RUSSELL BIERKE AND FRIENDS IN THE GLADIATOR PIT
He's only a teenager but Russell Bierke is already veering towards legendary status. Already one of the leading chargers in the world he came over to check out Ireland's low key yet world class scene and scored ... eventually.
Afew issues back we ran a piece featuring Conor Maguire, Gearoid Mcdaid and Pete Conroy at home. That shoot came about as part of an O'neill team trip, our crew merged with their crew for a week of fun waves and a few pints of the black gold. Here's the other half we couldn't show you then as the wetties were for the new season. The whole idea was to get young Aussie hellman Russell Bierke over to Ireland and to surf with some of the European and local crew and explore the wave rich land. It went so much better than anyone could've hoped for...
Organising people is hard. It's like herding cats. Especially when they're pro surfers dotted all over the globe. Everyone has schedules. Pros get to keep their contracts by keeping busy be it with comps or free surf shoots and projects. So finding windows when five of the buggers can all be somewhere for ten days is tricky. It's hard to
say 'Swell! Come!' last minute when you're dealing with a big crew. So a window has to be set. Then you cross your fingers and hope for the best. We did some good crossing. We had our share of flat days and driving days and promising forecasts coming to nothing days but it all came together in the end for three stunning days at one of the spookiest joints in all of surfing: Rileys. And we got to share it with Conor, G-man, Pete and local shooters Fionn and Clem.
It's an amphitheater, a raw Colosseum of oceanic rage, it's like nowhere else on Earth. The noise is Dolby 5.1 surround plus. Every breaking wave goes through you. The roar is incessant and unnerving. Add to this the fact the wave is borderline unridable and dangerous and it's no surprise it's only sessioned by a hardy local crew. It's one of those spots that instills camaraderie, everyone looks out for everyone else as injuries are frequent and the consequences unpalatable. But that camaraderie also means hoots and cheers for sick tubes and a session vibe where everyone is pushing everyone else bigger and deeper.
For all the hundreds of miles driven, the hikes made, the frustrating nearly there surfs, it's all worth it. Those three days with an epic crew from all over the world and Ireland surfing mindbending waves will be seared into all our grey matter forever. Those sessions are what we all live for. This is why we do what we do. The kind of days that make your mind glow...
Compared to the places I've surfed around the world, the big slabs at home in Australia, Hawaii and Tahiti this place is right up there. Rileys was a heavy as any other slab I've surfed. It was so shallow, felt like every time you fell you'd hit the bottom. There's definitely some crazy waves around here. It's got the small town feel, heaps of countryside, it's not that different to home.
Long time resident and core Rileys rider since Mickey Smith shared the spot with the world, Stef Skajarowski, who's witnessed most of the all time sessions and charges the joint whenever possible reckoned Russell's last wave (pictured) was one of the top three waves he's ever seen paddled there...
“I was pretty happy with my last wave, to have the local boys frothing on it and hooting from the channel made it even better. It's not often you get a round of applause from a line up. It was a pretty good feeling getting out of that one. I thought it was just going to tease me and get me at the end or something, but it just let out. We had a "few" Guinnesses to celebrate after that session.”
I knew it could get pretty big and scary in Ireland, but surfing in challenging, hollow conditions like this with all the boys ... you just want to get a bigger one, a sicker one and you're just enjoying the moment.
First time in Ireland, we had sick waves in Scotland last year but the waves here are more perfect.
I've been coming to Ireland since I was eleven with my family and camp at Easkey and surf all summer. I've sailed around the coast searching for waves with brother Taz and parents too. It's unpredictable and sketchy when the winds get up so we spent a lot of time hiding up estuaries but it was awesome. Seeing the Cliffs from a boat was stunning.
Walking down to Rileys the first time was crazy, seen so many photos of Ferg and Lowey over the years, you feel so dwarfed by the cliffs and everything, it's like a full amphitheatre. The craziest left slab just hidden there. When we got there the tide was a bit wrong and we're all wondering how the joint was even surfable. Then when there's just enough water on the reef we gave it a shot ... Turned out to be pretty sick.
