Rory Russell is the epitome of Hawaiian Surfer royalty – in the 60’s & 70’s he was a KING. Pipeline Masters winner in 1976 and 1977. Traveled the world as the face of Lightning Bolt. Held court as often and as frequently as he desired. Raging, loving, surfing like none before… an era of surfing history come and gone. Rory has come full circle and again works with Lightning Bolt, rages, loves and surfs… just, on his new terms.
Rory Russell: Have we met before?
Revolt In Style: No, we have never met before.
RR: Are you a surfer girl?
RR: Wow. Cool. That’s way cool.
RIS: So, I have lots of questions for you.
RIS: When were you born?
RR: July 29th, 1953 Germany
RIS: Are your parents German?
RR: No, my Father was a highly decorated Army Colonel. He was stationed over there. Born in an army tent. Military field hospital. (Laughs)
RIS: How long were you in Germany?
RR: Just for a year.
RIS: Where are your parents from?
RR: Philadelphia – Both of them. Born and raised in Philadelphia.
RIS: After Germany?
RR: Fort Rylie, Kansas. Two to four years old. Then went to Carlyle, Pennsylvania. I had made it to the little league team, and I remember my Dad telling me we were going to Hawaii. My heart was broken – that I had to go to Hawaii. So, instead of becoming a baseball champion I ended up becoming a surfing champion. I got ripped off!! (Laughs)
RIS: So, that’s what you wanted to be as a little boy? A baseball star?
RR: Yes, I didn’t even know what surfing was.
RIS: How old where you when you moved to Hawaii?
RR: I was ten…turned eleven on the ocean.
RIS: Did your parents stay married during that time, while you were growing up?
RR: Fifty years.
RIS: I know your Dad has passed away, but is your Mom still alive?
RR: Yep. She was a school teacher in Laguna Beach for thirty years. Retired at the age of 80. Yeah, I will go surfing at Salt Creek…. and a lot of people will be paddling by me and will be like, ”How’s your Mom? She was my Teacher!” (Laughs)
RIS: How cool!
RR: Well, she was my high school teacher on North Shore…that was a bummer.
RIS: Were your parents strict?
RR: No, not at all. Nope. They were in the beginning, from like birth to five. They taught me values, military values, respect, honor, dignity, other military lines, and ‘do unto others’, ..Christian background. Raised Catholic. Good solid foundation.
RIS: Both, of your parents Catholic?
RIS: Do you consider yourself Catholic?
RR: More or less.. Spiritual Christian…Budda, Hindu… a little bit of this. a little bit of that.
RIS: Do you pray?
RR: Pray all the time. Pray when I paddle out. Absolutely, I pray when I get caught on the inside. (Laughs)
RIS: Ever been married?
RIS: Was that a strategic move never to get married?
RR: No, just never happened Didn’t find my fit.
RIS: Are you open to marriage?
RIS: Do you have a girlfriend?
RR: No, not right now. I need one. (laughs)
RIS: Describe the typical day for you?
RR: Get up, check the surf from my balcony (looking right down the side of a volcano to a place called Pine Trees). Probably the most consistent wave on this side – Kona side. See if anyone wants some surf lessons – if not – Go to the shaping room and make some surfboards. I am making the most beautiful boards in the world.
RIS: Are you?
RR: That’s what everyyyyyoonnnee says! (We laugh) In fact, I will put a challenge out to anyone else to make a more beautiful, dynamic, sexy, surfboard. My friend put them on the Lost and Found page on Facebook.
RIS: So you are the Ambassador for Lighting Bolt?
RIS: And you have Rory Russell surfboards – which is part of Lightning Bolt?
RIS: Who founded Lighting Bolt?
RR: Gerry Lopez and Jack Shipley (check spelling) started it back in Honolulu. Kinda like..It was a bunch of rogue guys. It was when short boards came in and boards were changing so rapidly. It was not financially feasible to go to a shop to get a new board. A brand new board off the rack for 400 or 300 bucks. Then everything got shorter. Within a two to three year span, it changed as much as it ever did before. We took the old boards and peeled the glass back off of them and reshaped them. We couldn’t afford to experiment with something brand new cuz it might not work. There were a couple that didn’t work for sure but it was part of the learning process. We tried many different things. Lockers. Whales.
