Movers & Shakers: Chris Burkard

The adventure photographer shares what’s on his bucket list, along with his must-haves for long flights
November 28, 2016Words by Huckberry StaffPhotos by James Exley

Editors Note: For our third catalog, we thought it would be fun to mix it up and ditch the motorcycles and float planes to profile some of the customers, partners, and friends we’ve met on our six-year journey. Guys who’ve inspired us, and we hope will inspire you too. We're bringing you this excerpt from our Winter 2016 Catalog because, as Ernest Hemingway once said, “as you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.”

Chris Burkard needs no introduction. Not only have we all seen his wanderlust-inspiring photos of far-flung places, but we’ve been inspired by them – inspired to travel, inspired to take better care of our wilderness, inspired to buy the ticket, take the ride. When he’s not chasing cold waves in remote locations, Burkard is home on California’s Central Coast with his family, where he spends his time practicing yoga, reading bedtime stories to his two young sons, and “not even looking at his camera.” (Yeah, right.)

How did you get into photography?
I was into art in high school, but I didn’t like the idea that my friends were out surfing and I was stuck somewhere inside with an easel. I had this dream of being in the mountains, in the ocean, of being able to make a difference somehow. When I was about 19, I picked up a camera and started chasing my friends at the beach, and I was like, “Holy cow – this is everything I want.” It wasn’t like I envisioned it becoming a career, but it allowed me to travel and to see the world through a different lens. So I put everything I had into it.

Vital Stats:

  • Age: 30
  • Location: Pismo Beach, CA
  • Occupation: Adventure Photographer
  • Instagram: @chrisburkard

You’ve talked about the clash between social media and protecting wilderness, and how education is the key to balancing those two. Is education a big element of your work?
I never intended it to be, but yes. I’ll be the first to admit that I started to travel for purely selfish reasons – I was eager to get stamps in my passport and a paycheck. But as things have evolved in my career, I’ve learned that there’s a great amount of responsibility that comes with having almost three million people engage with me every day on all of my channels. So my message has changed over the years to a really conservation-based tone. I try to speak out for places that can’t speak for themselves.

Any must-have items you take on long flights?
My favorite eye pillow. My noise-canceling Bose headphones. A headband to put over my eyes and ears. A really soft jacket. Some form of coconut oil. They’re all creature comforts. When I travel I’m full old man style; I have compression socks that I’ll put on and everything.

How do you balance career with family life? 
Family is the most important thing to me. It’s what keeps me grounded, and the fact that I’m working for something motivates me. That said, having to do both is really challenging. Sometimes it feels like I live two lives. But I’m so grateful for their support and to know that there’s a purpose behind the work.

What do you believe to be true that very few people agree with you on?
There are a lot of people out there who don’t want me to geotag, who don’t want me to talk about places that they consider private or their own. But my mindset is that if we want people to care about nature, we have to get them out into it. Even if they go there and take a selfie, at least they’re there, and hopefully that experience will inspire them to have more meaningful experiences later. The key to responsible tourism isn’t to keep the tourists in the tourist traps and the wilderness for ourselves. We need to get people off the grid and out into areas that aren’t overpopulated because that will give them a greater experience. Some people don’t want to share those places. But it’s really important to me to get people off the beaten path.

Chris Recommends:

  • Underrated Vacation Spot: Aleutian Islands
  • Lesser-known App: PhotoPills, a must-have for night photography
  • Guilty Pleasure: Flying first class

How do you blow off steam or unwind?
Yoga, climbing, and bodysurfing are a really big part of my life. Those are the three activities that keep me sane. 

What’s on the top of your bucket list?
Visiting the Kuril Islands off the coast of Russia. This is one of the most remote and supposedly most beautiful island chains in the world, and there’s one particular island that has amazing potential for really good surf. It’s a volcanic caldera with a volcano in the center, so it has an incredibly unique landscape. You know when you look at an image of a place and it visually calls to you? This place speaks to me. I need to see it. 

If you could live in another city or country, what would it be?
Iceland. There are a couple different places I’d live – the town of Hofn, for example, or in the Westfjords. I’ve been to Iceland so many times and I’ve actually looked at real estate, so I’ve more than dreamt about living there. [H]

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