The most successful British pro surfer in history, who in 1999 became the first European ever to qualify for the WCT. He would remain on tour for three years, during which time he finished third in the Brazil Pro, beat Kelly Slater in the first round at Sunset (back when the Rip Curl Cup was a CT event), and almost lost his left leg after picking up an infection from the Teahupoo reef. He continued to compete at a high level after dropping off the tour, and in 2006 won the O’Neill Highland Open at Scotland’s Thurso East, for which he was awarded the customary trophy of an ornamental sword — which is much better than a fucking bell.
Russ was — still is — a powerful, ferocious surfer, who gave the impression that trying to fuck with him might not be the wisest of ideas. The accuracy of this impression was confirmed last year, when he was handed a six month-suspended prison sentence for “brandishing an ornamental sword” on a group of drunken ne’er-do-wells who were disturbing the peace in his hometown of Newquay. He pleaded guilty to “possession of a bladed article and directing it towards another.”
The “bladed article”, of course, was his O’Neill Highland Open trophy. How this excuse washed with the police officers on duty we can only imagine.
According to the version of events related by UK mag Carve, three inebriated men were walking down the residential street where Russ lives when one of them smashed a bottle in the street. A friend of Russ’s who was visiting at the time went out to the tell the boys to calm down, whereupon they confronted him; Russ tried to intervene, but the men grew increasingly aggressive, following Russ and his friend back to the front door and threatening Russ and his family. Punches were apparently thrown at Russ on his own doorstep. I’d have reached for the ornamental sword too.
At no point was anybody actually struck with the sword. The police had been called, but when they arrived the three men scarpered, leaving Russ to cop the flak. In addition to the suspended prison sentence, he was ordered to pay £85 in costs and — bizarrely — an £80 victim surcharge.
Russ afterwards said he seriously regretted the incident, particularly the part where the grabbed the sword, perhaps because he wasn’t allowed to keep it — it now resides in the UK Pro Surf Tour offices at Fistral. He also wrote the following message on his Facebook page, in response to numerous questions about the surreal headlines bearing his name: “True story!! I will always protect my family, friends and castle! Peace.”
A true hero of British surfing, and one of the few remaining bastions of the chivalric tradition.