his fire for the solid faces as a grommet. It was just one year after the big Blast Off swell that Kirk took his son out at an outer reef in Hawaii that Russ dropped in on his first BIG wave.
“It’s in Russ’s pedigree to take on these waves.” Says BL, “But he has truly surprised me and shown that at his young age he is a world class big wave surfer and one of the very best teenage chargers in the world.
Russ said of his first experience at the outer bank, “Most waves had 30 foot faces and I was so scared but I knew I had to catch one in or else I’d have a long, hard paddle in. A huge wave came to me and I just turned around and paddled as hard as I could. After the drop I was racing across the face for a few hundred meters before the wave closed out where I straightened out and took 15 feet of whitewash on the head.”
Apart from working his way through year 12 and the HSC this year, Russ has been on and off planes chasing and charging some of the world’s biggest, steepest, shallowest and scariest waves possible. Just last month he conquered the terrifying Teahupo’o in Tahiti and was featured as a headline on all the big surf media publications. In 2014 he was nominated for the World Surf League XXL Big Wave Awards for his ride at the treacherous reef ‘The Right’ in Western Australia.
In July just before his HSC trial exams Russ took the plane to Tahiti for what was expected to be a big swell. Turns out it was close to one of the bigger swells that can hold up at Teahupo’o, Code Red.
“It was the craziest swell I’ve ever seen.” He said, “First thing in the morning it was pretty much how I expected it to be, but the swell just got bigger and heavier all day. By the afternoon it was being compared to the Code Red swell, just a little smaller but less ridable. I saw about 3 set waves made the whole day, most were drawing off the reef too hard or closing out before there was time to kick out.
“I towed a few waves on the peak of the swell and ended up getting a few crazy rides, but most ended in a big beat down. Definitely an experience I won’t forget.”
With the help of internationally acclaimed Big Wave Film Maker Tim Bonython, Russell has launched himself into the big league and he hasn’t even finished school yet. We’re set to see way more from this super grom turned swell chaser and are proud he was part of the Blast Off journey.
As with many of the Blast Off Champions BL is stoked to have had Russ along for the ride and watching him take the world by storm. “I’m so impressed by Russ not only for his surfing but the young man he has turned into. Since graduating from Blast Off he has since come back and volunteered on the event to give back to the kids and the event that gave him his start. It is that type of enthusiasm and positivity that has made Blast Off what it is in it’s 10th year. Many past champions have come back and helped out on the event after graduating; Holly Wawn, Jared Hickle, Matt King and Russ show the true spirit of Blast Off, and the kids get it.”
For Russ, he says giving back is the least he can do “The blast off is so great because although it is a competition, the main priority is to have fun and improve the kids surfing. There’s always super fun games and contests on the beach and in the carpark that keeps everyone entertained between heats. The advice and tips the judges give out after heats is really good too, I tried to take their comments on board and it’s definitely made me a better surfer.”