For those with an interest in surfing and photography the name Russell Ord probably needs little introduction.

Russ made his name by taking water photography to new realms at some of the heaviest waves on the planet. This includes his now legendary feat of shooting fisheye at The Right in West Oz, risking life and limb under the lips of liquid mountains to satisfy his desire for what he considered his ultimate shot.

However, over the last few months Russ has taken a radical new direction in both life and work. It all started with the purchase of a boat and grand plans to live aboard with his family and sail the pacific seeking new adventures and waves. However, that dream was shattered when the boat failed to materialise.

This run of bad luck saw Russell and his wife wind up far from WA in the small coastal town of Waipu Cove, New Zealand

Not wanting to give up on a change, Russell gave himself on year to re-establish himself and adapt to the creative challenge of building a career in a new country.

We caught up with Russell as that one-year line in the black kiwi sand nears to see how he is progressing, and also to chat about his new venture Vagabond Photographic.

Tracks: West Oz is where your career started, and you were pretty set up over there. What drove the desire up sticks and move across the pond?

Russell: The initial move was based around getting on a boat and exploring the Pacific, unfortunately those plans were squashed to say the least. So we had to change our goals on the run and now we plan to build on a piece of land in Waipu and go self sufficient, my wife is from here so its like coming home for her 19 years later.

Do you miss WA?

For sure, I love surfing Margs with all the early morning crew. My oldest son Kalani is still living there (he just finished yr 12) plus all the really close friends we have in the town. 

Leaving behind the familiar lineups of WA behind was tough for Russ. Photo: Ord

How challenging was it setting up in a fresh country?

At times this year we were very close to going back to Margaret River. Nothing seemed to plan out once the boat didn’t arrive. The one years grace I had to re-establish myself here turned into three months for unforseen circumstances and it was all down hill from there. To be honest I have never questioned myself or my decisions as many times as I have this year. It's lucky we managed to change it all around before we were completely on our bones. Photography is a very tough market, certainly don’t let my perceived social media profile fool you into believing otherwise. 

As a photographer it’s quite a shift to go from your familiar stomping ground to something so different, how was the challenge of aligning your photography to your new environment?

Actually that part was fine, I started to make a transition away from surf photography into lifestyle and story based imagery (community) four years ago with Elements Margaret River. I could actually see back then the demand vs. supply scenario happening and knew I had to do something. The one mistake I did make was not to showcase that type of work under my own brand, which in turn made it difficult when approaching potential clients.

Russ' new neighborhood. Looks just fine to us. Photos: Ord

So, you’ve put the adrenaline fuelled water photography on the back-burner. Has lifestyle and adventure photography has become the main passion for you right now?

Yes that’s all I have been doing, I don’t think I have shot a real surf photo this year. I am combining that work with brand management, which is something I have picked up over the years, which certainly works in my favour being able to create and mange the content. At the moment I am working for some really great crew including Rankers NZ (campervan App) Sunrise Holidays (campervans) Coastlines NZ and now Vagabond Photographic – combining the story telling, lifestyle and travel plus having that advantage of being able to shoot from the water has been a great combination.

Was the move to NZ the catalyst for your new venture Vagabond?

Vagabond Photographic emerged from wanting to do something different with a couple of trusted great mates. It was a no brainer for me when Dan came to me with a few ideas, he basically wanted me to do some workshops, talk about photography, help young crew and create a little content along the way. Apart from the workshops I was already doing this on a daily basis so not much has changed. With Damian’s head for business and marketing ideas (we were dabbling in an photo agency a few years ago) its turned into a great partnership.

For those reading, how would you explain Vagabond?

To us it’s more than a photographic shop with shiny new toys, it’s building a community around travel, adventure, learning, creation and for those people who are passionate about photography, videography and the environment.

Rotorua Redwoods. Photo: Ord

There are photographers out there who feel threatened by sharing their skills with others, but you’ve now developed a series of workshops that aims to share the knowledge you’ve gained over your career, is teaching something you feel passionate about?

I am not sure you would call it teaching, however I have helped out a number of photographers over the years mainly the business side of photography and never had a problem with this. For example: Spence Hornby asked about how to charge a particular client, now if I turned around and said beat it, there’s no way for him to set a professional standard. I would way prefer to give him a helping hand and know he will be educated in the matter and not under-cutting the market rate, Ian and Erick Regnard did the exact same for me. I am certainly looking forward to passing on what I have done over the years and see photographers progress, plus its another skill for me to learn.

Tell us about the workshop you have lined up with Chippa in Fiji? Sounds pretty amazing!

I am really looking forward to this, not only does Chippa bring a dynamic surf style, he is very creative and an amazing photographer. Personally I will be learning a lot from the experience. Then we have Andre Rerekura an incredible waterman, videographer and photographer, I have worked with Andre on a number of jobs based around the ocean and he brings a calm to some crazy situations. Having this type of combination to learn from in my eyes is very different to a normal “workshop” situation. Three very different styles, three very different approaches will give anyone that comes along a real treat.

How can people get involved?

Sign up on the Vagabond Website  or via Soul Surf Travel

Also I am happy to answer any questions or concerns just flick me an email

So in conclusion Russ, the move to NZ has turned out to be a positive one for you?

I feel I have not been challenged like this for a long time, I am shooting on a daily basis, I am meeting new people, I have developed a number of new skills. It’s a type of Ricochet effect, when you make changes something else transpires and that’s certainly happened with the move, there’s always a positive even though I am blinded to the fact at times. Loving life!