“You’d pop up after a flogging, grab the rope and be towed into the next set!"
Russell Bierke answers the phone with no signs he’s wearing a hangover after having won the biggest event of his life. “Nah I smoke bombed it early, I could barely stay awake,” says the 18-year-old charger from Ulladulla who yesterday won the Red Bull Cape Fear Challenge in sickening 8-10 foot slabs in Sydney’s south. The punishment he and his competitors took over the past displayed wasn't without consequence. Central Coast hell man Justin 'Jughead' Allport needed staples for a gash on his scalp, while Maroubra's Richie 'Vas' wore one of the beatings of his life and was lucky to walk away unscathed. “I’m feeling pretty sore and beat up. It’s mostly sore shoulders and a bit of whiplash from towing,” says Bierke. The humble warrior speaks to Tracks about the carnage, the win and where to from here.
How does it feel to win your first major contest particularly in such challenging conditions?
Russell Bierke: It feels amazing. I wasn’t going into it expecting to win I was just excited to surf against some of the best slab surfers in the world. To come out on top is surreal. I don’t even know how to describe it at the moment. It hasn’t really sunk in. [Laughs].
You’ve developed a reputation as a slab specialist over the past few years. What is it like competing against your peers who you must have looked up to growing up?
RB: It’s pretty amazing. When I was a little kid all of those guys where the guys and most of them were in my list as favourite surfers. To be able to compete against them in a speciality comp is pretty much the best thing ever.
Talk us through the final?
RB: I thought Koby had it in the bag when Hippo [Ryan Hipwood] and I were still opting to paddle. I got one wave and it blew me into the rocks and I got flogged. We realised it was still a bit too big and decided to tow. Koby and Rooster [James Adams] had some amazing waves. Then the ocean turned on for Hippo and I and we were getting wave after wave and it was a pretty amazing final. It was gnarly. You’d pop up after a flogging, grab the rope and be towed into the next set! [Laughs]. It was half an hour of getting flogged with no breaks.
From a spectators perspectives it feels like the equivalent of a gladiator pit. Did it feel like that from the water?
RB: Definitely…especially on that first day. Andrew Mooney said, ‘It was like being feed to the lions’ which was a pretty good way to put it. [Laughs]. But it was our decision to go out there that day and we psyched each other up. Then it got more gnarly and dangerous throughout our heat so we decided to can it but it was a good call because it was pumping the next day.
No one was holding back. The wipeouts of Richie Vas and Justin ‘Jughead’ Allport defied reality!
RB: I don’t know how Vas got seriously hurt. [Laughs]. He’s such an animal. It was such a big one and he was in the worst possible spot.
How many times have you surfed the wave?
RB: I think that was my fourth time surfing it. Normally I would just stay at home and surf another wave. I’ve just had fun 4-6 foot paddle days out there before this event.
Your neck of the woods is littered with slabs. Are there any other waves similar to Ours or is it a very unique beast?
RB: Ours is pretty different to most slabs. We do have one wave that is similar but it’s a little less perfect, closes out but goes into deep water so you don’t have to worry about a big cliff in front of you. The water draws up the same way so it’s a good place to practice.
What’s the plan next?
RB: I’d love there to be more specialty events like this. A Big Wave World Tour event in a wave like Ours would be sick.