Author: Gerber Ambassador Chris Burkard Chris Burkard on Instagram
The newest dispatch received to the Gerber offices is from our newest Ambassador, Chris Burkard. We could not be more excited to welcome Chris to the Gerber Gear family and we are happy to partner with such a fine photographer and friend. Below is Chris’s recount of a recent trip to find a South swell by going North…
When news of a large south swell formed, people began traveling all over to score perfect waves. Most headed south, but as with the bulk of my trips, I aimed for a location opposite the rest. Board shorts and flip flops were not being packed for this trip. I had gear strewn across my office floor while I sifted through wet suits, cameras, knives, axes, shovels, multi-tools and anything else I thought would be needed, trying to imagine the various potential encounters in searching for waves much further north. In journeying to such remote locales, I understand how important it is to have essentials for camping as well as for being prepared to potentially become stranded in the wilds of Alaska, days away from any amenities. A good motto when selecting what’s necessary for each trip: always expect the unexpected.
Looking down on the landscape below I feel it’s a familiar place for a moment. I’ve stared through an airplane window a number of times before, and the thing that is reliable in its change is the view. Today that view is somehow exceptionally different. The miles upon miles of untouched wilderness are just a glimpse into what really would seem like the last frontier. With the plane touching down I step onto Alaskan soil; searching for open spaces and the waves that fill them.
From the dock, I got my first glimpse of our boat of choice, a retired crab fishing boat from northern Alaska bearing the name Milo. With a few extra cabins and some tie downs for surfboards it was officially deemed a surf trolly. I’d been on a boat trip before, but nothing compared to this experience. We slowly made our way out of the harbor, and I mean SLOWLY. Our max speed was 8 knots and it would take the duration of the trip to get into the rhythm of that boat. Traveling down the coastline with Milo I began to understand why Alaska was considered the Last Frontier. My travels included Norway, Canada, and Iceland and never had I experienced such remoteness, our boat slugging down the vacant coastline. We were a long distance from any amenities and it became a reality the further we piloted.
Shooting from land presented a unique challenge in that both the videographer and I had to put all of our gear in dry bags, don dry suits, and paddle from the boat to the shore, only to have to pack up and paddle back out a few hours later. At the more mellow surf spots this was no problem, but we hit a string of spots with shore break that presented a unique challenge.
Evening arrived one day and everyone started paddling back to the boat from the lineup. Packing my gear I decided to soak in some rare sunshine on the desolate black-sand beach and ended up taking a quick nap. Upon waking, the mellow shore break had turned into a six-foot wall of water, as wave after wave pounded on the once gentle shoreline. The incoming tide began creating double ups that seemed impossible to pass. Packing thousands of dollars of gear into our bags, I said a short prayer while grabbing my board. Walking down the beach towards the imminent pounding my heart began to pound in imitation of the waves against the sand.
It felt we’d paddled for miles before finally making it out past the break. My arms sore to the point of exhaustion, I looked ahead to find my bearings, searching for Milo, our surf trolly. As soon as she came into focus, so did two large fins just past her. Two orca whales made their presence known as they surfaced close to the boat. My heart, beating as hard as it ever has, suddenly beat even harder. I knew there was only one option, because I was sure not paddling back to shore. I swam slowly and carefully toward Milo in hope of not attracting the attention of the orcas. It seemed like the longest few minutes of my life as each heartbeat felt like a ringing signal to the whales, alerting them to my fear and my location. Finally, as I hoisted myself onto Milo’s deck, I didn’t attempt to keep back the laugh of intense relief.
It is the in between of scoring great surf and getting the best photos that I collect the gems of my travels. They are the moments retold to friends and family. They will be the hidden back stories between each frame.