INTERVIEW: RORY RUSSELL
The Lightning Bolt ambassador, iconic surfer and shaper Rory Russell is a living legend who won several world class surf championships including two Pipe masters, 1976 and 1977, Waimea Pro in Brazil, 1975, all Japan pro in Chiba Japan, 1976, and Oahu North Shore Lightning Bolt Surf Championships in 1977. Known by his surf performance back in the ’70s, Rory also made a name for himself as a worldwide iconic shaper, especially by shaping one of the most emblematic Lightning Bolt surfboards ever – the super pinny performance driven Pipeliner. He’s also famous for his entertaining and big-hearted character.
The Pipeline Surf Legend moved to Hawaii with his family in 1964 and lived on Oahu’s famous North Shore for 38 years.
Besides his great achievements in contests, Rory has co-starred in such surfing films as Five Summer Stories, Sundance, Red Hot Blue, Hot Lips, and Inner Tubes, Surf Superstars and he has also made numerous TV appearances including on ABC’s wide world of sports, ABC’s American sportsman and so many promotional appearances in TV and surf magazines.
THE TAKEOFF: FROM BASEBALL TO HAWAII AND THE FIRST BOARD
“In 1964 I turned 11 years old on the voyage over from the Mainland (US). I really didn’t want to come to Hawaii, I wanted to stay on the Mainland and play baseball. Well, a couple of weeks after we got here the five of us (mom, dad, older brother, older sister and myself) went to Barbers Military Recreation Beach (coincidentally the same beach Jock Sutherland started at). My dad rented a board for us and my brother paddled out, I guess his timing was bad because the sets kept coming and he just got pummelled. He passed the board to me, I guess I was between sets. Then the first wall of white water caught me from behind, I stood up, rode it all the way to the beach, stepped off on the beach and the rest is history. The first surfboard I could call my own was a 9’ Phil Edwards model from Hobie Shop (which ironically later became the original Bolt shop and Jack Shipley was the manager). The board was $100 and my father immediately dismissed any notion of me riding that beauty. Night after night falling asleep thinking, then dreaming about sliding down the face of a Pipeline Monster like Jock Sutherland on the cover of the first Surf Magazine I ever bought. I was relegated to the fact that I was going to be riding my first Pipeline waves on my sister’s 9’ Hobie Clunker, which I did on a small sloppy day, but hey… it was Pipeline, I even hung five on a sloppy little two-foot wave. For a twelve year old that’s a big deal. But that Christmas, Santa brought me the unthinkable. Underneath the Christmas tree with one piece of wrapping paper around the middle was the 9’, Phil Edwards. Wooh!!! Double Wooh!!! And yes I did slide down the face of a Pipeline wave, not a monster, mind you, and not like Jock Sutherland, mind you, but like… Rory Russell.
IN THE SEVENTIES
In the early ’70s surfing was largely frowned upon. Surf is an individual sport, but almost everyone that surfs holds friendship and respect for nature above all else. The beach was considered to be a place for kids and students; If you were over the age of 18 you were either in a proper job or in the military. As the decade progressed so did surfing. A few people envisioned that there was a lot of money to be made and as far as I was concerned having these contests for money in my backyard was just fine with me. We were now Bona Fide Pro Surfers. Thank you, Fred Hemmings and Randy Raryck.
BEYOND THE SPORT
The one thing everyone needs to understand is what a tremendous healing power surfing is. How many times you really didn’t feel like paddling out, but you did?? And then when you came in, how would you feel? Like a f****n million bucks, huh? Call surfing a religion, cult, faith, etc.
The bottom line is the healing power! That’s what bonds us, that’s the mystique of our lifestyle, that magical, invisible, cleansing power, mentally and physically, that is surfing.
SPORT OF KINGS
It is easy to tell who is surfing for the spiritual aspects, and those that want the fame and fortune. The latter usually never succeed. But the ones that are spiritual and talented, like Kelly and Andy will always shine and be rewarded. As far as ancient Hawaii, surfing was a part of their religion as it comprised all aspects of life and was only allowed for royalty, punishable by death. Hence “Sport of Kings”. To me, the act of surfing is a very spiritual experience. Paddling out at 10’-12’ inside pipe on a low tide and raising swell, it’s just you and God baby!!!
LIGHTNING BOLT AND RORY
Reflecting back, that was a time when Gerry figured out exactly, after many different designs and sizes, what would fit to the curve of the sucking out face of the wave. Yet able to hold its edge and make long drawn out turns when needed. So when we were really opening up and exploring what we could do and how deep in the tube we could get on these boards with Lightning Bolts on them, the Lightning Bolt became synonymous with Pipeline and Pipeline became synonymous with Bolt. Eventually, Lightning Bolt became and remains iconic, as the international symbol of surfing. I just found a contract from Doug Warbrick owner of Rip Curl. I did their first ad in Surfer and the first Quiksilver ad in Surfing Magazine. So I got this contract offer from Doug and said: “You gotta choose Rory: Quiksilver, Rip Curl or Lighting Bolt?” Being ever the loyalist, I chose Lightning Bolt. Oh well, but I never lost faith and look what happened! You know there’s just not enough faith in this world today.
Basically, I really wanted to go on tour. I was only on the tour in 1976-78 and only on the Hawaii and Australian contest and was number 5 twice and 12 without going to the other 6-8 contests. I did really well in small wave contests. Even though I didn’t go on tour, we decided to advertise in a different way. Several pages on the life and adventures of Rory and the team Bolt, blazing around the planet, exploring new uncharted, unsurfed waves, meeting new fascinating people and sharing the bolt experience and Aloha was more advantageous than the tour. I’ve been blessed, that’s for sure. As far as one trip being better than the other, that is an impossibility, as long as there are good waves and good people you can’t go wrong.
LIGHTNING BOLT AND THE GROMS
To the Kids Lightning Bolt just meant “To be the Best”.
Hawaii will always be my home, but I feel at home everywhere I go.
FOR THE LOVE OF IT
People surf nowadays for the same reason as decades ago… for the love of it!
Photo Credits: Ricardo Bravo, Lightning Bolt Co, Sérgio Rosário, Jeff Divine and Rory Russell.
Thank You, Rory!