From the northern lights to warm-water tubs in the Caribbean, Chris Burkard sure do know how to steal a photo…
How about we bring it back a little to the ol school. When photographers epitomised the rugged individualist ideal, wrapped in bandanas and flack jackets loaded with Nikon cameras and wide-angle lens, and traipsed through snow and dirt and scum, cutting through barbed wire with pliers, to steal photos that made y’wanna throw your trunks in a bag and find an adventure.
Chris Burkard knows travel. He searches the constellations for waves. Where the air is cold and pure and remote. He lived for six months in a Kombi, driving from Oregon to Tijuana for his book The California Surf Project.
Nat Geo features his work, of surfers standing beneath aurora borealis in Iceland and water shots with snow draping the mountains behind, begging for the technical details of his images.
His movie and book with Ben Weiland, Russia: The Outpost, follows Cyrus Sutton, the eldest Gudauskas bro and some extra pals camping on the very exotic Kamchatka Peninsula. Google Earth! It’s rad!
But it ain’t all cold water. His book Come Hell or High Water – The Plight of the Torpedo People is a treatise on bodysurfing featuring his and others photo essays on the purist craft.
Now let’s catch some of his advice, from this wild creature who floats upon any tide and on any wind…
First big adventure: My first trip was one of the scariest. It was the first time I left the country. I went to Dubai/Oman/Yemen. My passport was brand new. First stamp. My parents thought I was going to die and yet I I met some of the nicest people I’d ever encounter. It really opened my eyes
The difficulty of adjusting back to normal life after a stint in the wilderness: Oh, that is tough. I hate the feeling. Turning your cell on. Hearing buzzing and whistles and just the idea of knowing you have to respond to all these people about stupid things when you’ve been immersed in nature’s glory. The worst part is getting back to sleeping in a bed. It just makes you lazy. When you camp, you’re up with the sun. You’re in the cycle with nature’s time clock.
Preferred method of travel: By car. I like road trips. The idea of seeing it all and being able to jump and photograph something. Boats and planes are way too confining for me.
Rules for packing: I break all the rules and always bring too much. My rule is to pack a week before and think about everything you’re bringing and slowly unpacking the crap you don’t need. There’s a few things I always take and if I’m not taking ’em, I usually question if the trip is gong to be super soft and that maybe I shouldn’t even be going. I take: Water purifier, Gerber Multi-tool, a Goal Zero solar charger, a down jacket, a tent and sleeping bag.
Best trip: Norway for a month was unreal. We took snowmobiles to surf in the north next to the Russian border. And we took a three-day ferry ride to these remote islands in the south. Scored incredible waves. Ate whale. Got frozen. got snowed on. And saw the northern lights almost every night.
The worst: I did a trip with a bunch of groms to Oz a coupla years back. It was sorta like a big advertising trip and I basically to babysit while they got wasted and tried to pick up chicks for a week. Not to mention the strong onshores brought bluebottles into the lineup every day and the waves sucked.
Most amazing place: Iceland. I’ve been 10 times and I can’t wait to go back. There’s nowhere on earth I have felt as close to nature. It sounds funny but you feel like the country is forming around you. Geologically it’s just… active. It feels alive.
Most scared: When I was locked in a jail cell in Russia in 2009.
Moments of utter surrender: When the jailer escorted me to my cell in Vladivostock, Russia, and locked the door.
…maybe when y’think of Chris you think of his cold-water work. But he certainly isn’t adverse to throwing himself into the remoter corners of the Caribbean. This wave works maybe six times a year and if you’re not ready to throw your bag over your shoulder at the first sign of an appropriate swell and wind combo, y’gonna miss it. Chris isn’t one to miss an epic wave.
Most extreme poverty you’ve seen: A woman lying face down on the ground in India with vomit coming out of her mouth. I couldn’t even take a picture because I didn’t think I could live with myself documenting that kind of poverty without being able to help in some way. I also did a trip to Nicaragua and visited La Churecha which is a trash dump that families live in. Lots of disease and girls driven to prostitution. It was wretched.
Most extreme wealth you’ve seen: Dubai. There are people you cannot, literally, even look at. These guards will shut you down. They close off freeways to escort through rich sheiks. I’d never been anywhere where the white man didn’t reign supreme. They have license plates that indicate their class and if it’s high enough they can drive as fast as they want.
Craziest thang you’ve seen: Flying over Norway on our way to a small fishing village. We were in a light plane and the pilot let me come up front and watch the northern lights from the cockpit. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. The sky didn’t seem real. I almost question my existence, if I was still on earth. We flew right through strips of green, red and blue.
Where could you live apart from home: Iceland. And, yeah, I’ve already looked into it.