Illume Spirit Winner

An interview with SURFER staff photographer Chris Burkard about his award-winning photo from Norway

Dane Gudauskas and Chris Malloy walk home along the distant shores of Norway. Photo: Burkard

Dane Gudauskas and Chris Malloy walk home along the distant shores of Norway. Photo: Burkard

SURFER Senior Photographer Chris Burkard, he of the cold water and pulled back landscapes of far-off locales, recently added another note to his résumé with a win in the “Spirit” category of the Red Bull Illume Image Quest. Here, he talks about that photo.

What was the story behind this shot? What put you in the right place at the right time?
This image was taken on an assignment for SURFER's 2012 Big Issue, The Distant Shores. I went to Norway and it was a crazy trip, tons of snow and some great waves. The session before this photo was unlike any other. We woke at dawn to what appeared to be clear skies and immediately scrambled to get our things together. Windows of blue skies are rare in these parts of Norway, so each minute that passed as we gathered our boards and wetsuits seemed twice as long. Jumping into the truck, we drove the icy roads looking for peaks on the horizon. Then, just over the frozen hillside, the top of a wave with some offshore wind could be seen. We were so focused on the waves ahead of us that we failed to see the looming clouds behind them. We ran to the shoreline and paddled straight out. It seemed perfect and we thought it would be a long session of the best arctic surf of the trip. Suddenly, the winds changed and that looming cloud on the horizon snuck up and was upon us. The rain began to pour, and then it began to snow. Caught in a blizzard, we did what we could to paddle in. Finally making it back to the truck, we took shelter and tried to wait out the storm. Weather is constantly changing in the Arctic and sometimes all it takes is a little patience. On this day, the weather got the best of us and our time spent sitting in the truck ended up being our downfall. The snow piled high around us and it was pretty clear that our truck was not going anywhere. Dane and Keith knew another session was nowhere in sight and decided to walk back into town. As the storm continued, the pair made their way back home.

What was the thought process behind submitting this to the category you did?
That was the toughest part of the contest. What photo goes where, you know? For me, I felt like my image captured the spirit of cold-weather surfing. It didn't feel posed and in a way embodied that feeling of just finishing a great session.

What was it was about your photo that set it apart from the others?
Definitely the mood. It just has that moody feel that can't be fabricated.

How is surf photography unique among the other genres in the contest?
To me, surf photography is the most challenging, simply because you can't plan anything. It doesn't have the studio aspect of skate, snow, or something you can repeat. The moment happens once, that's it. It's a tough sport to document, especially in cold, harsh environments like Norway, Iceland, and Russia. But that's why I love it.

What’s the best part about a contest like Illume?
It's one of the only times as a photographer that you are truly celebrated. It feels surreal. We, as photographers, are truly lucky to have this contest and be a part of something like this. It really helps to validate the work you're doing as well. It's great to be appreciated as a creative in a world that usually only celebrates the athletes.