Jack Shipley managed the Hobbie Shop back in 1965… I remember my Dad brought my sister and I our first boards there. I called him Papa Bolt (Jack Shipley) He is one of the head judges in Hawaii. Triple Crown and all that. Been a judge forever… and his son is a judge now. I just love him to death He is like a dad to me, Papa Bolt. So, before I knew him as Pappa Bolt he was manager at the Hobbie store. I would go into the store with my Dad look at all the boards lined up. I remember saying this is the one picking out a board and my Dad saying “It’s $400… I can’t do that.” I was all disappointed. Woke up Christmas morning there it was under the tree. So then I could go to Pipeline at 12 years old. Mom would take me down to the beach She had her fried chicken and bottle of ripple. It was two feet little but clean and nobody would be out. Then it all came true. From just my Mom on the beach to thousands on the beach. (Laughs)
RIS: So your friends started Lighting Bolt and you were right there with them.
RR: (Lopez) He was Batman and I was Robin. He was the King of Pipeline and I was the Prince. I was happy with that cuz everyone wants to shoot the King.
RIS: How did you meet Lopez?
RR: Surfing. First there was Jock Sullivan – before Gerry He was living on the north shore with his family. He was Mr. Pipeline after Brett Van Art . We moved next door to him (Jock). His brother and I went to high school
So, here I am living next door to Mr. Pipeline. Surfing with him every day. So then I had Gerry Lopez the next Mr. Pipeline takes me under his wing. So, If I didn’t do it, I was pretty screwed up. (Laughs) You know what I mean? If you can’t get those guys how to show you how to do it; you don’t have a chance.
RIS: Describe Lopez
RR: Cool..real cool..solid inside.
RIS: What is your role now with Lighting Bolt?
RR: Just run around spread the Bolt. It’s such a Universal icon; it’s a natural symbol. It’s not like a brand. It is something everyone can identify with. It’s a mark It’s a bolt. People all over the world can identify with the Bolt all walks of life. Not everyone identifies with the Ripcurl but everyone identifies with the Lighting Bolt. It is the greatest logo in the world. So lucky I can make surfboards and be able to put it ( Bolt) on there. Surf boards look better; it’s amazing.
RIS: In every picture over years, I see you on a Lightning Bolt board. What is it about these boards all these years?
RR: Yep. Yeah it’s not the board. Each board is different a lot of different shapes shaped by different people. I like the energy from the Bolt. Makes me feel really good and positive. It’s a metaphysical connection there.
RIS: How long have you been shaping?
RR: 1972 – shaped my first board. I was a sculptor more than a shaper. Spent a lot of time on them. There is a lot to learn.
RIS: Who got you into shaping?
RR: Lopez, Wylie Kyle, Artman Wayne Santos, Mike Smith. We had a little shed on the north shore everyone would just hangout – if we weren’t surfing. Taking boards apart & experimenting on them. It was the blind leading the blind. I kept breaking Lopez’s boards… So he was like…. ah make your own! So I did. He was with me starting out. It was cool ’cause I knew what I wanted in a board.
RIS: Two gifts of advice you would give people?
RR: Two gifts I would give people? I would say, take them to see the whales and manta rays and teach someone how to surf. I am really good at teaching surfing. I get them to stand up! (Laughs) I remember my dad asking me what do you want to do with your life? I said I wanted to reach out touch persons heart bring a smile to their face and leave an indelible mark. But I do enjoy people man and it’s amazing what a just a little spark of positive to a person can do so much inside for them they don’t even know it and you don’t even know it half the time. Every little positive. Not enough positive in this world. Every little smile you give somebody just vibes generating positive thoughts to someone makes your life better so that is my stance.
RIS: Grew up surfing the North Shore?
RR: We would go up and down the north shore looking at the waves the whole north shore where ever the waves were in our Volkswagen six times a day from one end to the other checking the waves.
RIS: So you consider Pipeline your favorite spot? All the pics I have seen you are at Pipeline.
