Chris Burkard: The joy of surfing in ice-cold water

I expect you will have already seen this TED talk by Chris Burkard, but it is worth a watch if you’re into surf photography:

To be clear, I really like Chris Burkards photography, the surf stuff and the landscape/adventure style stuff too, I own The California Surf Project and Distant Shores, I even enjoyed Come Hell or High Water and I’ve watched most of the videos he’s put out on social media (I didn’t buy Russia because it was expensive and the waves looked very average, I also don’t enjoy watching long boarding that much), and I expect I’ll look into buying High Tide: A Photographic Journey to the far corners of the earth at some point too.

So I like the photography, I just wish I could believe the motivation for this type of trip.

Do you ever have that moment where you’re watching some mainstream TV and a guy rocks up to the beach with a 5’10” Merrick tooth pick under his arm but it is very obviously completely flat, and as a surfer you roll your eyes and think how can anyone believe this is what surfing is?

Well I almost get that feeling when watching this Ted talk.

If the whole point is to go somewhere inhospitable and make the most of the environment you’re in, then do that. If that’s your bag I’d recommend checking out North of the Sun and Bjørnøya / Bear Island, I’ve watched both and they represent as sincere a harsh-place-surf-trip film as you will find.
Also check out Numb – Tim Nunns book on cold water surf exploration, which has much better surf than the films above with a similar lack of mainstream hype seeking.

But some people, including Chris in this talk, imply that surf is the number one priority, if that’s truly the case, you can definitely find perfect waves in warm, or cool water, that are not being surfed, how about Spain, Morocco, The Azores, Madeira or the Canary Islands? that’s just areas local to me off the top of my head, all have uncrowded waves for a good part of the year.

I’ve surfed perfect, empty waves in Indonesia, it was an adventure, I loved it, and the harshest thing that happened was some sun burn and a crummy 6 hour stop over on the way home. I’ve also surfed pretty epic waves 10 minutes from my house with no one in (certainly a lot better waves than the ones I saw from the Russia trip).

You can turn any one of these into a good story, as we all know because there’s a hundred of them on-line and even some in print every month in the surf media.

In my cynical view the main reason to go to Norway (or whichever cold water surf spot you like) instead of Indo is not because you need to to get uncrowded waves, it’s because it’s only been done 20 times in the mag’s, not 20,000 times, and that means you can sell the story more easily.

Chris actually does a good job of keeping even my cynical mind happy by touching on this when he talks about the photos for magazines not being as important as the experience at the end, so be sure to watch all of the video.

In life, there are no shortcuts to joy, anything that is worth pursuing is going to require us to suffer just a little bit

I’ve got a new name for my bodyboard – it’s called my “Shortcut to joy”.

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