Episode 43 – Magic Happens Where Your Comfort Zone Ends
Listen to this episode here!
In this episode Rachel is joined by Chris Burkard; photographer, explorer, creative director, author and speaker. Chris has gained worldwide recognition for his photography and art over the past few years and is especially known for his travels to remote places and extreme weather surf photography. How do you turn your passion into your career? What’s it like balancing creative talent with running a large-scale business? Chris shares how he got started (and how when it comes to pursuing a dream, we all have to start at the bottom!), what inspires him as a photographer and shares stories from his life on the road. They talk about nature conservation, bringing deep purpose into your work, parenthood and using past mistakes as a way to grow. Chris also gives his best tips for staying grounded on the road.
[000:00] RB: Hi, and welcome to another episode of From The Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl. This week I have a super exciting guest and very talented artist on the show, Chris Burkard. Chris is a self-taught photographer, creative director, author, speaker and world explorer from California who has gained huge recognition through the past years for his amazing ability to capture awe-inspiring beauty of nature. Known for his surf photography and travels to the most remote parts of the world, you’ve probably seen Chris’s work on the cover of magazines, or you might be one of the millions of people who already follow him in social media. Welcome to the show, Chris!
CB: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel. I really appreciate it and I’m so psyched to be here. It’s kind of a long time coming, you know? It’s funny, you and I have crossed paths in a lot of different ways over the years, and this is super cool, to finally be able to connect with you like this.
RB: I know! It’s so much fun! Actually, I have one of my yoga teachers here at the studio here in Aruba is, she’s told me in her own words, your biggest fan in the entire world.
RB: She’s outside this door right now, like, peeing her pants that you’re on the show. She’s so excited! When I put it out in social media that you were coming on the show, I just literally got thousands of emails and messages from people that are so excited. It’s a really cool thing to have you on the show.
CB: Yeah, well, I had the chance to check out a couple of the podcasts, and I just really love how you’ve transitioned your work into obviously being an excellent yoga teacher and just such a mindful steward of yoga. But also, just, the conversations are really heartfelt, (laugh) it’s funny to say that, and really thought provoking. I just, I love that. I love how you’ve kind of been able to be such an entrepreneur in that field. It’s been really cool. Last time I saw you was in Pismo Beach at a yoga workshop, and I was also blown away with how good you taught-
[002:00] RB: I know! What year was that? That was a long time ago.
CB: That was like three years ago, I think. Or something like that. Yeah.
RB: Yeah, yeah! No, it’s funny, because yeah, we have an interesting history. My first ever 200 hour yoga teacher training I did together with your wife.
CB: Yeah! Small world.
RB: I mean, it’s a really … It’s such a small world, yeah! And I feel like, right around then, I mean this was three years ago. What was … I don’t even remember talking to you about photography or anything.
CB: I know, I know. But it was cool, you know? I loved that workshop you taught. It was an inversion workshop, and I gained so much knowledge from it. It was packed. Everybody was so stoked and the energy was really high, and it was really fun. So, that was exciting.
RB: Yeah, it’s so fun. I keep telling Brie you guys have to take the family and come visit us in Aruba next, since we saw you in California.
CB: I would love to! It’s my dream to kind of get my two boys out and explore a bit more of the world, so that’s on my list.
RB: A bit more of the world. Well, you do kind of a lot of exploring of the world already. (laugh) So, for anyone who doesn’t know, anyone who’s listening who maybe doesn’t know who you are, I mean, you’re a photographer, you travel the world taking pictures for a living. I mean, it’s a dream gig. How did you get started?
CB: That’s a great question. I grew up in this small town in central California and when I was young, all I really wanted to do was leave this small town. To anybody out there who’s ever kind of been in that situation, you know the feeling of … I was feeling a little trapped, right? I didn’t grow up with a passport, never traveled anywhere. Did a lot of art in high school. What I realized was that I wanted something a little more immersive. I wanted something that was going to allow me to be creative, but out in the field.
[004:00] So, I did a lot of drawing, did a lot of … I was stuck on the hillside somewhere in a studio, and I picked up a camera from my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, her mom … I just was blown away. I was like, “This is this creative endeavor that can take me out in the field. It can be my passport to the world.” To be totally honest, I got started in photography for purely selfish reasons. I just wanted to fill my passport and collect a paycheck. It really evolved from there.
RB: Do you remember the first thing you ever took a real picture of? The first thing you ever went out and shot?
CB: I think that one of the first things I took a real picture of was probably, you know, like a still life. Or, something really simple, like just a beach landscape. I think that those were some of my first photographs, was literally driving up the coast in California, going to go surfing, and just taking pictures of the waves. It was kind of the ocean was my first muse. It was my first canvas, so to say. It’s still, to this day, the thing that I truly love photographing most.
RB: Because it’s ever changing? You think that’s it? It’s always … I mean-
RB: … every time we take a photo of the ocean, it’s always different.
CB: I think that you never see it in the same light twice. To me, like, I think some people see the ocean and it almost makes them feel a little nervous, because it’s such a big … It’s so big it almost creates a barrier. But as I’ve gotten older and I’ve gotten more comfortable, as I really have been taught a lot of things from the ocean, I just realize what an amazing teacher it is. It’s humbled me many times in my life. It’s made me realize how weak I am. It’s also shown me some of the best times I’ve ever had, you know? Sharing my love of the ocean with my family or with other people, it’s brought me a lot of joy.
[006:00] But at the same time I have this deep respect for it. It makes me feel very scared at times. So, I guess I just love that kind of relationship I have. It’s not cut and dry, you know? It’s like yoga. The more you do it, the more you realize how little you know about it.
CB: How much you have to learn. I did the teacher training and I was like … I left feeling like, “Wow. I know nothing about this, at all. I’m like a child.” So that’s kind of how I feel around the ocean, you know?
