Behind the Lens

Chris Burkard on shooting and shivering his way through Norway for our Photo Annual

A view reserved for the rare breed of surfer that hunts arctic waves. Photo: Burkard

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.

A battle against the elements, a long way from home in Norway. Photo: Burkard

The Location:
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.

Not your average surf check, the terrain in Norway was a new experience everyday for Burkard. Photo: Burkard

Travel:
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 the water is this cold, the wind is this strong, and the air is that chilly, the only safe place is in the barrel. Photo: Burkard

The Cold:
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.

In a rough climate like Norway, a smile can go a long way in a traveling crew. Dane Gudauskas is always the man for the job. Photo: Burkard

The Crew:
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.

There is a lifetime's worth of lineups like this out there, for those bold enough to search for them. Photo: Burkard

The Potential:
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.

An empty lineup in Norway, which is the norm. Photo: Burkard

Check out Part I with Todd Glaser in Puerto Escondido, Part II with Zak Noyle in Indo or click here to pick up a copy of the 2012 Photo Annual.