Russell Ord, as the world has come to know, is not your average photographer or person. Let me explain.
January is a prime month for big wave chasers, if the Aleutian Juice is on, then this is the month to see it all happen. Russell Ord is a guy that follows this exact type of activity almost to a flaw. His trip to Mavericks does not start out as such; he actually was in Hawaii for the Waimea Bay big wave contest called The Eddie Aikau on the North Shore when his friends cajoled him into chasing the swell to Mavericks.
After much deliberation, Russell booked his ticket to California by way of Arizona and landed at Los Angeles airport ready to drive to Half Moon Bay with his Australian mates Paul Morgan, Justin Allport and Brett Burcher.
Upon arrival in Half Moon Bay, they all checked into the hotel. Initially, Russell could not secure a jet ski and was not looking forward to paddling out at Mavericks on a surfboard with his equipment in a backpack. He was especially cautious as this was his first visit to the monster wave. A last minute call from Ken “Skindog” Collins put Russell on the only Jet Ski in the water on that fateful Saturday.
I hit up Russell on Facebook chat and we setup a time to talk, he lives in Cowaramup Australia, 19 hours ahead tomorrow.
Time comes and the call gets placed, two rings later and a heavy Australian accent answers the phone, immediately the conversation is casual and comfortable. Before I get to the story, I want to know more about Russell Ord the person.
Looking around his blog, it is obvious this guy chases the crazy waves that resemble the ocean turning over on itself, the kind of waves that make a surfer cringe yet desire to be right in the sweet spot.
Russell and I start talking about the waves he is shooting with a select group of trained madmen, guys that will surf those waves whether or not the camera is there. He doesn’t shoot guys that put themselves in harms way to win a contest.
Russell isn’t looking to make any “cowboys” as he refers to the surfers that do it for the glory, and he currently has not submitted any of his photos to the big wave awards contests. He is documenting the guys that live their life to surf waves that only a handful attempt.
Fast forward to Russell shooting photos from an illegal jet ski (being that he is Australian he is unaware of the ban on PWC’s in Half Moon Bay). “The surf was good, 12 to 15 foot bomby’s coming through” he states a matter of fact, “It all happened pretty quick”. Ord is referring to the incident that would forever change his life and one more situation that would change the face of Mavericks once again.
Then the set that cleaned up the lineup comes through and Jacob Trette is mid face with possible phrases going through his head, don’t ditch the board, paddle up the face, take off leash. In 30 seconds he has to make some life or death decisions, this time he makes a bad one and is taken over the falls in what I like to refer to as the fly swatter, right where all the energy is about to unload.
Jacob is pushed to the bottom feet first and manages to push up but gets detonated by the second wave. After the multiple wave hold down, Jacob is unconscious and Russell is fiercely rushing in on the Jet Ski to see where his body is. After multiple passes through the wash and with collaboration with a kayaker, Russell locates the body and pulls Jacob aboard the ski.
Russell gets Jacob to the beach and he barely has a pulse. Emergency responders work on Jacob doing CPR and he is quickly rushed to a waiting helicopter to fly him to Stanford Medical Center.
As the surfing world became riveted on Jacob Trette, I ask Russell what was going through his mind right after. “I drove back and still hadn’t thought about it, Ken "Skindog" Collins and Derek paddle up, I told them what had just happened” Ord quietly mentions “It really hadn‘t set in yet, I mean its not everyday you pull someone out of the water dead and hope they survive."
As Skindog and Derek rejoin the surfers the whole pack cheers “I got goose bumps, my mate Brett Burcher got a wave then it kind of just hit me and I got so emotional, I just had a cry to myself, at that moment I could see Skindog was paddling in and stated he was going home to hug his kids right now”.
Well as of today, it was definitely a big deal. Not only did Jacob Trette survive and not suffer any permanent brain damage, but there is a possibility that the PWC ban will be lifted to provide surfer safety during big swells. As for Russell Ord he still humbly states he would do it again in a heartbeat, not because of the glory, but because he values life and his fellow surfer.
“He would have died out there for sure without the Jet Ski” Ord states when asked if he got fined for having the ski in the water “Did they fine us? Haha, they may have fined Skindog but I imagine it would be hard to send out a fine on this one”
In closing I ask Russell Ord about Mavericks in comparison to the waves he photographs in Western Oz, specifically how heavy is Mavericks. He pauses for a moment “I think it could be one of the heaviest waves in the world” Enough said, glad to know you Russell.