RB: I mean, it’s very, very humbling. I never grew up around ocean, so I’ve always had this kind of hesitant … not a big fear, but I’m always a little, yeah, very respectful toward the ocean. I’m not one of those natural water people who’s just always surfing or always in the water. My husband is, though. He, I don’t know, he has respect for the ocean, but I’m always a little worried that, you know, he’s going to do something kind of insane and stupid, because I feel like people that grow up in the ocean, they start thinking that, “Oh, this is so easy, I just live here.” You know?
RB: I don’t know, it’s healthy to have a good dose of respect, I think.
CB: You know, I totally agree with you. It’s crazy, because I have those experiences too, where you get that level of, like, of security, and all of the sudden, it just puts you right back in your place. That’s kind of what happens … Sometimes growing up around something creates a false sense of security, and I feel that sometimes too. But that’s what I love about it. I love that it’s a constant teacher, and it’s a constant source of inspiration too. So, yeah, it’s something that we all kind of are still just trying to evolve and learn what our relationship with the ocean really is about.
RB: So, that was a really easy transition for you into surf photography since you grew up by the ocean. Was that how you really got started? When was that? I guess what I’m … Yeah, when was the moment that you realized that this is something that you actually might be able to do for a living, more than just a passion or a hobby?
[008:00] CB: It’s a funny one, because people ask me all the time, like, what was your big break? What was the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do? I tell people, I’m like, “Sadly, there was never a big break. There was never a moment where everything felt like it was good, and I was secure. You know, to be honest, I have … I moved into my car at 19 years old to pursue photography. It was a complete and total hail Mary. I quit my job, I quit school, and I lived at poverty levels for a period of time so that I could kind of make ends meet. And I would shoot literally anything. I would have shot, you know, anything that anyone would have offered.
So, I guess I felt like that has always been something that I’ve considered is I don’t want a job that I’m not willing to sacrifice for. I guess I feel empowered by those early childhood experiences. It’s not really something where I’ve been able to find a time in my life where I’ve felt like, “Ah, this is the career path for me!” It’s taught me a lot and it’s presented a lot of opportunities, and it’s brought me a lot of joy. As long as it does that, I’m going to keep doing it. And, most importantly, as long as it keeps challenging me, I’m going to keep doing that. But, there was never a moment where I had this, like, “Oh yeah, I know what the next paycheck’s coming.” As a freelance photographer, much like yourself and the fact that as a yoga teacher, someone doing workshops, like … you don’t know. You don’t really know if the next year is going to be a hard year or a good year, whatever. I’ve kind of tried to detach from that a little bit and detach from that experience. And then that idea that like, “I’m making it,” or, “I’m successful” … because success should really be defined by how much joy your job brings to you, I think.
[010:00] RB: Oh definitely. So in those really early days, when you said you would shoot absolutely anything, was there ever a moment where you felt, like, “Ugh, I’m paying my dues now,” like you had to shoot something that you really didn’t want to do?
CB: Oh my! Oh yeah, I mean, I’ve shot a lot of weddings-
CB: … I’ve shot experiences where like I would be … I mean, nothing wrong with weddings. I love shooting weddings. I’m just not the patient person for that. I shot a lot of things where, like, nowadays I wouldn’t even wake up for it. I would go out and literally spend every dollar I had on gas and sketchy Mexican food to drive up and down the coast and chase swells and stuff. There was even times where, like, I would find myself out on a jet ski in the middle of the ocean trying to shoot this big wave amidst really shark-y waters, and just, you know, scare myself out of my mind! It was terrifying!
RB: Oh god!
CB: There’s moment where I’ve felt, like, emotionally scarred from it. But I was like, “Okay, this is what it’s supposed to be! This is how it’s supposed to happen, and it’ll all get better.” And, you know, it obviously eventually did get better. But it … Yeah, I really paid my dues. Especially more of like my living situation. I remember I quit my job, and I was working at this magazine store, and the very next day I was back down in Pismo Beach, right where I grew up, right where I learned to surf, and I was out on the pier trying to shoot pictures of random people surfing, and then running up to them on the beach to try to give them a CD of photos for, like, $20.
CB: It was pitiful, right? I guess I just … I love looking back at those early experiences, because when you realize how far you’ve come, you realize how much you’re willing to struggle for something you love.
RB: There’s something so beautiful about that, and I think everybody has to go through that period of also, you know, very humbling growth. You have to really fight for what you want.
RB: I can compare that to when I started teaching yoga, and no one wanted to come to my class.
[012:00] RB: I was kind of living in the middle of nowhere, no one knew what yoga was, and I printed these little flyers at this … I snuck into one of the hotels and I borrowed a printer, and I printed these little flyers for my classes, and I would hassle people on the beach, like, “Here’s a flyer! Come to yoga class, come to yoga! Yoga is great!” You know, like a crazy person hassling people while they were trying to enjoy their piña coladas on the beach.
CB: I love that!
RB: Little by little, you know, it actually worked! Someone came, and then they came the next day, and then little by little, I mean, it took a long time, but it grew! So, I liked that idea, that it’s not just this make it or break it moment, it’s a big process.
CB: Yeah! Well, and I think that with careers and with life, there’s never really truly that make it or break it moment. I had a full career change, a full career shift about five or six years into my career where I was … I mean, by all means, people thought I had the dream job. And I did! I was shooting surfing professionally for magazines and I was traveling all over the world to these beautiful white sand beaches and photographing the best surfers and the best waves. Although that was amazing and really I loved it, but I felt like there was a part of me that wasn’t being fulfilled. I think that a big part of that was that, you know, I grew up in these wide open spaces, in places where there’s dirt roads everywhere, and there’s farm fields. I had access to open beaches where there’s not a lot of people, and I felt very, very much like these touristy places where there was strong Wi-Fi and great food … It was like the promise of adventure, but then you’d get there and you’d turn around and there’d be a high rise hotel. It wasn’t what I was being sold. So, I ended up gravitating towards colder climates, places that were more visceral for me, because I had to give more of myself to be there. More planning, more time spent in harsh conditions.