RR: I have surfed everywhere just as well as I surfed Pipeline. I do not consider myself a pipeline specialist. But I was one of the best at Pipeline for sure. It’s dangerous.
RIS: Fav spot?
RR: Padang, Bali
RIS: Best friend?
RR: I got tons of them. Don’t even know where to start.
RIS: Did you train for surfing?
RR: No just skateboarding. I built the first half pipe in Hawaii 24 ft. on the north shore. Perfect waves in the front yard and 20 foot half pipe in the backyard! It was happening!! I forgot all these things! Wow! Skateboarding was really good for my surfing. I skated as many parks as I could get to. I got a skateboard for Christmas about three years ago.
RIS: Do you do yoga?
RR: Sexual yoga you could say (Laughs) I stretch and I surf
RR: No sausage, no sodas, lots of fruits, veggies, salad. I lost 80 pounds. I died about five years ago from congestive heart failure. I went on a trip, wasn’t feeling good, couldn’t breathe. Flew to Cali, girlfriend picked me up, I couldn’t walk, gasping for air, had fluid in my chest, no room in my lungs, went to mission Viejo hospital…. felt like it was my last breath. I remember putting on my gown and passing out. Doctor came in and said to my girlfriend “Is that Rory Russell?” and she said, “yeah” and he said “we better save him then.” He called three more doctors and two more nurses; they worked on me for about three and half hours. Woke up three days later. What the fuck? Mom, sister, girlfriend in the room. Then I had a whole new outlook on life – and then I really wanted to go surfing badly.
RIS: How did it change your outlook?
RR: Everything becomes more precious that’s for sure. You know what I was real comfortable with dying. I had no regrets. Me and God were fucking cool. Fuck I was cool with this.
RIS: No regrets?
RR: No it’s all meant to be. Got to get perspectives from all different angles. That was my approach with drugs and alcohol – see what perspective it gives you. Different perspectives gives you more knowledge.
RIS: You have traveled the world surfing?
RR: Haven’t been everywhere but traveled a lot of places.
RIS: Fav country to visit?
RR: Peru…I love Indo, Brazil, Costa Rico, Portugal. I love them all Monaco, South Africa. Yeah good people. Make them smile and it paves your road.
RIS: Any causes are you dedicated to?
RR: Life. And making my limited edition Pipe Liners. I make the whole thing myself. I ran into the Mayor two nights ago and he was buying one of my boards for $2000. The Mayor of the Big Island. (Laughs) That’s what I was doing before you called..shaping outside. I built this shaping room in my garage so I can glass. I can do my own thing. It’s good since I got back into surfing. I just now got back into surfing four years ago. Stopped for ten to twelve years.
RIS: What did you do during that time?
RR: Boat captain, having a blast.
RIS: Other interests?
RIS: Did you vote for Obama?
RIS: Favorite place to surf in Cali?
RR: Oooh that’s a good question. Wow. Where do I start? From San Diego Blacks, Swamis, Trestles… I am going up the coast. Salt Creek, Newport 56 Street… Once rode a wave from 56 street to 61 street one time. It wasn’t a perfect wave it was going as such an angel.
RIS: Why do you think so many people call you a legend?
RR: Because I was a pioneer at one of the world’s most dangerous surfing spots.
RIS: How do you want to be remembered?
RR: By the way I surfed all kinds of surf.
RIS: What does Hawaii mean to you?
RR: Home, Heart.
RIS: I saw a picture of you and Buttons in Costa Rica. Did you grow up surfing with him?
RR: He was a generation behind me. We became good friends and I took him surfing in Costa Rica a couple of times – and Peru for contests. He won on my board. I was pissed.
RIS: What is Buttons really like?
RR: He is better than TV
RIS: I also noticed you always wearing Lighting Bolt shorts?
RIS: Do you were underwear?
RIS: Who is Doug the Claw?
RR: Doug owns Ripcurl wetsuits. I did the very first Ripcurl ad & very first Quicksilver ad. Quite an honor. Lightning Bolt, Quicksilver, Ripcurl…. all my buddies made millions. My heart was always with Lightning Bolt – I knew that they would come back. It will never go away. The boards are the most beautiful in the world.
