Chris Burkard: One of the Most Prolific Surf Photographers of Our Time

08/14/2013 04:24 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2013

While some of us spent our early 20's discovering the bar scene, photographer Chris Burkard was busy discovering his passions and carving out a career.


At 27, Chris's photographs have appeared in more than 35 magazines, including The New Yorker, National Geographic Adventure and He's worked for commercial clients like American Airlines, Apple and Pacifico, just to name a few. During this time, Chris also managed to travel the world, get married and become a dad.

2013-08-13-130112_BURKARD_118896.jpg connected with Chris at a New York City film premiere documenting his recent trip to Russia with surfer/artist Trevor Gordon.

Chris had a few minutes to chat about life, photography and why he feels compelled to shoot and surf in some of the most desolate places on the planet.

You've accomplished a lot in your 27 years. What did it take to get where you are today?

I decided to stop messing around in life early. I knew what I wanted to do and I did it. I think there's a lot to be said for giving up some things for others that are more valuable. Sometimes I'll go on location with guys who just want to party. That's not me. I'm always focusing on what I need to do next.

You have a lot of editorial experience, including staff positions at Surfer Magazine, Water Magazine and Surfline. How has that affected your approach to photography?

I want to create a relatable experience. It's tough for a photographer to be in the moment and document it. I'm still figuring that out. I think a big part of it is treating every subject like it's unique. "Capture" is such a bad term; it's like you're stalking a wild animal. We should think of photos more like a composer thinks of a piece of music. It's about putting individual pieces together to create a whole.

Your work captures the physical aspect of surfing. This isn't the bleach blonde, "salt life bro" stereotype we usually see. Tell us about that.


My surf experience has always been destitute and kind of esoteric: swimming through cold, sharky areas looking for surf. It's really a search, a journey. I gravitate towards projects that speak that language. I love the Malibu scene, but it's never been me.

When you were in Russia you needed a helicopter and military tanks to get around. What is it about these brutal locations that draws you in?

What inspires me is traveling. That's where my heart is: traveling and seeing the world. I don't travel to find myself. I travel to experience new things and share them with people. The places that I go and the things I've endured for work are a little brutal, but I'm okay with that. I like to suffer a little for what I do. It makes me feel more alive.


What are your inspirations in photography, business and life?

I studied a lot of art in high school and junior college. I love how in art you can draw anything you want. You can paint anything you want. I approach my photography the same way. In business, I always try to have good ethics and think of new ways to market myself without selling out. In life, I think there's a lot to be said for being a husband and father first and a businessman second. Sometimes turning down work isn't a bad thing, especially if it means spending time with those you love. I think that's how you become the best version of yourself.

by Helen Anne Travis for