[014:00] That was truly … That was total shift for me. So, work, all of the sudden, it was like finally I kind of made it. I had kind of gotten where I wanted to be, and then I had to start over. I basically started at the bottom and started to go to these places that were just super … And a lot of scary experiences resulted from that, you know? Just stuff … I learned that growth process of learning and what not. It was kind of an eye opener.
RB: Because you hadn’t shot that type of photography, in those types of conditions before, of course. Was that a whole new thing? I mean, I’ve seen-
RB: I’ve seen your movie and all of your “Under an Arctic Sky.” It’s so impressive. For anyone listening who hasn’t seen this, you can find it on Netflix. It’s incredible. So, you go to the coldest, I mean, the coldest parts of the world shooting surf in the midst of snow storms and ice storms and freezing waters. The things you go through just to, you know, capture that wave, you almost have to question your sanity, just a little bit. (laugh)
CB: Yeah! I agree. At times it’s kind of … It’s an interesting one, because the reality is, like, we didn’t really seek out these places where, you know, it’s not as if we’re seeking out these places just because they’re cold. It’s because we knew that the potential for amazing surf was there, and we knew that … Or, I know when I was going to these warmer locations that if I was going to find good waves, it was probably going to be somewhere near the poles, where there wasn’t a lot of people, and it hadn’t really been discovered and everything. So, that was kind of what drew me to those locations.
[016:00] I guess I just … I never looked back. I started to go to, like, Iceland and Norway and Alaska and the Faroe Islands and Russia and Patagonia and places like that. I guess what I found there was this beautiful isolation where there was these beaches and waves and really landscape that hadn’t really had their story told, and I felt really empowered. In some way. Like, that made me feel really alive. I guess sharing those experiences with people has made me feel really excited about my work. And hopefully the fact that many of these place are in need of protection, and that this work could some way be a testament to how special they are.
RB: And has there been a little bit of movement now? I’m sure it must be. Are more people seeking out these types of surf spots now, since you started sharing them with the world?
CB: Yeah, I think so. Absolutely. I feel like, in many ways, yeah, peoples’ eyes have been opened to what’s out there. And cold water surfing isn’t anything new, nor is it anything that’s totally foreign. These days it’s pretty commonplace. I guess I just felt like maybe I played some role in getting people out of their comfort zone, and out of the safe and the routine and the familiar and the known, to seek out a part of themselves that’s a bit unknown. That’s really special. I feel like to be able to foster that has been truly like a life goal. Just something that I feel like that’s the higher calling. We’re all seeking, everybody’s seeking for that higher calling in their work. You know, what is my purpose here? What purpose does this serve? I’ve kind of come to that place where you’re like, “Cool, I feel like this is why I was given this talent,” or whatever it might be. And that feels really, really special to me.
[018:00] RB: There’s something about that, about the idea of discomfort. I talk about that in class a lot. Like, essentially, in our asana practice, what we do is we look for these places of discomfort. Where do I hold tension in the body? Where is it hard to dwell and sit? Where is the work? Because if we remain in that very comfortable practice all the time we don’t evolve, we don’t really go anywhere. In this way … Sometimes, I have to be really honest, I’m a really horrible camper …
RB: I’m a very … I’m not, like, a camping outdoorsy person. I very much enjoy my comfort zone of, like, my house. Sometimes you see those photos on social media of someone who’s sleeping in the back of their van and you see their feet and, like, a hot mug of coffee. They’re camping somewhere, it looks so beautiful. And then I was watching your film, and just the behind all of that, like, the actual discomfort … putting yourself through that for the purpose of something really great. It wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t hard, right?
CB: I completely agree. And I don’t think … There’s this mindset sometimes. You really nailed it on the head, Rachel. There’s this mindset sometimes where you don’t have to climb the tallest peak or surf the biggest wave or do something extreme to, in any way, reach that level of discomfort, or seek out that unknown. It’s, I mean, I’ve often told people that the deepest journey you ever take will be an internal one. It’ll be the one that forces you to look deep inside yourself and ask the question of, like, “Why do I feel this way?” Or, “Why do I feel this discomfort?”
[020:00] And yoga has been such a good tool for that, because it’s forced me to sit in situations where it is uncomfortable, and you have to let your mind … You can’t let your mind wander, think about something else. You have to sit with it. I guess, for me too, what I’ve realized is that I’ve been able to relate my experiences in yoga and meditation with my experiences out in the field. You know, standing on a beach shivering, or sitting in the water freezing. It’s a similar thing. There’s not really much difference for me. Both of them teach me things about myself that I wouldn’t learn any other way. And maybe I’m just a stubborn student. I definitely am a stubborn student, but I love the fact that there’s a place that I can go in my head and in my body that can allow me to learn things in myself. Like, “Why am I holding tension there? Why am I holding tension here? Why do I feel this negativity towards this person or that place?” Or whatever. You often find that it’s an experience you might have had early on in your life that could have led you to feel that way, or could have forced you to do that. I just think that’s a part of a … I mean, more whole, complete people. It’s people like you that are helping folks to kind of come to that place. It’s not always about having to live in the wilderness or in your van or out in the field. I think that you can have that introspective, deep experience by just everyday of your life living normally. You just need to embrace that discomfort, like you said.
RB: Definitely. I think there’s something slightly dangerous to being too comfortable, right?
CB: I agree.
RB: We start to get a little bored with life. We start to get … you know, boredom and too much comfort can take us some fairly dangerous places. And yes, it’s true, we don’t have to do crazy things.
RB: I don’t know, and everybody has that different practice. For me it’s always, so, what scares me a little bit? Or what do I feel slightly uncomfortable or hesitant to do? Maybe in terms of business or … I don’t know, starting this podcast was one of those things of like, “Oh, I don’t know if I can do it. That seems like a challenging thing to do, but I guess I’m going to try and see if it sticks,” you know? And now it’s my favorite thing!
