Breathtaking: Watch Russell Bierke in “Pull the pistol’s foreskin back and enjoy the orgasm of a crushed trigger!”

An excellent document of a young big-waver operating giant surfboards in uneasy waves…

A few words about the Hawaiian-born, Australian-raised big-wave dealer Russell Bierke while the going is good, before another leg snaps, before his tiny antlers are sucked dry like they were at monster Nazaré last year.

(Or, two years before that, when he was blue as a Smurf” and “on all fours spewing” after a wipeout in fifteen-foot waves in Victoria, an injury that put him in intensive care.)

Russell is twenty-two years old, diminutive and old world, deceptively fragile looking. He is the son of the noted Californian-born shaper Kirk Bierke whose boards are sold under the label KB Surf and made in Ulladulla, three hours south of Sydney. Russell’s earliest memories are of watching his dad run out the door whenever the surf was big, going to the beach and seeing him ride these big, blue-water reef waves, and wanting to be part of the game.

Kirk’s been making boards since 1975. He likes big waves and shifted to the North Shore, made a baby (Russ), then moved to Australia where Russell was schooled and raised in the art of strangling reef ledges. Russell grew up riding Kirk’s seven-foot and eight-foot guns at a lefthand outer-reef that had only ever been towed before the Bierkes got to town.

This film, which is called Flow State, was made by the Sydney filmmaker Andrew Kaineder and, in a neat twist, has another South Coast big-waver Brett Burcher interviewing Russell in the front seat of their four-wheel-drive.

It features footage, mostly, from 2019 although a failed paddle-in at the start and the closing wave are from a Shipstern session in 2018 which Russell says is the best he’s ever seen it.

“And the last wave was the wave of my life,” he says.

You’ll examine Russell in Flow State and note his tight mouth and the very plain-face in his black rubber headgear tinkering with waves that have the ferocity of an angry cuckold, a cranky Italian denied his lunchtime siesta.

I can’t recommend highly enough.


Moneyball: The hard stats reveal Gabriel Medina to be sure thing for world title in 2019; Italo Ferreira, 2020!

There are five surfers going into Pipe with a shot at the world title. Each of them comes with their own baggage, context and metrics…

Generally, my shtick is numbers, not words. Average heat score, win percentage, event/wave direction/wave height metrics, yada fucking yada.

(Click here to examine Balyn’s website, surf-stats.com)

Boring as fuck to most red-blooded surfers 93.67% of the time.

When I first spoke to Derek about analysing the title race, he didn’t tell me I’d be following a similar piece by a certain surf-writer doyen, and which you can read here.

I’m under no illusions. The numbers always pale in significance to the broader stories of the surfers themselves. The pros are just as fragile and flawed as the rest of us and there aren’t many metrics to reflect that accurately. Watching Kelly reluctantly coming to terms with his fading success is a gorgeous train wreck that no data set can accurately replicate.

The numbers do have a place, though.

When I find a stat that complements or even heightens the broader context of each surfer’s situation, I can offer a more resounding argument for or against them.

So, here we are.

There are five surfers going into Pipe with a shot at the world title. Each of them comes with their own baggage, context and metrics*.

Italo Ferreira
Pipe Win %: 54.55
Pipe Average Heat Score (AHS): 9.19 (11 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 11 (4 events: 13, 13, 5, 13)

Needed to win a title: A Pipe win is the only way to seal it outright.

Background: Derek’s favourite surfer (and mine) hadn’t won an event until 2018, when he proceeded to win three. Italo still found himself out of title contention due to consistency issues, which he’s improved this season while still locking in two wins from four finals. Peaking beautifully through Europe, and wearing the yellow jersey coming into Pipe, Italo looks like a genuine chance. The problem is, he hasn’t had any standout performances at heavy reef breaks (his best has been a single fifth place result at each of the Pipe/Fiji/Tahiti events and one Box bomb this year).

