A Moment With Cape Fear Winner, Russell Bierke

  • Ride
posted by James Willmott

16 surfers, one of the world’s heaviest surf waves. Simply put, Red Bull’s Cape Fear.

Cape Fear, Cape Solander, or ‘Ours’, located just south of Sydney’s bustling CBD, has developed a reputation as one of the world’s heaviest slabs over the past few years, boasting of its shallow, sharp bottom and heavy nature, that all come together to break only meters from a cliff face. Honestly, it’s what most surfers would call a recipe for disaster. This year’s two day event saw 8-10 foot plus walls of water throw over the Cape’s shelf, with 16 carefully selected surfers having the privilege of getting amongst the action as the rest of the world watched on from the safety of their living rooms.

We were lucky enough to catch the winner, 18 year old South Coast charger Russell Bierke, for a few minutes to talk about the event itself and how it feels to get a perfect 10 emerging victorious over some of the breaks most well renowned and legendary surfers.

Russell Bierke (Aus) wins 2016 Red Bull Cape Fear Sydney
How did it feel getting the call up for the event? Who calls you up what were you thinking?
Yeah, it was pretty amazing to get the call up. Mark Mathews picks out who gets in, so 16 all up surfers all up. He said there was a huge list of people begging to get in so I was shocked to make the top 16, which was an amazing achievement on my end. Growing up, the guys I was competing against were my favourite surfers with posters all over my bedroom wall, so to not only share a line up with them, but also compete with them was just just amazing.

What’s the first feel when all the competitors start rocking up and seeing what you are about to throw yourselves into?
The first day was huge in the morning, it was unrideable but we all had a feeling it would clean up a bit and the swell direction would change. Sure enough it started looking really good after an hour, so we all sat and had a silent vote whether to surf or not, and the majority of competitors decided to surf. We went out there, and everyone got good ones, though half way through the last heat it was as if someone flicked the switch and it just started going dry onto the reef. The swell even had a second pulse to it which just added to how gnarly it already was so it was a good decision to postpone it the next day, it was perfect.

Describe the difference in the conditions on the event day itself compared to the conditions the wave favours normally.
The wave is probably best when the swell is straight East, or even with a bit of South East in it. The first day of Cape Fear was still pretty North, and even though it was forecasted to be straight East, the North in the swell still hung around for another day. That’s why it all looked so unmakeable. The day after it swung a few more degrees East which resulted in everyone seeing waves we had all hoped for, it was just a perfect day really.

What were you thinking when they called the event off on day one?
Yeah, I was glad they called it off. I was a part of the surfers in the line-up at the time and we all made the decision as well. We decided to give it a crack, but towards the end we thought maybe we shouldn’t push it too much further. It was a good call from all involved.

Can you describe the wave from your point of view? How do you know what ones to go and what ones to leave?
I had only surfed the wave about 3 times before this event, and it was much smaller, so I had to learn really quickly which ones were the good ones and which weren’t. You don’t want the waves coming out of the bay at you, and you also don’t want the ones that are just a peak with no wall. You want to get one with a perfect wall that grows into the channel. It’s really hard to pick whether there is going to be backwash or not too, you really want the reef to be clean with no wave in front, otherwise you find yourself just getting cannonballed out the end section and getting smoked.

What about that 10 point ride? What was going through your head!?
Yeah, I actually thought the wave wasn’t going to barrel. I thought it was just going to crush me against the reef. When I was dropping into it I thought maybe I should have pulled off, but then it just opened up perfectly. If it was a foot or two bigger it may have been a much different outcome. It was just such a good feeling once I got into it and was just looking out into a perfect view with no backwash coming to collect me, definitely one of the my most memorable experiences. I would have a GoPro there but a wave earlier in the day washed my board up onto the rocks and snapped the connection to the board, so that wave is one only for the memory bank.

How did the mood change after Judhead’s wipeout?
Jughead’s wipeout was gnarly. Riley and I came to surf our heat and we saw him in the tent getting treated, they had just put the neckbrace on as a precaution because he hit his head. He was still frothing though, telling us to get out there. The safety guys did an amazing job to grab him as they did and get him on the boat. He ended up going to hospital and getting the all clear that night and then the next day he was back there cheering us all on.

What was happening behind the scenes throughout the event that we couldn’t see on the webcast? We heard almost everyone got washed onto the rocks?
There was so much happening, even all the camera’s there couldn’t get it all. When I jumped off the rocks for my final, I looked over and Laure Towners board was just stuck on the ledge by the fins, and Laurie was there hanging upside down by his leash. Lucky his fins eventually ripped out and he was able to free himself and get back into the channel safely. There was just so much going on, a crazy 2 days for sure.

At 18 you’ve more than proven yourself amongst some of the older and more experienced competitors. What do your parents think about you charging waves like this and more so, the win itself?
My mum was freaking out a bit on the rocks, but they understand I love to do it and they support me all the way. Mum’s been through it all before with my dad chasing big waves in Hawaii, so they both handled it pretty well and were so stoked when I came in after the Final. It was great having them there cheering me on.

How’d you celebrate?
We cruised to the hotel for a few drinks to celebrate, but to be honest I could barely keep my eyes open. Everything hit me all at once after a huge two days, all the adrenaline, sun, wipewouts hit me all at once.

How do you think the win will shape future opportunities going forward?
I really hope this opens a lot of doors, especially with the Big Wave Tour, I’d love to get onto that and be a part of all those other special events around the world at some of those big wave hotspots. I’d also love to see more views from events like Cape Fear. I can’t even imagine the view count for the comp, every time I’m on social media its all see, so it’s great to see people are loving it so hopefully it continues to run for many more years ahead.

*Imagery: Red Bull