[022:00] CB: That’s so cool! That’s a really cool thing because you know you might have never known. And how it would have been if you didn’t try. That’s always been a mindset that I’ve tried to take is like, I opened a gallery at one point, and I remember being like, “Oh, this is going to be a stress and it’s going to be so gnarly, and I’m scared.” But I was like, “If I don’t try this, if I don’t do this, I will always wonder what it would have been like.” And that, to me, that angst, that anger … Not the anger, just the thought, that would be worse than any discomfort, right?
CB: I feel like. I feel like we always have to push ourselves just to try it. Even if you fail … Some of the best lessons I’ve learned in life have been from huge failures. There’s a lot of value in that.
RB: Do you have an example of something you really put your heart and soul into that didn’t work out?
CB: Yeah! I mean, I have an experience I could share with you that people … I mean, some people have probably heard it, some people probably haven’t. It’s not so much a photograph, but it was a place. I really … When I sort of figured out, I sort of unlocked the key to being like, “Oh, this bring me joy. I want to travel to these remote places, and I love the planning process, and I love all of these things about it, I’m so excited. Cool, cool. This is what I’m going to do.” So, I figured that out, and then I started to kind of plan out trips. What I realized is that early on I wasn’t really giving the time to fully plan out these trips. I wasn’t dedicating as much energy and time as I do now. I mean, imagine going to teach a yoga workshop, a three-day workshop, and just kind of winging it, you know? That was sort of what it was like.
[024:00] In the beginning of my career I was like, “Oh, I’ll figure it out.” I just sort of started planning and doing everything I could, but I wasn’t really giving it the time and attention it deserved. That really came to a head for me when I went to Russia on my first trip, and I arrived in the rural, you know, rural eastern Russia and Vladivostok, just inside the Sea of Japan. Everybody got off the plane and they went through customs. One, two, three, four … everybody with me. And I go up there and I give my passport, and they look at me, and they look at my passport, and she just starts pointing at the day on the passport, the visa, and I realized that my visa was two days off. I had, for some reason, even though I had, literally, I had applied for everybody’s at the same time, mine wasn’t the correct day. So, I was interrogated for six hours, and they decided what to do, and I was basically put into a jail cell for a day, 24 hours, and then deported to Korea after that.
So, I spent this time in the cell that was a totally humbling experience, because I had never had my rights stripped from me like that. I was totally overwhelmed. As much anger as I felt and as much, you know, whatever … And it was kind of a gnarly experience … I just realized that this was my fault. There’s nobody else to blame. You travel in hopes that you’re going to become this better person, this different person, right? But what ends up typically happening is that you don’t realize that that process of becoming better, it usually starts before you leave your front door. It starts when you plan this out. It starts when you give the time and dedicate the time to learn the customs and the language and to learn all of the nitty gritty details that go into planning. I just skipped all of that and I thought I could do this on my own and I, yeah, I made a mistake, and it was a bummer.
[026:00] So, that was a really big eye-opening experience to have in your early 20s.
RB: What an amazing, amazing story to be able to tell, too! Holy cow! (laugh)
RB: I mean, and it’s about that intention in it too. I mean, are you a better planner now? Are you really really really … I mean, I can only imagine the time that goes into these trips before you actually even step on the plane.
CB: Yeah. Nowadays I feel like I dedicate so much time to planning. I mean so much time to planning. It’s a challenging experience. I guess I’ve kind of teetered the other way, where I’m a lot more meticulous, like every little detail has to be figured out and stuff. But, you know, there is always an element of unknown, and that’s important for trips. You can’t figure out everything. And I really look forward to embracing those experiences, where just something comes out of the blue and you have to figure it out. But, yeah, it taught me a lot. It also taught me how to appreciate people’s customs more. It opened my eyes to the world, a lot, because that was an experience that I don’t really wish on anyone, nor do I feel like anybody needs to experience it if they just spend the time and energy to, like, think through the places they’re going to go.
RB: Right, right. Actually, I’ve had a similar experience, but within the U.S. Which, a lot of people that are from the United States don’t know what it’s like to travel to the United States on a foreign passport.
CB: I hear it’s terrible. I hear it’s so bad.
RB: It’s awful! (laugh) It’s awful. And, I don’t know, I had this thing where I guess I visited a country that was flagged by the U.S. Customs for some reason. So every time I gave any customs official my passport, they would put me in a room. I would have anything from strip search to, yeah, I was stuck also for hours and hours. I couldn’t figure it out, and it kept happening again and again.
[028:00] And I was so angry about it that in the end I started harboring this resentment toward the entire continental U.S.
RB: I was actually so frustrated about traveling to the States that I’m like, “Oh my god, this country, they don’t want me here. What’s wrong?” Then one day it happened again and I was traveling through the States, somewhere else, and I asked this official, this customs guy, I said, “What is wrong with me that every time I pass through you stop me for whatever reason? What is wrong? What am I doing wrong? I don’t want to deal with this shit anymore!” And he looked me up and down and he said, “Well, you don’t really look like the type of person who stays out of trouble.” And I was like, “What do you mean?!” He says, “Well, like, you have dreads in your hair, you’re a little too tan for a blonde girl, you clearly show up with this attitude of, like, you don’t give a shit, and that’s flag for me that you have this attitude.”
CB: No way!
RB: “So maybe you should check that!” I was like, “Oh my god, he’s 100% right.” I’m showing up with this, you know, I’m kind of inviting this energy of, like, oh my god I don’t trust you people, so they don’t trust me. It was a big learning for me of like, okay, how am I showing up when I arrive in the U.S.?
CB: That’s so interesting.
RB: And then I changed some stuff and I softened a little bit … Yes! I put my hair up and then they stopped flagging me, which was really good. But yeah, learning different cultures is a whole thing.
RB: But something that actually-
CB: It totally is!
[030:00] RB: Yeah. A question that came in, a couple of people asked me to ask you was when you’re on the road so much, especially when you encounter these stressful scenarios, because of course traveling, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies, as everybody knows-
CB: No. I wish it was!
RB: Do you have any specific … I wish sometimes I had a little telepathic … That I could just teleport myself places.
CB: Yeah. (laugh)
RB: Especially now with a baby.
