Every now and then you see a photograph of a wave so hulking in structure, so heavy and foreboding that it'll stop you in your tracks.
Western Australia's The Right is the most dangerous wave in the world, according to Ryan Hipwood. Teahupoo? Sure, you could argue that point. Jaws, Mavericks, Pipe? Sure, sure sure, but there's something about the shape of The Right, the ledges and drop-offs and heart in throat moments; that lip, that face — cavernous, throaty and explosive; it lives up to the superlatives and more. Proof? Below:
And Russell Ord, the man who straps a camera to himself and paddles that beast, has lovingly (painstakingly...) captured all of The Right's chaotic beauty for years – so much so that his name is synonymous with it.
But now, Russ' shutter has click-clacked for the final time at The Right. He's moving on and moving out – so we caught up with the man himself to ask how it all began for him at the wave and what's next on the agenda.
So, how did it all start?
Russell: Years ago, about a couple of months or so after the crazy bodyboarders found it (it may have been surfed prior to them but not to my knowledge), I was actually sitting in the pub having dinner with the local lads the night before a predicted swell and we saw them drive past with their skis loaded up. We thought we would have crossed paths the next day, however, there was no sign of them at the wave we were surfing. When we came in that afternoon a lady came up to us and said ''are you the guys that were surfing the point off XYZ'' and we knew straight away it was those lads.
If you can sum up The Right in one sentence – what would that be?
An Indian Ocean mountain with many different faces and moods.
What made you want to give up shooting The Right?
It's more the fact that I have achieved the photographic goals I set out for myself and I am not that interested in shooting the same wave over and over again, it's time to move on to other challenges.
Was there a certain shot you had in your mind you wanted to get before calling it a day?
It has taken me four years to get that shot I thought was possible, in the tube with the surfer and seeing day light behind them, straight through to the other side.
I came close on a number of times however I was always a little too high or low, the wave didn’t open up as expected, out of position or basically just not going hard enough to be in the perfect spot. Is it the best type of shot for that wave? No way, it looks far better and bigger from the channel plus it's easier to do, I do this for me, it became my own mountain to climb, so to speak.
OK, tough one - What has been your favourite ever session shooting there?
That's a really tough question because there's been so many sessions that are memorable; the Mark Mathews double tow with Taj, the time I got a couple of waves (shoulder hopping at best), the first time I swam and didn't even get a decent photo, all those crazy moments with the locals Ben Rufus, Chris Shanahan, Cale Grigson and Chris Ross.
However I would say it's the solo (very rare) session I had with Paul Paterson and Twiggy Baker. It was the biggest I have ever seen it, really raw; ugly would be a good word for it, raining, and very challenging for all to say the least. Listening to both these surfers talk about all their experiences in big waves (paddle and tow) during that time was a great lesson that I could use in my own work. Paul’s experience no doubt saved his own life that very day.
Your pic of Taj Burrow and Mark Matthews is iconic. Can you pick any defining moments out there for you? Any shots where you thought, that’s it, I can’t do any more?
I am happy with what I have achieved now, you can always to better in anything in life, nothing is ever perfect and no doubt someone will blow my shots right out of the water (fisheye). It's just time for me to create new memories and new challenges.
When you watch that wave going off, it’s this mountain of energy turned into exploding chaos, what drew you to it?
I can watch waves all day, especially crazy slabs like The Right, I still have a number of other waves I can go to (long drive) and shoot all day long with not a soul around. One of the best experience I had was going out alone super early, turning off the ski and closing my eyes (obviously in a pretty safe spot) not even taking a photo, the energy is incredible.
Having probably spent more time out there than most, how do you see The Right now? Chaotic or desensitized?
I am very much desensitized having been out there so much, however, on the last swell I took my son out to drive the ski when I had a quick dip, it was his first time. I remember saying to myself that day as I glanced in his direction “I used to have that same expression, a look of complete excitement”, great times.
It's so heavy out there, so, any injuries?
I broke my leg at a wave around the corner however at The Right it's only been a couple of lung busters at best, surprisingly.
Any particular training you went through to prepare for shooting out there?
Preparation prevents piss-poor performance: Once I decided that’s what I wanted to achieve, I flew across the country (Australia) to participate in the One Ocean International watermanship programme with a number of big wave surfers. It’s the best thing I have ever done. Joe is an incredible trainer and I am very lucky that he has moved to Margaret River where I continue training in the same disciplines to this day, I am just about a trainer myself. Without doubt, if I didn’t have the knowledge and the techniques taught by Joe I would be at the bottom of the ocean as fish food.
What’s next Russ? Where are you headed and why?
I do have a number of goals I have set for myself, they will require an enormous amount of effort and training and just like swimming The Right with a wide angle, I prefer not to talk about those goals, it's hard enough at times without external noise, hopefully one day I will just produce the goods. I am headed through the Pacific with my family and looking forward to that adventure.
Any final thoughts or advice you’d like to impart about the beast?
Just make sure you prepare to your best ability if taking on such a beast. The ocean will always have the last laugh and I would hate to see any major injuries or deaths.
Thanks Russ, good luck with what's next!