Stab Magazine | A book Stab likes: Chris Burkard's Distant Shores

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A book Stab likes: Chris Burkard’s Distant Shores

Story by Derek Rielly 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 lenses, and traipsed through snow and dirt and scum, cutting through barbed wire with pliers, to steal photos that made […]

style // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Story by Derek Rielly

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 lenses, 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 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 Kamachatka 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.

And now, this wild creature who floats upon any tide and on any wind, releases his newest book, Distant Shores. Stab is extremely fond of it, and wished to learn the intricacies of its creation…

Stab: First, a lil background. I open the book and what do I find? What experience are you going to give me?
Chris: This book is meant to take you to the furthest reaches of my travels, whether that’s to the frozen Arctic in Iceland or to the culturally rich India. You’ll find images of surf, landscape, and cultures mixed at locations you would never thought to look for surf.

Why the kink for oblique destinations? For me, I love the search. The process of finding new waves in places that not many have thought to surf before. Whether this search is marked with pain, suffering, oddities, or good times. These are the type of destinations that I get the most excited about. They usually involve more variables, whether it’s the challenge to get there or the conditions once you’re there. In the end I find more reward in these trips.

Describe the personality of each Distant Shore visited… 

Alaska: Represents the wildest regions of the United States. It really is one of the most untouched places I have ever visited. When traveling there you really feel like you’re discovering places for the first time and you never know how many people have even been to the beaches and forests you explore. The beauty is captivating and as soon as you leave all you want to do is return and feel the feeling of lost coastlines, wonder, and freedom that Alaska provides.

Caribbean: This has to been one of the most idyllic coastlines. The white sand and crystal blue water is seemingly perfect. With barrels breaking on sand only a few feet from shore, the place is like a surfers playground.

Chile: Chile has a sense of mystery that I’m drawn to. It has such a long coastline with so many perfect setups littering the coast, all you want to do is drive from spot to spot to see how good the swell is hitting each one.

Christmas Island: One of the most remote places I have ever visited, the experience on Christmas Island feels so intimate. Because you’re on an island and with the same group of people and locals most of the time it becomes a fun time getting to know all the people around you better than you would’ve ever expected.

Iceland: The land of contrast. Iceland is always changing. A sunny day can turn into a blizzard, and blown out day can turn perfectly offshore in a matter of minutes. I have traveled here over 10 times and each time I go it brings a unique experience. You could travel for months here and will never lose interest as the landscapes and waves are ever shifting.

India: This place has so much color and culture. You walk around just wide eyed and each corner brings a scene that you struggle to describe later when reliving the experience. So much joy amidst the people and never have felt so out of place walking the streets.

Japan: This is one place that I would have struggled to navigate without any guide that spoke Japanese. The big cities are moving so fast it’s a major culture shock, but once we got out of the big cities and began interacting with people it proved to be one of the most hospitable cultures I’ve ever met. Just always looking for ways to help and doing so with a smile.

Nicaragua: Every trip here has produced amazing surf. I think this place must just have waves 365 days a year. The beaches are beautiful and it is hard to do a trip to Nicaragua wrong.

New Zealand: Wandering the roaming hills down to remote beaches while swerving amongst sheep from surf spot to surf spot. The feeling of searching for new surf breaks while camping on the way can only really be fulfilled traveling here. The landscape is so vast and each bend brings the possibility of perfect waves.

Norway: I’ve never been so cold in my life. This place is magical in beauty and the fact that such great waves grace such a desolate coastline. You really have to mentally get to another level to surf here though. Paddling out you begin to feel your extremities shut down and know it’s only a matter of time before you’ll have to paddle back in.

Mexico: Mexico is how I like to imagine years ago. It’s the true wild west where you can travel down any random dirt road and only hope there’s waves at the end. You really are on your own out there and if you’re lucky you can find some helpful locals and eat some great food. The experience can be as rugged or plush as you please, but most choose to experience Mexico as it’s meant to be, dusty, dirty, and with hopes of perfect empty waves worth the drive.

