A Conversation With Surf Photographer Chris Burkard

Chris Burkard isn’t a photographer first. He’s a surfer foremost, and an adventurer thereafter. And then a photographer. Put simply, photography is the resultant medium through which he shares his life experiences, which the California native has done for both brands (from surf and sports brands to airlines and other corporate entities) and publications (Surfer Magazine, The New Yorker, National Geographic). In the recently published Distant Shores — a handful of the book's images being exhibited in this feature — the self-taught artist explores and humanizes the far reaches of a world less traveled.

The pursuit of photography was a natural fit for Burkard, allowing him to document his friends out on the water — though his first camera, bought at Goodwill for $65, wasn't anywhere close to what the award-winning photographer employs now. A call to his roots, his inspired shots are caught with the same passion that a surfer catches the best tucked-away waves. In the topmost photograph Eric Soderquist (co-author to his first book, The California Surf Project) traverses a field of massive ice blocks that separated base camp from that day's surf break.

And then there's the patience. As with swells and surfing, Burkard knows lighting is fickle, and that the sun will set before he's ready for it to go. Yet it is often the waning moments of a long day's work — if one waits around for them — that make it all worthwhile: "One of the most insane sunsets I have ever witnessed. The crew had to get atop our truck and watch as the clouds above the distant volcanoes lit up the sky."

Even before his most recent publishing endeavor, Burkard pushed his own boundaries by traveling beyond his home state's boundaries...

...leading to dreamlike scenarios: "The moment became more surreal as two locals appeared from nowhere riding Icelandic horses on one of Iceland's most remote beaches."

His storytelling landed him a role as the project photographer for revered outdoorsmen Patagonia. Burkard was even named principal photographer for Plight of The Torpedo People documenting the debut film release (Come Hell or High Water) directed by brand ambassador, Keith Malloy. Above, Malloy reaches out to an unridden Tahitian barrel.

Although work now takes Burkard the world over, it's his home stretch of coastline that is his muse, where he's able to easily maintain his role as Senior Staff Photographer for Surfer.

"[Big Sur is] one of my favorite places to watch the stars shine and the fog move in and out like the ocean's tide."

Michael Woodsmall is the Managing Editor of Supercompressor. In the corner of his small apartment/gear closet, he keeps a bag packed for the next adventure. Follow his wanderings on Twitter @mkwoodsmall.