Walking in I was a bit stressed, everyone was laughing and talking waiting for the tide and we had plenty of time to gauge how it all worked. Once we got in and got a few we relaxed. That said it's a really dangerous spot, you've got to choose a good one, take your time. You can't just go any wave. When you're seeing friends getting hurt it really makes you think 'I've got to be careful' it's so easy to get really hurt. But you just deal with it.
First time we went down to Rileys I was scared. It's one of the heaviest waves in the world and when you're sitting there so close to the wave and how shallow it is ... I didn't think it was surfable. Maybe only for tow ins. Once you've caught some medium ones you figure it out a bit.
Walking down to Rileys I was nervous. I've never been out anywhere as heavy as that. Especially on my backhand!
Mullaghmore was an experience, it was good to be out there and pick a few off. The guys got pretty nailed. It's all a good learning experience. It's a steep learning curve, but I'm frothing to come back and give it another dig.
It's been sick watching Russell, Nelson and Adrian and the local crew catch some big ones.
It shows me where I want to be. My first thought going down to Rileys was 'please don't make go in!' It's definitely he heaviest wave I've ever seen. It was so loud and thick.
I was talking to some friends before the trip, when I said Russ was coming they were all 'you better take a helmet and life vest if you're surfing with him'. I surf Hossegor beachbreak all the time, he's a slab expert so we've got a different approach but it's sick to surf with new people and learn from each other. We've given him some European culture as well... I hope he comes down to France and we can show him our waves as well.
It's been a fun trip with Nelson, Kit and Pea such a good crew. Russell is a madman, being in the water with him you learn how he moves and how slabs work. They've got more of them there we don't have so many death slabs in Spain.
It was an experience meeting and surfing with Russell. So good to paddle out at Rileys and get some tips. He's so friendly and mellow on land but a nutter in the water, just charging. It's been fun with Conor and G-man they've been helping me too with the reefs, it's very different to home in North Devon. It's all about having the confidence to throw yourself over the ledge.
Russell is super chilled, it's like I've known him for ages, he's really nice. I thought he'd be all Mr Big Wave Surfer but he's not. He is crazy in the water.
LOCALS I'd seen a lot of Conor and Gearoid's waves from this winter, especially Conor at Mullaghmore, the locals here go hard. They're super nice guys as well which is pretty sick. Always good to surf with crew like that. - RUSSELL
I knew Gearoid from the pro junior circuit but not Conor, they're both so friendly, so welcoming. Thanks to them and Pete we got a few tow waves. Some trips you aren't that welcome but in a place like this when everyone's cool it makes the whole trip amazing. Like being at home. Just a big gang hanging out.
Rileys is somewhere if you surf it too much you'll hurt yourself. We had three sessions and Conor smashed his face, Adrian his leg and Gearoid did his ankle. Pete Conroy broke his back there and Shambles did his leg. It's a sketchy spot.
The last day in Rileys I broke my ankle, I'd been recovering from a break two months ago, it was pretty much fixed then I rebroke it. So I've been strapping it and getting on with it.
Mullaghmore was hilarious. First wave face planted on a rock. Not so good for me. And the first session at Bundoran Peak when it was two foot I face planted on to a rock and my back full scorpioned. All the waves in Ireland are trying to kill me even the two footers! This is the price you pay. I need to come back with a working leg and being 100 percent ready to push for the big ones. Hopefully for big Mullaghmore, Axi and Natxo know it well now so it would be sick to come back in the winter with them and paddle it big with Conor, G-man and the boys.
They're such legends, Conor towed me into one of the biggest barrels of my life at Rileys...
Adrian FDV can't touch the sides. There are not many spots where just getting there is intimidating. This is Peony.
Adrian is an anagram of “a drain”.
Pete, Clem and Russell reflect on a ridiculous session.
(right) Nelson on a perfect one.