RB: Babies and travel are like oil and water, I find. But do you have any practices that you always do on the road, or that you take with you to help you feel grounded, especially in challenging travel situations?
CB: I think that’s a great question. What I find is that everybody has kind of their own thing. For me, it’s really about what I do before I leave. I’ve realized, and I’m sure you have to, is that if you don’t take time for yourself, you can’t really give 100% of yourself to anyone. So, for me, it’s hard, because before I leave on a trip I want to spend time with my kids, my two boys. I want to spend time with my wife. I want to spend time at the office to get everything sorted out. But, I also have to make time for me. So, there’s been a lot of trips where I’ve been so wrapped up in the planning and the this and the that that I don’t get a chance to go out and surf or go out and climb or go do yoga, and I find that I always have to dedicate a little time for myself before I leave. So, that alone helps a lot.
Some of the trips that I do are … they’re ridiculously long. I had two trips that were 26 days this last year. It was brutal. I mean, it’s so challenging. I find that, for me, one of the things that really helps me is just trying to control what I eat. I’m not saying, like, control like, you know, really really hampered down. I’m an opportunist, so when I’m usually at home, I’m vegetarian/vegan about 99% of the time. When I travel it’s more of an opportunarian situation, where I eat what’s available, but I really try to eat as healthy as possible. I find that if I eat healthy … the more healthy I eat, I just get a better mindset.
[032:00] So, I do little things, like if I’m going to be in Vancouver or New York for a couple days … you know, this Monday I travel to New York and then I travel to Vancouver and then I go to New Zealand. So, I’m already doing a little bit of planning to be like, “Well, where is a good yoga studio in New York? Where is a good vegan restaurant? Where is a good climbing gym?” So, I already have all of those mapped out. So, if I have time, if time presents itself, I’m going to do that while I’m there. What I always find is we get these windows of time where we have a bit of free time for ourselves and we just don’t know what to do, so I’ve kind of started … I have a Google map, and there’s, like, stars all over the world of just like, “Oh, there’s a great restaurant here and there’s a great this here.” I feel like once you do that and you start to tap into those communities, that’s really helpful.
I also find that, like, I’m not a big runner, but finding myself going for a run, even if it’s a mile or two, is really helpful. Going for a walk. It gives you the lay of the land, and it calms down your mind. Other than that, I think that, you know, the music that you listen to, I kind of have … I’m a creature of habit, Rachel. You should know that. So when I travel, it’s like I usually listen to the same songs on the plane. I have a great … we call it the yoga playlist, but it’s really just like really relaxing music that me and my wife love. So, I have a playlist that I usually listen to and it really calms me down and allows me to kind of think. I listen to that on the plane. When I’m in a hotel room and I have trouble sleeping I listen to that. I have this … I have all of these weird tips, things. I do this one thing where I have like … say you’re in a hotel room, and hotel rooms can be a little stale sometimes. They’re a little … Not plastic-y. They just kind of feel like everything is clean and it doesn’t feel like your own thing. So I always bring this one cotton shirt from home, and what I usually do is I put the cotton shirt over my pillow, like a pillowcase, so when I lay my head down at night, I smell sort of like familiar smells from home, you know?
[034:00] That’s just something that calms me down. I have a hard time sleeping in various places. So those are all little aspects of what I do. I have, obviously, my own yoga practice, meditation that I try to do. Sometimes the Wim Hof Method has been a really beneficial breathing technique for just, like, really getting you to a place of relaxation. But yeah, I mean, I think that any of those can be really helpful. The more sense of community you can find on the road, the healthier you’re going to be.
RB: That’s such great advice. I love how specific your advice is too, because sometimes people just say, “Oh, you know, take deep breaths, or realize, just go with the flow,” but this is actual things people can really use.
CB: I’m like no, yes, bring a pillow.
RB: I find that the smell is a really big thing. Bring a cotton shirt from home and bring your own pillow. I always burn palo santo, and I know you’re not supposed to do this in hotel rooms, like, you’re not supposed to have open flames and whatnot, but I always do it when I come into a new hotel room.
CB: (laugh) I totally do too!
RB: I burn a little palo santo … Yeah! Because then it’s, you know, it’s familiar. It’s so true. And the community aspect of it I think is soooo important. Because if you keep traveling to the same places and you actually can make a network of community that you then can connect with from wherever you are. It’s a really beautiful thing.
RB: But what about leaving-
CB: People are critical, like you said. Going somewhere and being able to connect with a similar person that you’ve seen months ago, or going out to get food with somebody or going out to exercise. That really, I think, helps us. We’re creatures that are meant to be together. So I think that’s always a really healthy thing to do as well.
RB: Yes. But what about, yeah, the other side of that, so what’s it like spending so much time away from your family? How many travel days do you have every year?
[036:00] CB: That’s honestly the hardest thing ever. And honestly I don’t even know the amount of travel days, because certain years … Like, I can’t really be like, “Oh, I’m going to put a cap on it. I’m going to travel 50 days this year or 60 days this year.” Last year was probably the most I’ve ever traveled in my entire life, and it wasn’t because I wanted to, but it was because I had certain things I had to see through. I have my film that we toured across the world, and I promised myself that I would dedicate the time to really see this through. I’ve always been a fan of, like, if you’re going to do a project, then really do it, 100%. It is the most challenging thing.
It’s funny because, you know, to really help answer this question, my wife should really be the one to give her opinion and advice. But, I’ve found a couple tips and tricks that really help in the relationship aspect of traveling that I think people might be interested in. One of the things, what I would suggest, because I didn’t marry for ten years. I met my wife in high school. She, you know, when I was a junior in high school … We’ve known each other for 14 years. For literally, like … I’ve known her almost longer than I’ve been alive. Or twice as long, right? Or whatever. Longer than I haven’t. But she, me and her, we communicate a lot. I found that communication is absolutely, it’s the root of everything. If there’s one thing that we’ve noticed is that when you text people, it is so hard to truly understand the tone of the voice, the cadence, the how someone’s feeling. I don’t think that texting is a super natural way to communicate. So, what we try to do is we try to limit the amount of texting we do when we’re on the road and just keep it to small talk, and just find a time to talk on the phone, you know?
