The 2016 Red Bull Cape Fear surf contest is well solidified in the collective consciousness of the surf community—the monstrous waves and the fearlessness of this years competitors made the livestream almost impossible to look away from.
Waves topped out at 15 feet, absolutely demolishing competitors and washing them out to the rocky shore. Those watching the livestream feared the worst, waiting for each surfer to re-emerge from their numerous, devastating wipeouts. But the most exciting moments of the entire event came from Russell Bierke, who at just 18 was by far the youngest surfer there. The kid is an absolute natural, cutting clean lines across waves that belied their inherent menace. He took home the win that day and garnered a lot of attention in the process.
Filmmaker and longtime FvF collaborator Andrew Kaineder already knew of Russell’s prowess on the water—having grown up in the same area of the South East Coast of Australia. Recognizing that Russell was an emerging force in the surf world, Andrew took on a documentary project about the young surfer, following him to several spots around the world. We spoke with Andrew about the documentary, Bezerke, and how it was working with the young talent.
How did this documentary come about?
I had been vaguely talking to O’Neill about getting onboard to do the short documentary. After he won Cape Fear while I was in Fiji working for the World Surf League, O’Neill called through and wanted to get the ball rolling straight away.
Where is the film shot?
There’s three distinct sections of the film but a majority of it is shot in Australia. One part of it is shot all along the south coast, basically where Russ is from. There’s a good chunk shot in South Australia because he did a trip with Kelly Slater four years ago or so. I built on the idea of him going back to the same waves now that he’s older and more experienced. The last part is shot in a few different places: Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, Tahiti and Hawaii.
“He was always happy to do whatever I asked. He’s a pretty relaxed character.”
How was it working with such a young talent?
Russ was pretty cool to work with because he’s still kind of young and he hasn’t been milked by heaps of filmmakers like me—yet [laughs]. Whenever I had these kind of crazy ideas like, ‘man let’s hike to the top of this mountain because I need this mountain shot for the storyline.’ He’d pull up to my house at 3AM to like, drive to this mountain and climb it for sunrise. He was always happy to do whatever I asked. He’s a pretty relaxed character.
We never took my car on trips—ever. My car has no air-conditioning and sounds like you’re in a wind tunnel when you go over 80km/h! Once we took Russ’ car, towing a jet ski because I needed one to film off of, all the way to South Australia. Two days worth of driving, got there and surfed for two days and drove two days back home. Four days of driving and he texted me the next day saying that his head gasket was basically gone—and it was pretty much from that trip.
“The ocean is rogue and you can’t really predict any of it.”
There’s a scene in the film where his father talks about how ambitious Russ was as a younger surfer. Is that why he’s able to take on these massive waves?
He’s calculated when surfing. He doesn’t throw himself into any big wave just because it’s a big wave. He really takes calculated risks and trusts his ability. He puts himself into dangerous situations every day but he knows when to push it and when not to. You can really notice that some people in the Cape Fear contest that were going for anything—they were after the biggest, nastiest waves and it didn’t matter whether they were obliterated or not. Whereas Russ is more calculated and wants to know that he has a good chance to make the wave and hopefully not get injured. He won’t risk it if it’s not worth it.
But you’re right in there with him on these massive waves. Isn’t that a bit dangerous for you too?
The ocean is rogue and you can’t really predict any of it, it definitely does get pretty dangerous. Experience plays a huge role in knowing where to position yourself to make sure you don’t get into too much trouble. But when the waves get over a certain size you can’t really swim. It’s mostly shot off of a jet ski. The real big stuff that Russ is surfing, you can’t really swim and consistently get quality shots. There’s too many lumps, too much current, too much ocean going up and down being crazy. You can’t really be in there. It definitely does get a bit hairy, but to us it’s just normal. I’ve spent most of my life in the ocean so I trust in my experience to know where to be and if it’s too dangerous. It’s also in wave knowledge—a lot of the waves we surf at home we’ve surfed them 1000 times. We know all the different moods, the different currents that can happen at those particular spots. You then use that knowledge to make it a bit more safe. But it’s always fun.
Thank you Andrew, for speaking with us about Russell and sharing your film with us. It was an interesting insight into the young talent’s life.
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