Growing up, photographer for The North Face Chris Burkard had one lasting dream: to explore the world. With a fiery drive and camera in hand, Burkard made his dream a reality. Now, Chris is writing a book to inspire kids to do the same.
Part One – Becoming An Explorer
My whole career has been devoted to chasing distant shores and exploring the most remote corners of the globe. There’s something about those far away places that haven’t been explored or experienced, something about how the same ocean that I see from home stretches to these other unknown places. I’ve been fortunate to see my dreams fulfilled, but life didn’t start out that way.
Growing up, all I knew was what was close to my house. For me, distant shores just meant whatever stretch lay around the next bend of the California coast. And that was enough to entice me to get out and explore. As a kid I was intrigued by the small things. That was what really moved me.
I grew up on the central coast, so some of my primary adventures were to nearby national parks. We would pile in the car and head a few hours to Yosemite or Big Sur for a family campout or hike. I remember being about 10 years old and my grandpa taking me to Yellowstone. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate it. I remember thinking, “Yeah, I’ll sit in the back and eat candy.”
But those trips became something that really defined me. Those experiences always stuck with me because I didn’t have to go far off the road to be deep in nature. Some of my greatest adventures were 15 or 20 minutes off the road. All it took was exploring–really looking around me to see things that I would normally have just taken for granted. And this type of exploring is available to everyone everywhere. I witnessed a lot of beauty around me, and knew there was more out there. The trick then became, how was I going to keep exploring?
When I was 19, I had a job at a little magazine kiosk. I would flip through books and surf magazines all day, daydreaming of setting foot on in those far away lands and hear the sound of those distant crashing waves. I thought that surrounding myself with photographs of wild places would help me make it a priority to get there. But no matter how hard I thought I wanted to see the world, the reality was I had never left the country or even owned a passport. Ultimately I realized that job was just a form of torture and flipping pages wasn’t bringing me any closer to any of those places.
So I quit my job. Intrigued by being out at sunrise and out at sunset, I spent my time capturing beautiful moments with a camera. I then spent time interning to pursue landscape photography. I developed a passion for landscapes and especially night photography. But landscapes alone were very competitive and hard to be recognized. So I decided to combine it with something I knew. I began to bring surfing and landscapes together, and determined that was where I would start my niche.
One trip that stands out in my mind was my first adventure overseas to Dubai. My parents were nervous. But it was the trip I had to do for me. And I’m glad I did. Being able to see different cultures, the way they interact, the way they care for each other and how compassionate they were to me as a traveler in need… that’s what it was all about. There was something about being in a place so different than what I was used to that made me look at my life and identify the things that I needed. Being in the previously unknown helped me realize unknown things about myself. In fact, it was after that trip that I came home and asked my beautiful wife to marry me. We’ve been married ever since and now have two beautiful sons, who I hope become explorers themselves someday.
Chris Burkard Photography
Part Two – Why Kids Should Explore
It’s important for kids to explore, simply put, because exploring is at the center of everything we do in life. I believe that life is all about positive change, and change can only occur from new experiences. The very definition of exploring is to travel through the unknown in order to learn or discover something new. Kids are exploring constantly. Everything is unknown and new to a curious child. As adults, I find that we put all these ideas and concepts on exploration. When you’re a kid, everything you do is an exploration. You’re constantly learning and growing. As adults, exploring is a way for us to be little children again. This means getting used to the feeling of being outside of our comfort zone.
We don’t go through life just to make money, eat food, get old and then die. We go through life to feel real joy. It’s paramount to get outside of our comfort zones and experience and see new things. That is the whole point of exploration. I’ve realized that adventures are relative. Adventures are out there for everyone. You just have to get of your comfort zone, no matter your age.
As kids, we experience everything and we don’t really know the difference between the journey and the destination. Somewhere along the line we forget that the search is the reward. We forget how important it is to never stop being curious, to never stop asking questions and to never stop exploring.
Never stop exploring. I’ve worked with The North Face for a number of years. They outfitted us for one our first trips to Iceland. Actually, it was that gear that enabled us to go and survive that trip. I also was fortunate to direct their recent spot, Your Land. So I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time now. In my opinion, they’ve always embodied that tagline, Never Stop Exploring. And what I find so refreshing is that they stand behind that message—one of the best messages you could ever give your children—to never lose your sense of wonder, your curiosity, or your zest for life.
Kids should be taught to have an open mind and not be afraid of the unknown. Having kids, I’ve started to realize that those are the types of lessons I want to pass on. I don’t want to pass on some inherent fear of the unknown. I want to pass on this idea of being courageous and exploring and going boldly.
Illustrations for The Boy Who Spoke To The Earth by David McClellan
Part Three – A New Children’s Book
To cultivate a true appreciation for wild places, we can’t simply daydream about them. We have to get out there and go. We have to actively seek the places that bring us happiness, near and far. For me, my new children’s book is a way to cumulate all the knowledge and all the experience that I’ve learned into one, simple solitary idea.
The Boy Who Spoke to the Earth is about the journey of a young boy who speaks to the earth,and the Earth speaks back. The boy goes on to ask the Earth, “Where can I find happiness?” The Earth decides to take the boy to some of the places he’s the most proud of, but the boy finds happiness much harder to discover than he had expected.
I wrote this book for my sons. I want to pass on to them the things that I’ve learned as I have explored and discovered the world. Its not a book about traveling. For me, there’s a difference between traveling and exploring. When you explore, there is an element of having no set course. You’re fueled by curiosity and wonder. Exploring is a mind set. And it’s all about where that mindset takes you. Exploration is a search for happiness. But it’s not necessarily about going somewhere. Exploring means being open to new experiences, not being afraid, and gaining perspective on how you take in the world around you. It means taking things in, not letting things just pass you by. This book is a reminder for children never to forget that.
This book is meant for people of all ages. Anyone who has an inkling to explore and see the world will hopefully find inspiration in these pages. The main idea is to find joy in your own journey of life. If you can find that—enjoyment through the ups and the downs of everything we see and everything we experience in life—I promise you’ll be happier.
Want to help Chris inspire kids to be explorers? Visit the Kickstarter page for The Boy Who Spoke to the Earth at http://kck.st/1Bx88fo. Dreamling Books is offering free trip for a parent and their kid to either Yosemite, Zion or Yellowstone National Park for those who qualify within the first 2,500 backers of their project, and a trip to Iceland for those who qualify within the first 5,000 backers. Click here to learn more.
Article by Chris Burkard
Feature image credit: David McClellan