What to look for at Pipe: There have been several well-defined World Champion archetypes over the past few years: the workhorse (Adriano), the gifted natural (John), the talented contest machine (Mick, Gabriel). Italo isn’t any of these, or to be fair, maybe he’s all of them, he works hard, he competes well, he is focused and he’s certainly talented. What’s different is that none of those traits define him quite like they did the others. For Italo, who surfs fast, hucks any section, slays coffees and throws down some of the most entertaining claims on tour, it’s raw energy that will define his success. A fantastic trait, no doubt, but the question of whether it will be enough to get him through the tightest title race in years, at the biggest venue on tour, will be fascinating to see answered.

Gabriel Medina
Pipe Win %: 75
Pipe AHS: 13.78 (35 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 6.25 (8 events: 5, 9, 13, 2, 2, 13, 5, 1)

Needed to win a title: To finish one round/place above Italo and not behind any other contenders.

Background: Since 2013, Gabe regularly made Europe his bitch and cruised to three Pipe finals. But after his worst-ever France result and a priority mistake in Portugal, Gabriel’s seemingly inevitable third title was put on ice. He still has the second best win percentage and best AHS of all surfers this season, and he has the best record at Pipe of all the contenders. His error against Caio, while stupid, did result from him being so fucking hungry to win, a characteristic of champions. While he has cooled recently, there are still plenty of positives for Medina heading into the chaos of Pipe, with most betting agencies keeping him as the favourite to win this year.

What to look for at Pipe: Could the ice-cold Medina suffer another uncharacteristic melt? Will he back off with his hassling strategies and just let his surfing talk? What will Neymar and his millions of keyboard warriors to do to Gabe’s opponent if he’s eliminated early? With a solid history at Pipe and heavy favouritism, Gabe’s real story will be whether he will bounce back from Europe or continue to end the season with a whimper.

Filipe Toledo
Pipe Win %: 36.84
Pipe AHS: 9.68 (19 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 15 (6 events: 25, 5, 13, 9, 25, 13)

Needed to win a title: He will need a best-ever result at Pipe. If he wins, and Italo/Gabe don’t make the final, then he’ll be the 2019 champion. Anything else, and the variables become all-consuming.

Background: Filipe managed to move beyond his ‘small-wave specialist’ reputation with an increasingly formidable rail game and solid performances at respectable rights including J-Bay and Bells. What he hasn’t managed to shake is his reputation for holding back in juicy waves, especially on his backhand. Poor efforts in Tahiti and at the Box this year only entrenched the perceived depth of Filipe’s big wave weakness. It’s increasingly likely that, if he’s ever going to win a title, he’ll need to wrap it up in Europe.

What to look for at Pipe: Remember when Pipe was meant to have been pulled from the tour? Permits and politics were all stacked against the WSL and there was talk of an alternate season-ender in friendlier reef breaks off the coast of Western Sumatra? Filipe must be pining for that alternative reality right about now. The big question everyone wants to know about Filipe in this title race is, Will he go? If we get proper Pipe, then all eyes will be on Pip. At least he’ll be too consumed by the waves to worry about the title details.

Jordy Smith
Pipe Win %: 52.94
Pipe AHS: 11.43 (23 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 11.89 (9 events: 17, 5, 13, 13, inj, 25, 13, 5, 13, 3)

Needed to win a title: “If Jordy wins the Pipe Masters and Italo loses before the final, he will win the Title,” says the WSL. Ain’t that a big ask.

Background: This hyper-talented serial under-achiever had his best Pipe result last year with a close semi-final loss to eventual winner Medina. While Jordy’s consistency this year has been an asset, it’s also a weakness as he must progress further than his peers to improve his overall total. He’s peaking at the right time, with a positive result in Portugal and clutch effort against Kanoa, but Jordy again showed fragility in the final when presented with a red-hot Italo.

What to look for at Pipe: Jordy won’t have as much to prove at Pipe as Italo/Filipe/Kolohe. If Backdoor fires, he could be right there amongst it. But if a competitor drops a 10 on him, he will need to do more than simply burn them while in a combination situation. Jordy’s biggest obstacle seems to be between his ears, so it will be high drama watching to see when/if he’ll crack.