Russia: It really feels like you go back in time traveling to Russia. The cities seem as if they just got out of a war and the people are just fascinating. Leave the cities and in only a few miles you have empty beaches and wilderness for hundreds of miles. There are so many miles of unexplored coastline it’s unlike any other place I’ve ever been. There are so many potential waves along the coastline you could spend years there finding new surf.

Tell me more about India, a joint capable of such horrors and yet it delivers such beauty… India was one of the biggest culture shocks I’ve ever been thrust into. The place is just so different than anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s color and culture overload as you walk those streets. People everywhere! Your eyes barely keeping up with all the new things you’re seeing and your nose not even realising what smells it’s experiencing. The beauty is really in the people and their unique well-preserved culture. The way they live and the spaces they gather are full of so much life and energy. Not to mention there are perfect waves with no one in the water except fishermen just trying to get past the breaks. The place is almost impossible to describe and even though it’s an odd sometimes sketchy place, it’s somewhere everyone should experience if given the opportunity.

What effect did shooting these places have on you, personally? I hope that each place I travel to rubs off on me in someway. Whether it’s learning about a new culture or developing a love for a new landscape, the places we all visit hopefully change us all for the better. I grow to better understand the world and people around me and hopefully take better care of both as a result. If I’m lucky I usually take that away from trips, when I’m not so lucky I just take home a parasite.

Do you ever feel like you’re romanticising places that ain’t that romantic? I definitely feel that way. Iceland in the gruelling winter is not romantic despite my best intentions to make it that way. I’m out there in subzero winds with snow and hail hitting me in the face, trying to capture a moment that to many will be romanticised. For me it is, but the reality of a lot of these places is that there’s a lot of suffering involved to get that one moment of beauty. People often travel to some of the places I love and have a miserable time, but the misery in some odd way is what makes the place all the more romantic to me.

Describe the most fabulous moment you experienced. Being able to see the northern lights in Norway. When planning this trip to Norway I knew there was a good chance that the northern lights would be putting on a show at least one of the nights. Little did I know how spectacular they would actually be. I never bank on seeing them because of their unpredictability and on past trips when I had seen them I wasn’t always in the best place to capture a captivating photograph. This evening as the light faded I sat in the cabin fighting my desire to sleep. Just as my eyes began to sag and I was about to give into sleep the hints of northern lights began to form and I immediately grabbed my gear and trekked out into the freezing wind and fresh snow. Just hours earlier a snow storm had swept through the valley we were in, but as if by divine appointment the skies cleared and the show began. I was as cold as I had ever been, but it was all worth it as I was able to capture a truly special moment.

And the most awful? My first trip to Russia I got thrown in jail due to visa issues. I sat in the jail as they slid a dinner of mayonnaise mixed with rice under the door. No idea how long I’d be held, I sat there eating the dish in probably the most awful situation I could have been. Luckily they sorted it out the next day and flew me out of the country. Even that miserable night in the Russian jail wasn’t enough to keep me from going back. I immediately tried to fly back into the country hoping they wouldn’t put me in jail again. Luck was on my side this time and I passed through without any issues.

Talk to me about light. In what circumstances did you find the most brilliant light? I’ve seen so many places with amazing light it’s hard to really describe each and every experience. Some of the most dramatic scenes and light often come just after a storm or as a storm clears momentarily. Often you have to endure the hardship of the storm or harsh weather for just a sliver of a moment to see the most brilliant light. Iceland is one place that often produces such light as storm fronts sweep across the island in such a swift and dramatic fashion. If you sit long enough you can have multiple storm fronts come and go. The light is ever changing, but be patient and those seconds of amazing light are sure to show themselves.

I heard a lil rumour y’been shooting a ton on Sony cameras. This true? And why? The rumours are true. I’ve been shooting with the Sony NEX cameras. I’m always trying to find the lightest and most efficient way to travel and thus started experimenting with smaller camera set ups. After trying a variety of systems the NEX’s seemed to stand up to all the tests. They really produce amazing image quality and are so easy to travel with. The weight of my equipment and bags is literally cut in half and I can still produce a high quality of work. There is still a place for my Nikon DSLRs but lately I’ve been shooting a lot of Sony and I see the benefits of keeping it small and minimalist.

You absolutely must go flirt with Distant Shores over here.


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