American photographer Chris Burkard speaks at a TED Talk in March about his passion for surfing in the coldest waters in the world, from the coasts of Chile to Norway’s Arctic Circle.
Chris says: “I was swimming around in the Lofoten Islands in Norway – just inside the Arctic Circle – and the water was hovering at just above freezing. The air, a brisk negative ten with wind chill, I could literally feel the blood trying to leave my hands, feet and face, and rush to protect my vital organs.
“It was the coldest I have ever been – but even with swollen lips, sunken eyes and cheeks flushed red, this place is somewhere I can find great joy.”
Explaining why he fell in love with this extreme endeavour, Chris quotes psychologist Brock Bastian: “Pain is a shortcut to mindfulness – it makes us suddenly aware of everything in the environment. It brutally draws us in to a virtual sensory awareness of the world much like meditation.'”
He adds: “If shivering if a form of meditation, I would consider myself a monk.”
“So, surf photographer,” says Chris, looking back to the start of his career. “I don’t even know if it is a real job title… Blue skies, warm, tropical beaches and a tan that last all year long – to me, this was it, life couldn’t get any better… but the more time I spent travelling to these exotic destinations, the less gratifying it seemed to be. I set out seeking adventure but all I found was routine.”
Chris changed his approach. “I began craving wild open spaces and so I set out to find the places others had written off as too cold, too remote and too dangerous to surf. I began this personal crusade against the mundane.
“There are only about a third of the Earth’s waters that are warm so if I was going to find perfect waves it was probably going to happen somewhere cold and where the seas are notoriously rough. It was my first trip to Iceland that I felt like I found exactly what I was looking for,” says Chris.
“At one point, we got to the beach only to find found massive chunks of ice had piled on the sea shore… I was hooked.
“Cold water was constantly on my mind and from then on my career focused on these types of harsh and unforgiving environments… It took me to places like Russia, Norway, Alaska, Iceland, Chile, the Faroe Islands and a lot of places in between.”
In doing this, Chris discovered “all this shivering had actually taught me something – in life there are no short cuts to joy”. He says: “Anything that is worth pursuing is going to require us to suffer just a little bit.”
It also helped his work. “That tiny bit of suffering that I did for my photography, was so much more meaningful to me than just trying to fill the pages of magazines.”
To see Chris’s photography, visit his website here.