RIS: Best advice your dad has ever given you?
RR: That’s a good question. I don’t think he ever gave me any advice (laughs) He kinda let me figure things by myself. He was quite. He never taught me about the birds n bees or anything. He had too many soldiers to take care of. He knew I would be OK. He knew I had a good start.
RIS: Last book you read?
RR: Confessions of Economic Hitman. And an infrustructure rebuilding book… What my dad did – Secrets of Empire.
RIS: You like to read?
RR: No, I like to write better
RIS: Short stories?
RIS: You know a girl is a keeper when she does what?
RR: Gives me all the sex I need all I want.
RIS: You dump a girl when she does what?
RR: Doesn’t give me all the sex I need and want (Laughs)
RIS: Where do you take a girl when you want to impress her?
RR: Wherever she wants to go.
RR: All kinds – reggae, Aloha Radio, surf music – I would like them to play for my 60th birthday
RIS: Do you have a beauty regime?
RR: Any kind of what? I brush my teeth (laughs)
RIS: Hardest lesson?
RR: Living. Realizing it’s all meant to be. I am coming up with some good stuff for you!
RIS: Thank you!!
RIS: Surfing industry?
RR: I have no judgments on that. I was at Hollywood Joe’s one night and it was about two in the morning. Someone said “by the way I just want to thank you for all you did at Pipeline. I have made millions and I just want to thank you.” (Laughs) I go alright! And he asked me “Would you whether have the money now or the waves back then?” I said ” That’s not even a question.” Lopez and Buttons… they lived in Honolulu and they only came out on the weekends. We had the weekdays. There was nobody out. It was really cool!
RIS: Describe yourself in 3 words?
RR: Love to live.
RIS: Tell me something that the public does not know about you?
RR: What an amazing soldier my Dad was and what an amazing teacher my mom was.
RIS: Last impulse buy?
RR: Yellow paint that I don’t need
RIS: Last shark you saw?
RR: I was fishing the other day 14 foot tiger next to the boat
RIS: Do you watch Shark Week?
RIS: How do you unwind?
RR: Smoke a big fat joint.
RR: Wake up and be stoked to be alive
RIS: What do you think happens when you die?
RIS: Personal goal with Lighting Bolt?
RR: Turn it into an Empire!
RIS: Goals you want to achieve before you die?
RR: I don’t set goals. More you want -The more people can get greedy. I am very anti-greed person – The more goals, the more people get greedy
RIS: Greatest professional achievement?
RR: Winning Sunset Beach contest year 1975 and Pipe same year.
RIS: Favorite movie?
RR: O Brother Where Art Thou
RIS: What do you notice first in the opposite sex?
RR: Figure, smile, laugh. Figure first. She will be smiling if she is taking care of herself.
RIS: Last time you cried?
RR: Haven’t really cried since I was drinking
RIS: Most terrifying moment in life?
RR: Couple of motorcycle rides.
RIS: Still ride motorcycles?
RIS: Hippy or gypsy
RIS: What turns you on?
RR: Beautiful women and perfect waves
RIS: What turns you off?
RR: Shitty waves and fat women (Laughs) more like negative women
RIS: Prefer kisses or hugs?
RIS: Thongs or nothing at all for chicks
RR: Nothing at all
RIS: Favorite part of your body?
RIS: How many one night stands have you had?
RR: God, I have no idea
RIS: Over 100?
RIS: Do you feel you have slept with someone from every country?
RIS: If you were President what would you change about this country?
RIS: Just get rid of them?
RR: Yeah give them acid or something.
RIS: Ever been arrested?
RIS: For what?
RR: All kinds of things. Wrong place wrong time mostly and DUI
RIS: What would you change about Hawaii?
RR: Too many white people – It’s really turning off the locals. Different breed. Greedy. Different values.
RIS: Do you gamble?
RIS: Favorite sexual position?
RR: All of them… Are you single?
RR: You are? I need a secretary badly.
RIS: Secretary?? Well maybe if you give me a better title.
RR: Absolutely! Whatever it takes!