Surf photographer Chris Burkard was immersed in more ways than one. In Norway’s frigid waters, only six millimeters of thick neoprene separated him from extreme hypothermia and the elation of capturing another memorable photo of a surfer riding inside a crackling wave. All in a day’s work for one of the most successful and fastest-rising action sports photographers in the world.
For the past 10 years I’ve been the editor at DEEP Surf Magazine, a surfing and ocean-focused publication devoted to the surfers from Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, along the Central California Coast. Some of the images we published in the first issue of DEEP were Burkard’s. We featured his photos in our début issue not just because they were terrific, because they typically are, but also because he loves what he’s doing; his passion and commitment never waver. At that time, he was in the early throes of a four-month internship with Transworld Surf, a magazine in Orange County that closed its doors a few years ago. He would drive down the coast weekly from his home in Pismo Beach and spend days poring over images from photographers around the globe. Occasionally, during those long drives, he would make a stop at my house in Carpinteria, delivering to me a fresh batch of his own photos. That was over a decade ago, but fortunately, I still receive images from him today.
Although he’s been a senior staff photographer at SURFER Magazine since 2010, over the last several years, Burkard’s career has taken flight, while he’s expanded on his adventurous lifestyle. Beyond his healthy list of commercial clients, you’re likely to see his work in an array of publications, including Backpacker, Canoe & Kayak and Outside magazines, among many others. He’s also authored and photographed several books, among them The California Surf Project (Chronicle Books, 2008) and, most recently, High Tide: A Surf Odyssey (Lannoo Publishers, 2015).
But by no means has Burkard ditched his straitjacket-like wetsuit and AquaTech water housing. His gear cache is still always at the ready as he explores faraway outposts in Russia, Alaska, the Arctic and beyond. Wherever he goes, one thing is etched in stone: he will continue to invoke those dramatic, grandiose landscapes in each frame no matter what he’s shooting. Some are visualized in advance, but many are spur-of-themoment experiences, created on the fly in far-flung places. I met up with Burkard during one of his brief stints at home on the Central Coast, catching up on projects and spending time with his family.
Chuck Graham: What was your introduction to photography?
Chris Burkard: Directly out of high school, I knew I wanted to do something creative, I just hadn’t quite discovered what medium I wanted to express myself through. After working odd jobs here and there, I got ahold of a camera and began shooting surfers down at my local beach. From that point on, I was hooked.
CG: You were a surf photographer first?
CB: I initially wanted to be a landscape photographer. I interned for a really great large-format photographer by the name of Michael Fatali, but I quickly learned that sustaining a living in landscape photography wasn’t easy. So I gravitated toward what I always loved, which was surf.
CG: Do you remember when you began incorporating the landscape into your surf photography?
CB: I’ve always enjoyed shooting landscapes. So when I started shooting surf, I would photograph my subjects a little pulled back. Over the years and thousands of pictures later, it has just developed into a personal style that I’m really passionate about, and which has carried over to the rest of my work.