Photo: Morgan
Photo: Morgan

Behind The Photo: Russell Bierke, South Coast, Australia

A golden moment, caught by photographer Lance Morgan

Our Photo Editor Grant Ellis summed up the golden rule of patience in his last portfolio. After you shoot a session- within a day, a month, over many years – there's a selection of photos that you’ll always remember. But as years go by, a batch of favorites eventually whittles down to one frame, "The Frame," from that session. It takes a particular type of focus to see through the frustration and the rolls of vacant moments to find The Frame. We reached out to photographer Lance Morgan and asked about a recent golden moment in South Oz with teenaged madman Russell Bierke.

The week before the Quiksilver Pro was due to start on the Gold Coast, the charts peaked with a solid East Coast swell. Never having been one for crowds, nor the norm, I decided to jump on a plane and search for quieter lineups. Just making the last flight to Sydney for that day, I arrived and decided the best decision was to rent a car and punch it south. I had the perfect image in my mind, and knew the exact wave that could produce what I was aiming for. I eagerly arrived at around 1:00 AM and tried (but failed) to get a good night’s sleep in the back seat of my minuscule rental car.

After an endlessly restless night, the sun slowly started to peak over the horizon. My first glimpse of the ocean was heartbreaking. The king tide had swallowed my dream. On a hunch, I decided to check a heavy slab hidden out the front of a nearby, sleepy suburb. The last time I was out there, I was dragged across the reef and almost drowned, so this wave comes with a fair bit of trepidation. This break loves a high tide, but it can be highly unpredictable. The ‘men in grey suits’ also frequent this area, so now I was operating on minimal sleep and pre-existing trepidation, which was quickly turning into despair. Relief, excitement, and anticipation shot through me as the first set I laid my eyes on exploded onto the reef and spat into the channel.

Once I got out into the lineup, the morning sun burnt off the lingering rain clouds, the tide got better, and the swell started to pulse. After a couple of hours, I had almost filled my card with empties, but knew I didn’t quite have the money shot. Before I had enough time to let disappointment set in, a rogue set popped up right in front of me. With everyone out of position, I was lucky enough to be in the prime spot as Russell paddled into the wave and fell down the face. He buried his rail as it heaved onto the shallow rock ledge, and showing skill above his years, he positioned himself perfectly before the spit engulfed him. Fifteen minutes later, my memory card was full, and the wind started to turn onshore. The shot, the wave, and the surfer, as a combination, was exactly as they say: the one worth waiting for.