To many of us, it was inevitable. To the victor, it was unbelievable. Last night in Dublin, Ireland, before 53 international judges and 50 nervous finalists, SURFER staff photographer Chris Burkard, 24, bested nearly 5,000 photographers and 22,763 photographs to at last be hoisted onto the shoulders of the collective action-sports photo world.
The image that crowned Burkard the Overall Winner of the 2010 Red Bull Illume Image Quest was a moody, backlit photo of Peter Mendia getting piped in a backwashy Chilean point wave. The image was created in April 2009, just one day before Burkard lost all his new photo equipment to a drunken Chilean boat driver who made a wrong turn. The camera and lens he used for the Mendia shot is likely still on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Ironically, Burkard won $38,000 worth of Leica camera gear for his triumph. He also bagged 20 SanDisk 64GB Extreme Pro flash memory cards and a Lowepro ProRunner x450 AW camera bag.
"I'm speechless," he told SURFER immediately following the award ceremony. "Out of all these amazing photographers and the thousands of images that each could have won, I can't believe it was my shot that took the whole thing. I'm really blessed to be surrounded by such inspirational people."
"I thought the pictures were fantastic—every one of them was a difficult choice," Red Bull Illume judge Alan Sparrow said. "It was hard to make a decision between the ones that won and the ones that didn't. The defining line between them was really close."
Close enough for Burkard, who's still in a bit of shock.
"Unbelieveable," he said, grinning. "But it's a total honor."