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Aloha O’e Greg Russ
About a year ago today I got the very sad news that we lost one of the great underground big wave riders and tube riders of all time to cancer. Greg Russ was an amazing individual, as passionate, committed, courageous, and capable as any surfer I’ve ever known. Full on soul surfer.
He was also an extremely cool guy, generous and fair, always up for some fun. Greg was pretty enterprising, as well, one of the last genuine outlaws who lived how, where, and the way he wanted - he answered to no one and did as he pleased - as free and independent as one can be in this world.
When I first got to the North Shore in the mid/late 80s, there were many hot underground guys chasing the big blue wave; and Greg was one of the standouts, especially at Sunset, Waimea, Backdoor, and beyond on the outer reefs (when very few surfed outside by themselves - way before jet skiis). He had the skill, the knowledge, the boards (he rode Owls, Brewers, and Willis Bros. almost exclusively), and the balls to go where/when very few dared. And he charged with style and wild abandon.
We became friends. Along with guys like Clay Talton, Jungle, Blake Reynolds, Ozzie Tim, Dusty and others, I was very fortunate to benefit from Greg’s and their tutelage and mentorship.
It wasn’t easy! Many a time I got scared or otherwise just plain nervous hanging around with this crew - both in the water and on land. These guys lived hard. But I observed and experienced both directly and indirectly - I learned. A lot. Mostly just to charge; pay your dues and put your time in; don’t hold back or make excuses; and push your limits. You’d be surprised how far you can go.
Greg and I shared hundreds, maybe thousands of epic sessions together at Paumalu and Waimea, as well as the first (and last) time I surfed The Rock. In 1993, I saw him surf truly giant (20’ plus) outer Uppers/Gators on the best NNE swell of the century (at least in my 30 odd years) along with the intrepid Blake Reynolds and Mark Foo - just charging through massive round barrels that lined up for about a mile. It was insane. I still kick myself for not having the presence of mind to paddle out there; but I was simply too intimidated (and tired after having surfed the Bay - sounds like an excuse to me!).
A couple years later, November 1996, Greg and I shared what was then and probably remains the biggest, cleanest surf I’ve ever ridden. Waimea Bay was easy 20’-30’ and absolutely perfect. I wrote about it in an earlier post.1 Later that season, February 13, 1997, Greg and I shared another classic session at 20-25’ Waimea (see photo below), a day that otherwise would have been all time epic were it not darkened by the untimely drowning and death of Todd Chesser little more than a mile down the coast at that same outer reef (Uppers/Gators) that Greg scored a back in ‘93. That day however, we probably caught the same waves in the set that washed over Chesser and them. It’s crazy how things play out . . . Aloha O’e, Greg.