[038:00] Ultimately, even if it’s a couple of seconds or a minute or something, just to hear someone’s tone of voice and to hear what they’re going through and to understand, I think that saves a lot of arguments. That saves a lot of miscommunications. And then, you know, with kids, one of the things that’s critical is like, I always realize, if I get home and my kids ask me, “Where were you?” then I’ve already failed, right? Like, they should know where I am, and they should know, because I should be actively engaged in making them feel a part of the experience. So, when I was in India, I’m taking pictures of monkeys and snakes and I’m sending it to my son and I’m sending him videos so he can be excited about what I’m doing, because that’s what he loves. He loves animals. And I’m making sure that I’m doing my best to keep cell service when I can, or I have a satellite phone so that I can make a call when I’m out of service, right? And just check in. I mean, those things, they’re expensive at times, but I think that they’re worth it for keeping the family engaged. I love being able to feel in some way like they’re involved. It’s not really about, so much, bringing toys back or bringing gifts back. I think allowing them to feel like they were on that journey with you in some way is really important. So, for me, those are usually kind of my go-to things that I really try to do. It’s not always perfect, and it’s still really hard, but that makes a big difference to me.
RB: And as it is right now, do you have a good balance here? Do you have a goal where next year you want to travel a little less? Or everything is-
CB: Oh yeah!
RB: Oh yeah, it is a goal!
CB: I mean, yes. This year I want to travel way less. I’m trying to just only take on the jobs that I really am excited about doing. I’m trying to be a lot more conscious about what I say yes to. And ultimately, you know, I started the year off at home. I was home through Christmas and the holidays. I’m home until next Monday, and then I have to take off for a period of time.
[040:00] But yeah, I mean, that’s the goal. I want to spend more time with the family, and I think that if I lock down some family trips, it really helps me to keep that schedule open. The tendency, and I’m sure for you too is as an entrepreneur, it’s like you just want to fill up any holes in your schedule with work, because that’s how you make a living. I’m kind of the same way. It’s like, I want to stay busy, because … But I’ve realized that in staying busy and being busy, it’s not, like, a badge of honor. It doesn’t really do anything for you. Being busy just means you don’t have time for the things you want to do, you know?
RB: It’s a mindset thing. It really is. I was having this conversation with a happiness researcher the other day that I’m going to have on the podcast in a couple weeks.
CB: Cool! Wow.
RB: We were talking about the idea of happiness and the importance of resting, and how that is such a huge component. That’s one of the things that’s been scientifically proven, that if you don’t rest and restore, your ability to feel joyful and happy about the little things in life, it becomes much harder. So then I was saying something, I said, “I know I really deserve to rest, because I did this and that, and I had a thousand retreats this year, and travel,” and then he said, “Well right there, that whole idea is what’s wrong with Western society, is that we have to deserve to take a break. Like, we have to work really hard, and then we allow ourselves to be home and do nothing, or rest.” But, it’s actually human nature that we should rest, because it’s part of being human. We don’t have to deserve it, we just can rest because we want to. That was a big eye opener for me, because I always feel like, “Oh, I can take a break, I deserve one because I have to work really hard first,” but it doesn’t have to be that way.
CB: Yeah. Do you find that you still have that challenge of learning when to say no and when to say yes? Have you been able to create better boundaries with yourself about accepting work and turning down work and stuff like that?
[042:00] RB: I mean, it’s so hard. I have to say, since having the baby, and simply because traveling with the baby is not something that I want to do a lot (laugh).
CB: No! So hard.
RB: I find myself saying no more. Yes. And people told me, “Oh, it’s so easy to travel with her, especially when she’s little.” It’s horrible! It’s horrifying! It’s the worst.
RB: I don’t know why people would tell me that! Do you guys travel with the boys a lot too?
CB: Sometimes. You know, it was easier with one, but even one was not easy at all. Two becomes, like, really challenging.
CB: We’re lucky because they’re getting to that age where it’s easier. But it’s so funny. Like, you know, growing up I just … I don’t think that I had as much … I didn’t have an understanding at all. I grew up and I’d fly on planes and I’d see these moms on planes, or dads, or single parents … You’re just kind of annoyed. You’re like, “Oh man, that baby’s crying in the back of the plane.” And then I had my own kids, and I was like, “I have so much respect for any man or woman who has a child on a plane, at all.” I just, like, my utmost sympathy. Take my seat, whatever you need.
CB: Because once you know what that’s like, you’re like, “Oh! Oh gosh, I’m so sorry.” And it totally changes your perspective, because you know that you can have, an amazing baby who’s just, like, totally peaceful and may just be having a bad day, and planes really affect them, you know? That’s a hard thing to deal with sometimes. So, I don’t know …
RB: Yes. I don’t know how people do it. I follow some people on social media who travel with babies, and that’s just what they do, like, traveling families and stuff.
[044:00] RB: To me, that seems like the hardest endeavor of all, actually. So I know, I know, this has affected everything for me. How I plan out my business and my work and trips, all of this, because I want to be home with the baby, as much as possible.
CB: Right, no, totally!
RB: Until she can communicate with me if she’s upset and not scream for 12 hours straight on a cross Atlantic flight.
CB: Yes, right.
RB: It’s just not worth it.
CB: It’s such a hard … It’s so, it’s so true. It’s so hard, you know? But it’s one of the beautiful things that we kind of get to learn, how to manage, you know? It teaches us a lot about ourselves as well. I feel like having a kid, that’s been a huge eye opener for me. It’s changed the way that I view everything. So, I’m sure that for you it’s also helped you evolve as a person as well?
RB: Oh it is, it is. I find that I tried to really take the learning from the hardest things. I feel like she shows me every area where I’m lacking, where I struggle, little personality traits that I have that are difficult. She pushes all those buttons so that I can learn how to become a better person. I really think that that’s what it is. Parenting, it’s just evolving into something even greater, I think.
