Big time: Russell Bierke qualifies for the Big Wave Tour
Take a look around our wide brown land, we've got big waves breaking on almost very coast: wild ocean bommies, compressed shallow slabs, with everything in between. And each one of 'em is home to a committed crew of madmen, guys (and gals) capable of surfing the heaviest waves on Earth.
Despite this, Austalia is under-represented on the Big Wave Tour (BWT). Call it the tyanny of distance, a predilection for slabs...whatever, but to date only Jamie Mitchell and Ben Wilkinson have been regular performers with a lone cameo by Hippo. However, that'll soon change with the recent promotion of Russell Bierke.
When the Big Wave Tour kicks off again on the Ist October the young fella from Ulladulla will be in the draw.
Swellnet spoke to Russ about his promotion to the big time.
Swellnet: What's the qualification process for the Big Wave Tour? Do you have to apply or does Pete Mel keep an eye on your effort over the last 12 months?
Russell Bierke: The Overall Performer category in the WSL Big Wave Awards is the closest thing to a qualifying series for the Big Wave Tour. Out of the ten nominees they take the top four people who aren’t already on the tour. To be nominated for Overall Performer you just have to travel to and put in a decent performance at a number of big wave locations around the globe.
You travelled to Jaws and Mavs last northern winter. How were those trips in terms of building experience?
I’ve surfed Jaws a fair few times now and especially after this last trip I feel like I’ve got the lineups figured out and know which waves are the good ones out there. This winter I had my first surf at Mavs and got to catch a lot of waves and see a couple different moods. I really like the way it doubles up on the ledge and I'm frothing to get back there.
"I really like the way Mavericks doubles up on the ledge." Uh-huh...
So that leaves Nazare. You surfed there? If not, you keen?
I haven’t been to Nazare yet. For me, the risk versus reward on a big tow day just doesn’t quite add up. I’m thinking I’ll try and post up there towards the end of the year because the 15-20 foot paddle days look like the best training you can get. It has to be the most consistent big wave there is even if the wave quality isn’t on the same level as a lot of other spots.
What's your thoughts on a paddle comp at big Nazare?
The comps look like chaos out there! It’s pretty crazy that there’s no channel, but then the water safety guys are really onto it. It'll be an exciting experience, hopefully I can get a few surfs out there to figure it out before the comp runs.
It's still six months away, but you reckon you'll start doing anymore training because you're on the BWT? Gonna bother chasing slabs when it's breath hold you'll need?
I feel confident with my breath hold and fitness in the water at the moment, but that said I'll make an extra effort to be super on top of my fitness leading into the season. In the contests you surf multiple times and want to catch at least two waves each heat, so it’s about having the stamina to perform at 100% the whole day and recover from beatings as quickly as you can.
I’ll still be chasing some slabs this winter, for sure, though I'll mostly stick to paddling. This year, my goal was to paddle as much as I can and now I’m on the tour I’ll be focusing even more on that.
Russ' finest contest moment to date: winning the 2016 Red Bull Cape Fear in the biggest waves yet surfed at Cape Solander
Planning to do anything different with boards? Got your old man giving input for boards at the various waves on the tour?
I feel like I’ve got my quiver pretty sorted at the moment. The boards I rode at Jaws and Mavs this year feel amazing so I'll probably just duplicate them so I have a couple backups.
I’ve also got a big 10’6" waiting to be ridden which I think will work great at Nazare.
Speaking to Twiggy a while back he said when you're on the BWT you watch weather maps every day for six months and gotta be ready to fly at a moment's notice. You ready for that?
Ha...I watch the charts year round anyway so I don’t think much will be changing there! In fact, it might actually make things easier as they'll make the call for me.
All the best Russ.