Happy, hedonistic tuberiding specialist from the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii; Pipeline Masters winner in 1976 and 1977. Russell was born (1953) in Würzburg, West Germany, the son of an army attaché, and grew up in military bases in Kansas and Pennsylvania before moving to Oahu with his family at age 10. He began surfing the following year, and in 1968 at age 15, Russell and his family moved to the North Shore beachfront, next door to Jock Sutherland, the just-crowned winner of the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational. Sutherland, the era's best tuberider, became Russell's informal mentor.
Russell had some decent competition results early in his career, including a finals berth in the juniors division of the 1970 Hawaii State Championships, but made his reputation with a series of surf movie appearances in the early '70s, riding deep inside the tube at Pipeline. The super-smooth Gerry Lopez, however, had established himself as the dominant Pipeline surfer, and Russell—who rode in spindly swayback stance, until lowering into a deadly efficient tube crouch—would never fully step out from Lopez's shadow.
Russell won two events on the inaugural world pro circuit in 1976 to finish the season ranked #8, the highest of the Hawaiian pros. He finished eighth the following year as well, in large part due to his second Masters win. Russell's record in the Pipeline Masters from 1973 to 1978 was untouchable, as he finished third, second, second, first, first, second. Russell never won a pro tour contest after 1977, and was off the tour by 1980.
Known throughout his career as "The Dog," the smoky-voiced Russell earned a reputation as the ultimate surf world Bacchus. "No matter what time of day or night it is," surf journalist Phil Jarratt wrote in 1980, "chances are he'll be talking, surfing, or partying at full throttle." In the early and mid-'80s, he was paid to be the jet-setting bon vivant surfer-frontman for Lighting Bolt, the fading Hawaii-based surfboard and surfwear giant. He later earned a living by running North Shore fishing charters.
In 2009, Lightning Bolt, back from the dead, again tapped Russell to be a brand rep, this time for their European arm. He's also worked as a surf instructor since the 1980s, and runs the Rory Russell surf School at Kona, Hawaii.
Russell appeared in more than two dozen surf movies, including Cosmic Children (1970), Five Summer Stories (1972), Fluid Drive (1974), Super Session (1975), and Fantasea (1978).