RB: I want to ask another question that someone sent in through social media, and this is, I think, maybe will spark a bigger conversation, I don’t know how much time we have, but about nature preservation and activism, which I know is something that you’re super passionate about.
CB: Absolutely, absolutely, yeah. That’s a great question.
[046:00] RB: Specifically … Yes, I mean, someone, or a few people wrote in about the national monuments in Utah that were reduced by the President of the United States just, I don’t know, a couple of months.
RB: Which is the largest rollback of federal land protection ever to happen in the history of your country.
RB: I guess the question is, what can a normal, regular person, maybe who isn’t a politician, who maybe doesn’t even have the ability to travel a lot, what can we as regular human beings and citizens do to help protect Mother Earth? I mean, wherever we live. It doesn’t have to be specific to Utah and the U.S.
CB: That’s a great question and, you know, it’s something I’ve put a lot of thought into. I guess the way I see the whole Bears Ears National Monument situation is in many ways it’s kind of a cautionary tale, because what’s done is done, and at this point, I guess, for me I’m, you know, I think that in some way trying to fight against what already happened is probably not-
RB: And what happened there? So for anyone who is listening that doesn’t know. Because this is a big deal.
CB: I mean, essentially … Yeah, it’s a really big deal. Essentially, President Obama, a couple of years ago, he turned this really really large area – and I’m just summarizing here – they turned this really large area in southern Utah into a national monument. By giving it national monument status, it protects it from certain things. But at the same time, it also limits certain things that can be done. It’s a really complicated issue, because there’s certain aspects where, you know, some of the towns near this national monument, they kind of started to really deplete and die off because there’s certain activities that couldn’t go on there. So it effects people living there.
[048:00] But then at the same time, it protects these places from potential drilling and from potentially having their resources used and sold off, and stuff like that. I’m just summarizing. But ultimately, I think the key thing is that it’s really to me about what the indigenous people wanted most, what they were lobbying for. The tribes, they came together to protect Bears Ears. This was their hope, that it would stay as a national monument. This, basically, is the first time … the Antiquities Act was designed to allow places to be put under protection, and this was the first time that it’s ever been used to actually remove a national monument status.
So, people on both sides of the coin are really in an uproar because some people feel like it’s illegal, some people feel like it’s not. It’s definitely something that people haven’t experienced before, because this has never been done. And it’s a really complicated issue because the thing is that the hardest part of it is that it sort of forces people to rely on good faith that if it’s a national monument or it isn’t, if it stayed as it was, this beautiful, open-access area to everybody, that would be great. But the fear is that since it’s not a national monument anymore, that basically that this land is going to be subdivided and sold off to the highest bidder, and that could be used for mining or oil or something along those lines. And that is kind of, essentially, what I think might happen. It’s a really big fear for everybody, and it’s a really scary scenario.
[050:00] To me, I guess I’ve tried to look at this as like … I personally, as an everyday human who just really tried to leverage my voice on social media, I think that in many ways it’s an eye-opener, because I knew about Bears Ears for years. I knew about it from climbing out there. It’s a really beautiful, special area, and there’s a lot of people that knew about it. One of the things that’s kind of blown my mind is that in the last, you know, few months … six months, there’s been a huge rally around Bears Ears. Huge support. Everybody’s, you know, “Go to Bears Ears, go to Bears Ears, protect Bears Ears.” You know, where was that support two years ago? You know? I feel like in some way we missed our opportunity to share with the world how beautiful this place was, and by doing so, we didn’t gather the support we needed.
This kind of bring me to … I’m just trying to provoke thoughts here, that social media has this amazing tool to enable us to share with people places that we love, and places that we fear losing, right? But at the same time, if we’re always so busy protecting places for our own use, and not sharing them, then they can be put into a situation where maybe we want more people to know about these places. Maybe we want their stories to be told. So, for me, I guess I’ve always tried to use social media as a way … I don’t really want to be the person, ever, to tell people what to vote for, to tell people what they should care about. That’s not my place. I’d rather share with you what I fear losing and what I love most, in hopes that you will go and experience yourself and form your own opinion. I think that that’s one of the best ways conservation can really work.
Because here’s the harsh reality is that as much as you want to talk about climate change, as much as you want to talk about glaciers melting, and I’ve seen it first hand. It’s absolutely … It makes me, like, weep inside. It’s terrible. There are kids in rural Africa and people in China who are never going to care about things like that they’re never going to experience, never going to see, right? And I’m just being honest. You can’t force people to care about things that they aren’t going to experience.
[052:00] So why are we talking about things like climate change and how it affects the glaciers, when that’s creating, politically, more of a wall than a bridge, right? It’s not uniting us. It’s dividing it. So, when I think about climate change, I think about what effects everybody globally? You know, smog and polluted water and the air we breathe. That’s the thing that everybody universally can really relate to. So I think that I just want to find ways to create more bridges and less wells, and ultimately unite both sides by speaking a language we both understand.
I think when it comes to Bears Ears, I would just hope that in the future when there’s that place that you care about and you love, but you want people to support and rally behind, I think the effort should be made a long time ago. I think that it’s a little bit of a bummer because had we of had the support we needed, we might not be in this situation. And had more people known about it, we might not have been in this situation. But it’s that classic thing where, you know, you don’t want places to get overcrowded or overused. But at the same time, you can’t expect people to care about a place, to want to preserve a place that they’ve never experienced.
RB: If they don’t know it. Yeah.
RB: I know this so well. Living on a tiny island, the way I do here in Aruba, it’s something that comes up, yeah, every single week when someone asks, “So where should I go experience the most beautiful part of Aruba?” And I have my little gems that I love because they’re so quiet and because no one ever goes there. And we see it really quickly here. If there’s a deserted beach or a little quiet place, or a cave, and then it gets out that there’s a gem, and unfortunately what we see, which is super sad, is that there’s a lot of tourists that come and they will litter and leave behind plastic and it kind of creates this messy thing. So, I can understand the decision of wanting to not speak of things.
