SmugMug Films is a celebration of the photographers who inspire and amaze…
“My hands are so cold.”
Before professional surfers Patrick Millin, Brett Barley, and Chadd Konig can hit the waves, they have to shovel for an hour to remove about five feet of snow just to get out of their driveway. When you imagine people surfing, you probably don’t imagine someone shoveling snow first. But this is reality when you surf in the Artic.
“It is truly beautiful, and epic, and mystical – all while being some of the most harsh conditions I have ever seen,” says Chris Burkard, the adventure photographer who is on-location following the three surfers.
Burkard travels to surreal landscapes worldwide to ‘capture stories that inspire humans to consider their relationship with nature, while promoting the preservation of wild places everywhere.’ He wants people to drift away when they look at his images and take them so far from where they are in that moment that they become immersed in that feeling. Through his photos, he captures his vision of wild landscapes like ice caves and rugged terrain as well as weather phenomena, such as the Northern Lights. But as a cold-water fanatic, Burkard feels particularly drawn to document the Arctic. So, he traveled to the Lofoten Islands in Norway, an iconic travel destination for surfers worldwide, to follow these surfers and create images to inspire others.
After clearing the snow, Millin, Barley, and Konig load their boards into the van and head to the picturesque Arctic beach, Unstad, to surf, with Burkard following behind. Once they arrive, there are a series of moments – moments when they must decide to retreat or move forward. First, they have to decide to get out of the van. The transition from the heated vehicle to the bone-chilling Arctic air would be challenging for most people, even when wearing the proper winter gear. But these surfers are not wearing winter gear. The only thing separating their skin from the conditions is 5-7 mm of rubber.
They pile out of the van, and the cold air blankets their skin like a quilt of prickly needles, a paralyzing shock to the body that sends a primal warning to the mind that they must manually override. Then, another moment. Another series of choices. They must propel one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, heading closer and closer to the shoreline, over the rocks, and into the final choice – hurling their bodies into near-freezing water in what some consider the roughest seas in the world.
Check out 57hours’ article on the 10 Best Surf Spots in the World for 2020
Millin describes the experience as war-like and compares his wetsuit to a combat suit. He feels a shock when his body first hits the water, and within two minutes, he starts to feel his core temperature drop. Konig says if you make one little turn the wrong way, your wetsuit can become flooded, which feels electrifying.
The ocean is an untamed place. Danger lurks under every swell. It is unforgiving, even when explored under pleasant conditions. Mix in the ruthless environment of the Arctic, and now you have something else – something more beastly, something even more foreign.
“I know that the surfers are out in the water suffering just as much as I am, if not way more, so I feel like [I] have this extremely heavy task on [my] shoulders of making sure that [I] document what is going on accurately and appropriately and doing them justice because [I am] only going to get so many moments,” says Burkard.
Empathy and connection are tools for creation. First, you see something. Then, you feel something. You take that feeling and filter it through your experience. The sight, feeling, and vision come together into something unique that your mind captures. If you successfully communicate or express that thing, it turns into a creation.
Burkard illustrates suffering as a prerequisite for his creations. Putting himself out there in the elements and really experiencing them – frozen fingers, brittle skin, cracked lips, and all – are the only way to capture the moments he is after. Striking images are born from these moments. They are the ones you not only see, you feel.
It is fascinating how your eyes see one image and glaze over it without a second thought. And yet, just as easily, you become captivated by another and feel so much. What makes you skip over one, while drawn to another?
When you are looking at an image, what you are really looking at is the product of an entire process. How much you give to the process is how much the process will give back. For Burkard, Millin, Barley, and Konig, a series of courageous choices and voluntary suffering come together in the Arctic waves to produce one moment – one fraction of a second – of perfection, creation, and adventure.
Watch the full film here:
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