Although Chris Burkard hails from a laid-back surfing community in Southern California, he is now an internationally acclaimed and heavily sponsored photographer and surfer. Chris is also an active member of the LDS Church. Here, he discusses with us how he pursued his passions in his career with more faith than fear.
What first got you interested in photography?
I was always a creative kid. I loved to draw, work on cars, and surf with my friends. In high school, I started to play with an old film camera my girlfriend's mom leant me. I had always loved art and figuring out how things work, so I began shooting every day. I realized that this medium of photography bridged all my favorite interests; it challenged me and allowed me to interact with life and the world in a new way.
When did you know that you wanted to begin a career combining travel, surfing, and photography?
I never liked doing the expected thing. I was a little bit of a misfit in that way. When everyone was headed off to college, I was kind of figuring out what I wanted from life. When I began shooting surf I started just doing the daily grind of shooting as much as I could, as often as I could, and just praying that someone in some magazine would run it. My goals started small, with me looking to connect with the editors of my favorite magazines, and grew into me coordinating and going on trips for editorial pieces. I knew one thing for sure—that I wanted to get out and see the world, to gain some real life perspective. Surf photography became my vehicle of getting out and traveling like I had always dreamt of when I was growing up. Making a living out of it was secondary at the time.
Were you ever afraid that you wouldn’t be able to support your family with this career choice?
One hundred percent, and I don't know if that fear ever goes away. Nothing is guaranteed—no career can give us a foolproof sense of stability, so I knew I had to work hard at what I loved and hope and pray that it would pay off. It definitely became a heavy concern when I was preparing to ask my wife to marry me. It was early on in my career, we were 21, and I'm so grateful we chose to get married way before we had all the things we were hoping for. We built this life and this career together, and that makes it so much more satisfying.
How does having faith play a role in your career?
I think when we realize that we are the only people holding ourselves back from progressing and that the Lord is there to guide us to these goals, anything is possible. I started out early on taking a huge leap to try and make a career out of this. I went against what A LOT of people I cared about advised, and I just kept pushing forward in my own way with the guidance of a lot of prayer and with the Holy Ghost. I still try to lead my life and career the same today. I made so many mistakes growing up, made choices that altered my life in so many ways, but it was when I chose to really develop my own relationship with the Lord and allowed myself to lean on Him for guidance and support that I began to see the blessings unfold. I honestly see a direct correlation in my career's success with the closeness I feel to the Holy Ghost. I've seen the struggle that comes from a life that you try and lead on your own, so I guess I know that is the only thing to be afraid of—as long as I'm living my life and the gospel the best I know how, there's no room for fear.
Any advice for others on overcoming your fears to pursue your passions?
I guess acknowledging where your fears come from and where your passions come from. Our fears are from the adversary. He does not want to see us progress and be happy, and our passions and talents are blessings from Heavenly Father, who wants to see us grow and experience joy. This doesn't mean that Heavenly Father will always provide a clear and easy path for us, free of mistakes and trials. He allows us to mess up, to fail even sometimes so that we can be refined and perfected and so that we can learn to lean on Him and rely on His guidance. So when it comes to pursuing your dreams, always make it a matter of prayer, and know that if you are growing in your relationship with the Lord, He will show you the way to grow in the path of your passions.