[054:00] CB: It’s a total … Yeah, you’re torn, you’re totally torn because you don’t know what to do, and you don’t know whether to share it with people or to hold it dear to your heart. I struggle with that too. One thing that they did at Bears Ears was there’s a really awesome group. I’m blanking on the name … But there’s a friend of mine who put it together that they raised a Kickstarter to fund, basically, like a welcome center there, so that people that come there know how to treat it and know where to hike and where to go, because until now there’s nothing there that can educate people on how to sort of protect the land, right? This is kind of a more extreme example, but …
RB: That’s great, great point.
CB: Yeah, yeah.
RB: There was an initiative just like that that a few friends of our started here. Here we have these beautiful dunes, huge big sandy dunes that our birds come to nest there and turtles will come up to lay their eggs, and it’s a really beautiful, sacred space. Then these tourists will come up to the island and they rent ATVs, and they go across the dunes and kind of destroy these really beautiful sanctuaries for animals.
CB: (groan) Wow.
RB: And there’s a lot of anger in the community. “Why are these people coming here and doing this?” And then, you know, people don’t know!
RB: There’s no information anywhere. There’s no sign, there’s no information center about how to behave in these sort of protected areas. So now they created them, and now people know. It created a really big, you know, with that information we can really make that change. Because I don’t think anyone sets out to be an asshole, you know?
CB: Right! I totally agree. And that’s the hardest thing is, like, you can’t blame people for things they don’t know. I’ve been in that situation. I’ve been in your shows and I’ve been the asshole. I’ve been in both. I think this is why, for all of us, we should strive to be a traveler and not a tourist. Somebody that comes to places with respect for the land. And it’s okay to make mistakes! But, ultimately, the goal is you should do your best to learn what you can do to just be more efficient in the future, to be kind of a greater steward of the landscape.
[056:00] And so I had to learn the hard way, many times, and it’s kind of like where I’m at in my career now I’m really trying to do a better job.
RB: Mmm, I love that. “Be a traveler, not a tourist.” That’s a great … You should trademark that! That would make an awesome t-shirt! (laugh)
CB: (laugh) Yeah.
RB: “Not a tourist.” I love that! Okay, I’m going to end with a really hard question. Or I think it’s a really hard question.
CB: Oh! Okay, okay …
RB: But I love it. Let’s see. So, your all-time favorite photograph you’ve ever taken. So, if you would imagine a scenario where all the hard drives you own, all the discs, all the clouds, all the storage of every photo you’ve ever taken, everything would go up into smoke and you could only rescue one photograph, what would it be?
CB: You know, it’s funny. I feel like in many ways it has to be just this one picture, just because as much as I love all of the others … When people always ask me, “What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken?” I’m usually like, “It was the last one I took! Because it’s the one that is the most visceral to me. The one that’s the most, like, real, you know? It’s the one that I feel the most.”
CB: But the reality is if I had to choose one, there is an image that I shot in Alaska, remote Alaska, and I fell in love with this location. I think what made it such a valuable photo, it’s a picture of a surfer on a wave, and there’s a big, massive, perfect volcano on it behind him. The juxtaposition of the two, you know, you have this beautiful wave and this huge volcano, and you can tell it’s somewhere remote and really out there, right? I mean that … That, to me, is like, it’s the perfect photograph. It sums up everything I love about the natural world and my affinity for surfing.
[058:00] But, it’s how it came together. The amount of research. The years and years of research and trying to get to these remote islands, and finally finding access. We found a guy who was willing to let us stay in his house there. We rented the plane that got us there. We got this island, and it was, like, I never felt more harsh conditions. More brutal winds in my entire life. Ultimately we sat through one of the biggest storms ever. It’s called the Aleutian Islands, these islands off the coast of Alaska. This place has been given the name “The Cradle of Storms,” because it, literally, like you’d hold your baby, it cradles storms. It holds them in and doesn’t let them go! So it is known for having about as bad of conditions as you can get. When I was researching it, you know, we couldn’t really find any beautiful photos of volcanos or beaches. It was like 50 shades of grey. Just fog and, you know, just rain.
When we arrived there I was really worried that we weren’t going to see anything. We weren’t even going to see the sun. We had this one morning it was so clear and frost was outside. It was beautiful. It was a beautiful morning and I’ll never forget it. Getting to the beach, I just, I still can’t forget that feeling of seeing the clouds part and this volcano just come out. It was like I knew, right at that moment, I was like, “This is why we go through all of this. I don’t even care what photograph I get today.” Just being able to see that and know that it’s there gave me so much hope and fulfillment. I guess I think that that photograph, to me, as a photographer, as a creative … even as a yoga teacher, you experience this, it is really hard to feel validated in your work. It’s hard, for any creative, especially younger ones, to feel that, like, pat on the back, you know?
[060:00] I’ve learned that you can’t rely on other people to give that to you. You have to get to that place where the photographs and the work that you do, it gives you the validation you need. That was one of those moments where I was, like, “Alright, this is it. This is the validation that I needed. I know that I’m doing the right thing, because this wouldn’t have presented itself to me, or to anybody, without the effort or the energy that I put in. This is a vision worth savoring.” So that photograph, it just sums it up. It’s everything, and I really love it. So, yeah.
RB: Oooooo. I have to see this photograph!! (laugh)
CB: I’ll send it to you! 100%
RB: I’m picturing it in my mind. Send it to me, and then I’ll use it to post on social media when the podcast is up. That would be such a perfect loop.
CB: That would be so cool. It’s so great to chat with you. Thank you so much for taking the time. I know you’re busy and you have a lot going on. It’s a real honor to be a part of this, just to watch your progression. I remember, you know, those years ago being in that class with you, just in awe of how well thought out of a teacher you were. Now to kind of see you embark on this, it’s really cool storytelling. It’s one of the best things that we can pass on. So I’m grateful to be a part of this podcast.
RB: Thank you so much, Chris.
Photography: Chris Burkard
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