The Road Back With Russ Bierke

27 Jul 2017 2


Photos by Luke Mashman

On 21 April 2017, 19-year-old Ulladulla big wave surf champion Russell Bierke was critically injured after being hit by his surfboard at an isolated Victorian break. The waves were pumping, it was one of the biggest swells that the spot can hold. Kelly Slater, Tom Carroll, Ross Clarke-Jones, Ben Serrano, Ryan Hipwood and a crew of locals were out with jet skis having a ball as the right-hander pumped a solid 10-15 feet. 

Mid-morning as the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach began its finals, Russ was whipped into a set wave and on his way down his world went to darkness. If it wasn't for his mates Russ might not have made it. He was pulled from the water lifeless. Big wave surfing is a life and death sport and young Russ Bierke knows it. 

Last week Bierke suited up for the first time since his accident and dropped into some solid swell around his hometown. We had a chat to him about whether what went down in April has changed his mindset and reflecting on the mind-blowing 2016 Red Bull Cape Fear event.

SEE ALSO: 2017 Red Bull Cape Fear Event Breakdown

CW: So how have you been since the accident?

RB: For such a close call, the recovery was really quick. My board hit my jaw and knocked me unconscious for a couple waves where I took some water in my lungs. After a few days in intensive care the water had cleared and I was good to head home. I had a checkup a week later and my lungs were back to normal and I wasn't showing any symptoms of concussion, so I was good to go home.

You’ve been through some pretty gnarly hold-downs before how did it compare?

I actually can't remember the wave or the hold down but it would've been my longest by far. I've been told I was under for about 45 seconds, probably a good thing I can't remember it haha.

What did you do during your time out of the water knowing Cape Fear waiting period was about to start?

I did a few breath hold sessions in the pool and a was training on land to get my strength and cardio back into shape. I had a pretty solid couple sessions back in the water last week and felt back to 100% which was good for my confidence.

What are you working on to get into the right mindset for Cape Fear?

I don't really feel the need to do much different to mentally prepare for the event. I think trying to get as much time in the water at big, heavy slabs is the best preparation possible for Cape Fear.

One year on, describe what the event is like looking back now seeing the footage and those photos, remembering the energy of the ocean and the event?

Every time I look back at footage of those two days it blows me away. Just the amount of water moving and the power in the swell was unlike anything I've seen on the East Coast. I think if a swell like the first day hit Hawaii people would be surfing Jaws; except we were surfing a below sea level, wave next to a cliff.

What were the dimensions of your board last year and have you modified your boards at all since that event last year?

I was riding a 5'11 that was pretty narrow and thin, but heavy. I actually got dad to shape up a copy of that board because it went so well. It was able to hold a line as it was drawing super hard and it felt like I had a lot of control over the board.

First swell back in the water the other day, any fear or straight back into it?

I'd had a couple sessions in the week leading up to it but that was the first surf back in big waves. I had a solid hold down early in the session and that helped shake the butterflies, after that I pretty much forgot about the whole incident.

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