5 Most Photogenic Surf Spots

According to SURFER photographer Chris Burkard

While most surf photographers stick to popular warm-water paradises, SURFER Photographer Chris Burkard has taken a different path. By focusing on eccentric landscapes mixed with surf action, Burkard’s images of wild, remote, and often cold-water destinations don’t fit the standard mold, and they always stun the viewer. We caught up with the perpetually traveling Burkard somewhere in Iceland to find out which five surf spots he considers the most photogenic in the world.

Alex Gray, standing out against a snow-capped volcano. Photo: Burkard
Alex Gray, standing out against a snow-capped volcano. Photo: Burkard

Aleutian Islands, Alaska
A majority of the year, this inhospitable island chain is plagued by bad weather, but when the conditions come together, it is nature’s masterpiece. With no paved roads, the only way Pete Devries, Alex Gray, Josh Mulcoy, Ben Weiland, and I were able to get around was on ATVs. After trekking for hours through some of the most untouched land, it’s a surreal feeling to stumble upon barreling slab after barreling slab. Part of why I love traveling to such remote destinations is it makes nature the star of the images, and the surfers become small objects within the beauty that surrounds them. And the fact that the Aleutians seem to only produce perfect, barreling reefs definitely adds to its photogenic qualities.

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Calling this a “stereotypical perfect wave” might be an understatement. Photo: Burkard
Calling this a “stereotypical perfect wave” might be an understatement. Photo: Burkard

Caribbean
Despite how fickle this area can be, there seem to be countless setups that offer the stereotypical perfect wave. The warm, blue water mixed with only a handful of guys out makes surfing this wave seem as if you are cheating the system. I don’t often chase warm-water surf, but the way each empty, perfect wave here breaks more photogenic than the last, I am always drawn back.

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One angle of many to shoot the pride and joy of Basque Country from. Photo: Burkard
One angle of many to shoot the pride and joy of Basque Country from. Photo: Burkard

Mundaka, Spain
Besides how good this wave gets, what really makes it so photogenic is its context within the village. The locals have a lot of pride in their surfers and the wave, creating a place that seems to transcend time. I traveled here with Peter Mendia, whose family is from the region, and we had no set list of things to shoot. Instead, we spent a week and half staying with local families in old farmhouses and chasing swell. Normally a wave that’s highly dependent on tide and sandbars like Mundaka is can be difficult to shoot, but there are so many angles that make it surprisingly photogenic.

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Not the most inviting of surf spots, but photogenic nonetheless. Photo: Burkard
Not the most inviting of surf spots, but photogenic nonetheless. Photo: Burkard

Lofoten Islands, Norway
The waves Dane Gudauskas, Keith Malloy, and I found here far exceeded our expectations. With snow-covered mountain peaks greeting perfect waves below, this is one of the most dramatic landscapes I’ve encountered. Dane and Keith were troopers, surfing through blizzards and freezing temperatures.

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Sometimes you don't need to travel halfway across the world to find perfection. Photo: Burkard
Sometimes you don’t need to travel halfway across the world to find perfection. Photo: Burkard

Central California
I love searching for waves in foreign countries, but there’s something particularly special about finding beauty just miles from my home. Along this stretch of coastline, the variety of waves ranges from perfect points to novelty reef slabs that rarely break. When those perfect offshore conditions align with the right swell, it makes for some of the best-looking waves. Even after spending more time shooting photos here than anywhere else in the world, the waves continue to surprise me year after year.

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