Russell Bierke Interview: The Man Who Would be King

Matt Rode

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Updated 19d ago

You’d be hard-pressed to name anyone who goes harder than Russell Bierke. Since he was a pre-teen, Russ has been blowing minds with his next-level approach to life-threatening slabs — and in the past few years he has really come into his own. These days, he’s acknowledged by pretty much everyone as being the gnarliest slab guy out there — and if there were any lingering doubts, his latest edit “Flow State” put those to rest.

But if we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that there’s always more to guys like Bierke than gaping barrels and hairball drops. We called Russ up to chat about life, ledges, and what comes next after stomping the heaviest air drop to XL keg at Shippies ever.

Over the past few years you have gained a reputation for being the world's best slab guy. How did that come about? Was that something you were consciously trying to accomplish?
I just love surfing slabs more than any other type of wave. Whenever there’s a chance for a slab to be on, I’m there. I think there are still a lot of barriers to be broken in them, mostly in terms of what you can paddle. I mainly just enjoy the challenge of pushing my own abilities while surfing.
 
How do you think your surroundings and the area where you grew up influence your taste in waves?
Well in Australia we don’t have a lot of traditional big paddle waves, especially where I grew up on the East Coast. But we do have a lot of shallow slabs that don’t need to be that big to be super heavy.

Growing up watching the older guys surf all these crazy waves made my friends and me super hungry to get out there as well. There was a little pack of us that were always trying to one up each other whenever we paddled out. We all pushed each other really hard—if someone pulled back on a set, they’d be hearing about it for days.

Spot guide: Tasmania

Russ' face speaks volumes.

Russ' face speaks volumes.

© 2019 - Glass House Photography.

 
You seemed to focus on XXL waves over the past couple of seasons too, and ended up earning your way onto the Big Wave Tour. Now that the tour doesn't really exist anymore, will that still be a focus for you? Or will it be all slabs all the time?
I love surfing XXL waves as well. Australia doesn’t have many of them, but it’s definitely worth all the travel to chase them. Contest or no contest, I’ll still be turning up when there are swells at Jaws, Mavs, etc.
 
And what about when there aren’t swells? What do you do to keep yourself entertained when there aren't death barrels and bombies breaking?
I still surf nearly every day when I’m home. Even when it’s onshore slop I’ll still be out there groveling, and when it’s really flat I dive and spearfish. I live a few hours away from the snow, and the last few years I’ve also been doing some time in the mountains when there’s no swell. I love the amount of speed and the different lines you can draw when snowboarding.

Russ at Cape Fear.

Russ at Cape Fear.

© 2019 - Ed Sloane/Red Bull Content Pool

 
Sounds like you have a variety of interests. But from your video edits, it’s clear that slabs are the main focus. Your recent edit was a bit of a mind bender. Some of those lefts were super critical, and then the wave you paddled at Shippies was probably the best thing since Laurie's wave 10-years-ago.
I’ve always thought about those waves at Shippies with the huge end bowl. It’s rare, but there’s a small percentage I’ve watched that have a chip in and then grow down the line. When I was surfing that day, I knew it was the best possible day to try and get one.

Normally there’s always a weird wobble on it that makes it harder to read and commit to a wave that big, but that swell was so groomed and lined up. It was just a matter of finding a set with enough of an entry to let me in. There were so many times I could have fallen, and when I got to the channel I was kind of in shock that I managed to hang on for the whole wave.

Forecast: Shipstern Bluff

Russ at an Irish slab.

Russ at an Irish slab.

© 2019 - Tim Borrow

 
That wave would be a lifetime achievement for literally anyone else in the world, but we get the feeling you aren’t even close to peaking yet. What do you have planned for the next few months of the northern hemisphere winter?
I’m planning to head to Hawaii in early December, but I always try to keep my plans flexible. I’m constantly watching the charts, and if it looks like there’s a good pattern developing in Europe or California, I’ll be there.

Well wherever you end up, keep it all coming. There’s nothing better in surfing at the moment.

Cover shot: Remember this image from 2016? One of the most striking follow cam shots in history from Leroy Bellet behind Mr Bierke.