Kolohe Andino
Pipe Win %: 37.5
Pipe AHS: 9.35 (21 heats)
Average result at Pipe: 17.75 (8 events: 25, 13, 25, 13, 25, 3, 13, 25)

Needed to win a title: Divine intervention. This sucks for Brother as the big man seems to be working for the Brazilians. Technically, Kolohe can win if he makes the final at Pipe. This is good because it doesn’t require him to win an event. It’s bad because it requires all four of the other contenders to get, at best, seventeenths (Medina, Filipe and Italo) or ninths (Jordy). If they progress further, then the numbers get tighter and tighter. For example, Gabriel or Italo need only a fifth to negate Kolohe’s result entirely.

Background: After wearing the Yellow Jersey in Tahiti, Kolohe flatlined with consecutive seventeenths and missed a title via his one possible avenue: consistency (winning events doesn’t seem to be his thing). He got thrown a massive bone via Medina’s European fade, but again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of potential victory against fellow title choker Jordy in the Portugal quarters. His Pipe record smells worse than Griff’s Quik Pro France wetsuit.

What to look for at Pipe: The only acceptable outcome for Kolohe would be to pull off an inexplicable and long-overdue event win. It still wouldn’t guarantee a world title, but it might be enough to get the monkey (and keyboard hacks like myself) off his back going into the 2020 season. My biggest consideration towards Brother at this event is trying to guess which local wildcard will bring him undone, as I’m looking for a cheap option to round out my fantasy team.

So, who will win?

The numbers say Medina. If Jordy hadn’t been pantsed by Italo in the final a few days ago, I’d say he’d have had a good shot. His numbers would have been slightly better than Italo’s and he would have had the confidence needed to pull it off. Kolohe’s situation is too schadenfreude, dependent on the failure of others. Filipe needs to overcome so many years of well-supported data against him in big waves. Italo could definitely win, especially if he builds momentum and starts running off pure adrenaline, but I feel this may be his cliched ‘lose one before you win one’ year.

So, Medina for 2019.

Italo for 2020.

*All stats taken from my own databases. They vary from some WSL stats as they only include 2013-2019 data and because the WSL scores a second place in a three-man heat as a loss.


"Trick-or-treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat."

Breaking: One-ton Great White shark enters Gulf of Mexico; Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission warns surfers to “be aware of surroundings!”

Boo!

A grossly overfed female Great White shark weighing more than 2000 lbs has just entered the Gulf of Mexico forcing Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to issue an edict warning surfers to “be aware of your surroundings.”

And as if Halloween isn’t scary enough. As if all the ghosts and ghouls, vampires and child predators, razor blades hidden in apples and Rohypnol slipped into drinks aren’t scary enough but no. Much like Floridian surfer Kelly Slater, it appears as if Great White sharks demand the perpetual spotlight, never letting it stray, always pulling focus and let’s quickly meet Unama’ki, which means “Land of Fog” in a native Novia Scotia language as Novia Scotia is where the beast was first tagged.

OCEARCH says the creature, which measures 15 feet, 5 inches, is the second largest great white shark it’s ever tagged in the northwest Atlantic. The nonprofit has teamed up with SeaWorld to follow great whites in the hopes of finding out more about their eating and breeding habits, and it’s hoping Unama’ki will bring them right to a major site. “As a big mature female, Unama’ki has the potential to lead us to the site where she gives birth and [expose] a new white shark nursery,” OCEARCH says.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that while Florida beaches and waterways “more than likely contain sharks,” the animals have played a major role in maintaining balance in the state’s ecosystem.

“Shark activity is at its peak in Florida waters during April through October,” the FWC said and also urged visitors to be aware of their surroundings and understand the risks they take swimming in the waters.

And just imagine, there you are getting in a little pre-Trick-or-Treat surf in Florida’s normally placid gulf. Already on edge from a Halloween marathon, visions of Michael Myers teasing your overwrought brain when all of a sudden…

…BOO!

