Growing up on the Central Coast of California, I never had the opportunity to travel much. I love the Central Coast, but I could never shake the desire to travel. The only place I traveled to as a child was Yosemite National Park, and although I didn’t appreciate it much at the time, it really instilled in me a desire to seek out vast landscapes and wilderness.
*Join Chris Burkard and Resource Travel Editor in Chief Michael Bonocore for the event ‘Storytelling in the Digital Age’ at the Adorama Inspire event in New York City*
During and after High School, I was really involved in art. I spent a lot of time painting and drawing, but I quickly realized that it was keeping me from experiencing the things I love. As much as I loved art and painting, I didn’t want to be stuck inside a room staring at an easel. It was then that I realized that photography was the perfect medium for me. Not only could I travel, but I could actually see and experience the raw and rugged places that I dreamed about. Whether I would be in the water photographing surfers up close and personal, climbing a mountain, or freezing out in the cold fjords of Western Iceland, I realized that this was the lifestyle that I wanted to live.
When I first started my career as a surf photographer, I would immediately jump on any opportunity to travel, whether it was in California or around the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit in my career, however I’ve taken a unique approach to my traveling from a relatively early age. After photographing surfers in exotic, overpopulated tourist locations, I began to feel suffocated. I was seeking adventure, but all I was finding was routine. I felt my inspiration for photographing the sport that I loved was starting to wane. I started daydreaming about places that excited me. The places that had a real sense of undiscovered adventure. The tropical and touristed postcard locations in the world quickly became afterthoughts. Sunny, warm water locations that were just a short plane ride from home lost all appeal, and they no longer were the source of my photography inspiration.
I wanted real and raw experiences. I wanted to go to places that were rarely accessible. Places that included a little danger, and a lot of planning. When you have to suffer a little for your work, it makes it that much more rewarding.
On my first trip to Iceland, I found what I was looking for. Not only were the landscapes unreal, but we were finding near perfect waves. The conditions were harsh, but the beaches were empty, and my inspiration was once again full.
That being said, a lot of my work is still from right here on the Central Coast of California. It was only later in my career that I really begin to appreciate my home. I think it’s important to remember that you can satisfy that urge to travel right where you’re at. Sometimes a simple 30-minute drive or 4-hour weekend getaway can be as epic as a 2-week stint to some faraway location.
For every project that I work on away from home, I am attracted to the remote and wildness of the locations I find myself working in. My jobs are rarely easy. They often involve freezing cold temperatures, harsh conditions, and months of planning. But every photograph I take, I am forced to earn. To me, If the photo is worth it, it will require me to suffer. That suffering inspires me to capture the moments that many in this world may not have the opportunity to experience. And when I see that my work actually inspires people to get outside of their comfort zone and explore the unknown, that makes all of my suffering worth it.
Get out there, stay excited and beyond everything, keep exploring.