Russell Bierke's "Flow State" Features Perhaps the Best Big Wave Paddle Surfing Australia's Ever Seen
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Russell Bierke released his first major edit in about three years today, and oh boy is it something to behold. The edit came with this story written by friend and talented heavy wave wrangler himself, Brett Burcher. So We'll get out of the way, and let Burch tell the story.
Written by Brett Burcher.
If you’re not familiar with the name Russell Bierke, chances are you’re highly intelligent and made a conscious decision to stay the hell away from his path of life. If you have, then you're obviously well aware of his past antics and rise to surfing stardom with a historical win in the Red Bull Cape Fear event as an 18 year old pup. Fast forward to today, and you're being introduced to the 22-year-old’s newest rising, coming with the release of his second film alongside experienced cinematographer and close friend, Andrew Kaineder, titled Flow State.
Flow State is the long awaited follow up to Bezerke, the pair's last major in-depth edit in 2016. Just 19 at the time, it showcased his unapologetic intent on riding whatever mass of H20 came his way. Not only riding it, but confidently exposing unseen technical lines and approaches to waves of consequence, encouraging the audience to question what on earth would follow? His latest production ponders the same reaction.
“Getting on the big wave tour and progressing the sport, I really want to do both of those things,” a quote from a sprouting Russ heard within Bezerke. The question surrounding undeniable freakish talent and competitive success on a national level, is how that talent is going to perform on an international scale. One trick ponys don’t cut it in big wave surfing’s elite, with the standard being pushed every swell, you must push back to remain relevant. Big wave tour spots are not a handout or popularity contest. If you look at the pedigree of names enlisted, to even be in the conversation for a call up, means you're pushing the level of the sport in one way or another. In hindsight, the jump from conversation to competing can be one standout ride away. But that one ride or performance may take years to unfold.
Undeniably, Jaws is the Everest of paddle-in big wave surfing right now. Since it began being unanimously paddled in the early 2000s, eight of the last 10 Big Wave Paddle Awards and the women’s Paddle World Record have taken place out there. Hailing from the sleepy south coast town of Ulladulla, Jaws' season is a world away from the backyard cricket and summer shenanigans unfolding at home. Russ had been in Hawaii for the past three summers, silently watching and learning, plotting his long-term attack. When the charts went purple in 2018, Russ took his position on the front line. Thirty feet of unpredictable swell, howling winds, rogue wash-throughs and every surfer alive with an inflatable vest and nine feet plus of foam swarmed the line-up like ants, waiting for Godzilla to trample them so they could return underground. The near impossible conditions were the ideal proving ground to show if all the ingredients were in the right place before they entered the oven. Russ got one of the stand out rides of the day, an XXL Ride of the Year nomination and, inevitably, his third rising, an invitation to the WSL BWWT.
You would be hard pressed trying to find a sport that demands more stress on the body, mind and comprises of so many variables. Juggle that stress with limited swell windows, limited events, limited time to perform, limited chance to requalify. In his rookie year, Russ finished ninth overall ,with a semi-final at Jaws and a sixth place at Nazare. “For a long time my goal was to qualify for the big wave world tour, and to actually achieve it felt surreal,” reflects Russ. “The tour in 2018 was a whirlwind with Nazare and Jaws running within two weeks of each other. Competing in big waves is so much different than free surfing, but I found the experience really exciting and enjoyable. What wasn’t enjoyable was badly breaking my finger first wave of the event at Nazare and having to surf both competitions with it sticking sideways.”
More candid than Bezerke, Flow Sate shines further light on what is as equally impressive as his surfing performances, his character. On land, it would be difficult finding a bad word to say about Russ. He’s as fine a young gentleman as you will come across. Mature for his age, but a grom at soul, very calm, balanced and approachable. A scholar of all things that interest him, when he sets out to attempt or pursue something, he researches it, purchases the right gear, taps into the foundations of that craft. It’s that very same respect he presents during human interaction. Strong family roots and vast friendship circles have certainly moulded his demeanour. Identified as abnormal at a young age, he had big boots to fit, which are now snug, worn out and almost looking to be handed down.
One person who knows his character better than most is AK, the man responsible for bringing this project to life. AK, or Pumpkin if you will, is a magician in motion and close friend, travel partner and creative influence on Russ’s career. “Russ is as far from a kamikaze hellman as you can get,” explains AK. “He’s dedicating himself to understanding the ocean and each particular surf spot in a way that when something out of the ordinary comes his way, he can improvise and make it look like he’s been waiting for that moment his entire life. He's out there pushing himself because he loves it. He loves the technical challenge of riding something that is forever changing”. A polished and particular chap, AK isn’t one to shy away from intricate detail, or bug the subject for one more take. Off the back of Bezerke and several other shorter but equally masterful clips, Flow State edges them towards becoming one of the better teams in modern surfing content production. Perhaps overlooked in high action, high quality short films is the attitude required to firstly capture the moments and, secondly, do the moments justice. Travelling, planning, early starts, cold mornings, late nights, positioning yourself in the impact zone while sharks nip at your heels, can often require as much commitment as riding the waves. Then comes the editing bay, let’s not go there. “With the film, I just wanted to keep it simple and capture Russ's surfing as good as it looks from the channel, so everyone can see the intricate details of his wave riding,” says AK. “There’s some waves in Flow State that you just have to soak in at 120fps. Start to finish it’s ridiculous, from where he positions himself, to the drop and the intricate movements inside the pit to make sure he gets to the channel. I tried to build the whole film around highlighting these few waves and complementing them with other shots and waves to build sequences that show his well-rounded approach to surfing. I tried to keep everything else to a minimum as I feel that’s true to Russ.”
If the last section doesn’t blow your socks off, you may need to confirm you still have a pulse. I was lucky to be on hand during that clinical display at what could only be described as very intimidating, large and raw Shipsterns. What became clear after that session was the realisation that he sees split second ocean movements in a different time, a slower pace. Similar to how people describe experiences of slow motion in times of intense danger, the prick has those same time warp capabilities in heavy waves. It’s as if he’s seen it all before and processed the required data in a locked away brain file. When the wave or swell approaches, he goes into his saved files, proofreads what worked and what didn’t last time, and downloads the files for what will work today. Once the download is complete and his body begins its natural course, the flow state begins.
Calls of greatest ever paddle in at Shipsterns have been aired in the lead up to the film’s release. Let’s not forget, its surfing, how anyone perceives that ride may be different to the neighbour across the street so make the call on your own merits alone. Or better, just watch the thing and keep a bib close by because there is going to be some cleaning up to do afterwards. To be frank, who really gives a rat's backside, it’s a peak moment for a peak individual, arriving at the right place, right time, and using time to his advantage. If it upsets you, perhaps you're looking at it the wrong way.
When you study the footage closely, he’s actually become the character of your mind surfer. When you watch a serious wave unload and you envision the premium line required to make it, he’s now bringing that to our reality. That’s the follow-on effect of the flow state in rhythm. Watch and wonder. Surely he can’t be labelled "underrated", but fuck, is he? Agreed, his antics are far from secret and now universally recognised, but I still feel we don’t quite know the truth.
Click play to find out.
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