Up pops over 2000 lbs of Unama’ki all teeth and appetite.

I don’t think you’d ever recover from the fright.

I certainly wouldn’t

More as this horror story develops.


The great Peter Townend, pioneer of pro surfing etc, bows before the might of the Chinese Dragon. | Photo: Birdwell Beach Britches

From the Growth-and-Development Desk: A record-smashing 300 surfers to participate in upcoming Republic of China surf contest!

The world's most popular sport!

Now, to be all the way honest I don’t know if 300 surfers smashed the previous Taiwan Open of Surfing record or the all-time record for any surf contest anywhere ever but 300 surfers does seem a whole lot and maybe the most. Just imagine all the lips being licked in the International Surfing Association offices, all those entrance fees, all that hot hot pyramid action. The potential new uplines and downlines etc. and let’s quickly learn about The Scam in Siam*.

The 2019 Taiwan Open of Surfing will once again crown the champions of two of the World Surfing League’s (WSL) four major events, according to a press release issued by Taitung County Government on Tuesday (Oct. 29).

As happened last year, the winners of the World Junior Championships and World Longboard Championships will be crowned. In addition, the QS Men 1,500 Shortboard WSL will also be held.

The event will be held on the coast at Jinzun (金樽) in Donghe Township (東河鄉), Taitung County, during a 15-day period from Nov. 23 to Dec. 7. More than 300 constants from 28 countries, a record number for the event, will take part, say the organizers.

Oh.

300 surfers over 4 events? That seems reasonable but, while you’re here, can we briefly discuss Taiwan? When I was a boy it seemed as if a full-blown invasion of the little rebel island by massive Red China was always but an accidental button push away. Did the two reach some detente during the 20-odd years I wasn’t paying attention?

Is the One China policy a wildly successful and unmitigated foreign policy success?

Help!

*I know Taiwan is not Siam but I couldn’t resist such a clever turn of phrase.


Bebe, another wonderful catch for Bluestar Alliance, and Hurley's new stablemate. "Designed for the confident, sexy, modern woman,"

Nike sells Hurley to brand management company Bluestar Alliance!

Volcom, sold in April to maker of velour tracksuits, Rip Curl, October to camping retailer, Hurley, on the cusp of Halloween to owners of clothing brands for the "confident, sexy modern woman!"

Those of an advanced age will remember the glorious day in 2002 when Bob Hurley sold his eponymous brand to Nike for a hundred and twenty mill, three years after Hurley International was launched.

You know the story of the shaper-turned-surfwear-baron Bob Hurley? How a teenager from Rhode Island earned his stripes at Huntington Beach, became a team rider for HSS, a shaper of renown (sleds for world champs Rabbit Bartholomew and Pete Townend) and then in his twenty-eighth year scooped the license for Billabong USA for $40,000?

Yeah, it’s a good one, and it improved with age.

After Bob spent sixteen years turning Billabong into a hundred-mill-biz, he handed back the Billabong license to start the eponymous… Hurley.

Now, as reported in various biz trade journals, Nike has sold Hurley to the “brand management company” Bluestar Alliance for an undisclosed amount. The way Bluestar works is it identifies brands it wants to buy and once they get the keys, “our team of experts embark on a complete and thorough understanding of the brand’s potential channels of distribution and price point strategies. We create tools such as brand development profiles, trend guides, style guides and marketing strategies. These marketing materials portray graphic illustrations and a strategic marketing road map to enhance consumer brand recognition.”

Three months ago, the newsagent Reuters reported that Nike was “exploring options” for Hurley “including possible divestment” according to “people familiar with the matter.”

Nike’s potential retrenchment from the surfwear market is emblematic of the stance of most major consumer companies towards the sector. Surf brands have lost their appeal among non-surfing consumers, who now prefer boutique brands and retro streetwear. 

The sale follows Volcom’s  to the Authentic Brands Group, makers of iconic velour tracksuits, in April and Rip Curl to camping equipment retailer Kathmandu for three hundred and fifty mill (Australian) three weeks ago.