September 25, 2019

Chris’s Unforgotten Memories: Surfing Under an Arctic Sky

Six surfers, the worst storm in 25 years, and the search for a mythical wave. Chris Burkard’s journey to a remote corner of Iceland was both life-changing and life-threatening. Here, the photographer revisits his trip through Polaroid pictures created with our new Polaroid Lab.

“We decided to go on the trip because we wanted to find this kind of mythical wave. We were like nobody is ever going to take us out there. It was only because of this one boat captain that it actually happened, this guy named Captain Ziggy. When he said, ‘yeah I’ll take you there, but you gotta be here in a week.’ I was scrambling; I mean we gathered together a crew, we kind of made it work you know in the best way we could.

We had no idea what to expect. The reality was that we didn’t know the storm was coming; we didn’t know that we were going to find these kinds of waves. We were driving through what we thought was just another storm, nothing crazy, nothing special, and it ended up being the biggest storm in 25 years. It was so big that it knocked down 400 power line poles, it was crazy. We were driving on this road that had cliffs on both sides that led into the ocean and we were getting kind of hit by all these tiny spindrifts; these avalanches that were launching into the road. And having to dig the car out, hour after hour. And what should have been a four-hour drive turned into a 15-hour affair. It was pretty terrifying.” 

“We didn’t make it to where we were hoping to go and we had to stay in a cabin that was about halfway there. If that cabin wasn’t there we could have froze to death in our car. 

One of the most brutal things about being in that storm was you know we still had to unpack the car after you know just being devastatingly tired.”

“This is one of the coolest dudes you will ever meet. This Icelandic surfer is not really a daredevil, but he’s the one willing to push the limit. We kind of dared him to like jump off the mast, he did and it was kind of funny because there was a little bit of swell in the water at this point. And the boats rocking back and forth so we actually had to time it and it was just an incredible moment. The photograph in some ways kind of captures the free spirit of the trip and that’s just what I loved about it.”

“This photo is so brutal. My face is swelling my eyes are kind of like sealing shut. This is actually just from being so cold and also from this wind. And your skin is starting to swell because your whole body is covered in rubber and this is the only section that’s open so as you can imagine, it’s getting pretty beat up and I definitely look brutalized there.”

“I just think that there’s something really beautiful when you put a subject in the context of the greater environment. Which is what surfing to me is all about you know this opportunity is so cool because you can sort of showcase the beauty of the landscape of where you’re at.”

“I remember this moment being like it’s actually coming together like all we need now is for someone to catch a wave. And I was just I was tripping out I was losing my mind. The concept that this was even possible, the stress was so great because I was seeing the moment unravel. This perfect wave coming through and the guys are about to paddle out and I just, ah the excitement is still very very will. I mean it’s still in my breath if you like. And this photo really kind of was that first test to see and there we have it surfing under the Northern Lights.”

“Through this crazy struggle and this weather and this bad storm I actually in some way felt like I became a better person. Somebody more empathetic and willing to understand others’ perspectives and willing to embrace nature in its most wild and unruly format. And I think that storm really set a tone for what I love about these trips, which is discovery. Sometimes discovery is internal.”

– Chris Burkard (@chrisburkard)

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