Behind the Lens
Chris Burkard on shooting and shivering his way through Norway for our Photo Annual
The reason for putting out a Photo Annual every year is obvious. We have the best surf photographers on earth, and our office is flooded with more incredible images than we could ever fit into 12 issues. It’s a great problem to have. For the 2012 edition, our photogs went from the frigid waters of the Norway to the scorching heat of Mainland Mexico, and everywhere in between. In the third installment of our four-part “Behind the Lens” series, Chris Burkard breaks down the waves, people, and moments that keep him coming back to the isolated coasts of Norway.
Being from Central California, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what cold was. After spending some time in Norway, I realized I really had no idea. There’s cold…and then there’s cold. Not just the kind of cold where you can’t stop shivering or anything, but the cold I’ve experienced lately is the kind of cold where your body literally starts shutting down. When you’re shooting in the water in a place like Norway, it’s not about trying to stay comfortable, but trying to be smart and stay alive. It’s really a battle against the elements. But I think that’s sort of what draws me to shooting in really different and often times frigid locations. It’s the opposite of the Corona on the beach at sunset, and that’s what I think I love about it so much. The backdrops and setups you get there are like nothing I’ve ever seen.
It’s been a crazy year for me. I’ve had a kid, but I’ve also traveled more this year than any other. I’ve been to Norway and Russia four times this year and I think I’ve seen the Northern Lights more often than a sunset. I’ve really just wanted to push myself this year and do my best work. And I’ve been lucky enough to have captured some really different moments that made it to the Photo Annual.
When you’re shooting in the water in a place like Norway, getting the shot becomes almost comically difficult. The first 20 minutes after you paddle out, you’re sort of okay. It’s cold, but your body can fight it off. But after that 20-minute mark, things start going downhill quick. You can feel the blood from your arms and legs moving to your core to protect all of your vital organs. That’s a really odd feeling. I remember this one session where my arms were so useless from the cold that I couldn’t hit the trigger on my camera with my fingers. I had to use my chin to set it off.
Having the right crew when you go off the beaten path makes all the difference in the world. There are some people who are great to travel with to Mexico or somewhere a little more relaxed, but you wouldn’t want to bring them to Russia or Norway. When you’re in a really rough climate, you want to surround yourself not only with people who have a really good attitude, but people who can handle themselves in some real-world scenarios. We had a pretty crazy car situation in Norway where we got stuck in the middle of nowhere and it was freezing; had I not been with some solid people, who knows what could have happened. There was one session where I got so cold swimming that I couldn’t make it back to the shore on my own, and Keith Malloy basically had to carry me along to get back to the beach. You’re really putting your life in someone else’s hands out there.
With the help of good wetsuits to combat the cold and how much easier it is to travel to far-off places these days, I think we’re going to see a whole lot of amazing coldwater setups come to light in the next few years. Just being in Norway recently blew my mind. I saw so many world-class setups and places that held so much potential that it was mindboggling. It would take a lifetime to discover them all.