Bierke leaves crash behind
Giant wave charger back on the board
BIG wave surfer Russell Bierke knows it’s probably best he has little memory of a shocking wipeout that left him floating unconscious in the water before being rescued by fellow surfers, including American legend Kelly Slater.
Best that he’s been able to put being pulled from the surf out for the count “and blue like a Smurf” behind him.
Best that he’s still able to hold his nerve when flying down the face of green-lipped monsters – including potentially the infamous Portuguese hot spot of Nazare where a deep underwater canyon spits up waves up to 110-feet high.
The 21-year-old from the NSW South Coast, one of only two Australians on the WSL Big Wave tour, now treats being knocked out, getting water in his lungs and nearly dying in 2017 as a freak accident, not a life, or career, changing moment
“It could have turned me off for life but it wasn’t anything I did wrong. It was just a freak accident. I have a friend who broke his jaw surfing waist height,” said Bierke, who at 18 won the famed Cape Fear big wave event in Sydney.
“A few weeks later I was surfing again and definitely had some nerves for sure.
“My very first wave I hit a wave and fell and took a semisolid wipeout and it helped. It just clicked the switch again. You have to keep it in the back of the mind for safety but not dwell on it.” This attitude has seen Bierke’s skills and confidence grow to the extent he is now consisted one of the world’s leading big wave chargers.
It’s why this week he has flown to Praia do Norte in Portugal, where waves exploding on the rocky coastline lure big wave daredevils and where the Big Wave Tour could kick off this summer.
This infamous venue is where Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa last November rode a verified wave 80-feet high, where Maya Gabeira set a world record for the hugest wave surfed by a woman when she conquered a 68-footer and where Australian Ross Clarke-Jones almost drowned last year.
“I’ve never even laid eyes on it so it’s important I get to surf here, get a warm-up here in case the competition is called on soon,’’ Bierke said.
“I have been studying a lot of footage and looking at the surf on webcam.”
“A few weeks later I was surfing again and had some nerves” RUSSELL BIERKE
Big wave surfer Russell Bierke celebrates victory during the Red Bull Cape Fear event and, inset, Bierke surfing in Tahiti