Movie Review: Arctic Swell

Surfing the Ends of the Earth

  • Photographer Chris Burkard captures surfers who attempt to conquer the snowy mountains of the Arctic in “Arctic Swell”, a film that was shown at the 2015 edition of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Photo Chris Burkard

  • Photographer Chris Burkard captures surfers who attempt to conquer the snowy mountains of the Arctic in “Arctic Swell”, a film that was shown at the 2015 edition of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Photo Chris Burkard

  • Photographer Chris Burkard captures surfers who attempt to conquer the snowy mountains of the Arctic in “Arctic Swell”, a film that was shown at the 2015 edition of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Photo Chris Burkard

The Arctic is not only rough but magical. The film, Arctic Swell – Surfing the End of the Earth, immediately instills this sense right from the opening overhead shot of an individual carrying a surfboard through sub-zero snowy conditions.

Director Chris Burkard presented the story of Californians Chadd Konig and Patrick Millin and North Carolina’s Brett Barley during the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s World Tour stop at Concordia University last Wednesday.

“Some of these [expeditions] I go to, they feel like photographed purgatory,” Burkard says. “It feels foreign.”

Burkard goes to great lengths to capture surfers in harsh conditions that would force most people to reconsider surfing in Arctic waters. These men shred the water with wetsuits, hoods and dive boots.

With a runtime of under eight minutes, the movie shows what the Arctic will put you through if you are willing to endure an adventure on its land. Whereas you have tumbleweeds blowing across the paths in the warm desert, the Arctic will have winds blowing the snow across the visible asphalt.

Of course, there are inevitable problems in the extreme conditions in this part of the world. Before leaving to capture photographs, the team must shovel snow out of their own driveways for an hour.

Then, the surfers must walk in knee-high snow on their way to the shore. One wrong turn in the water and there is the shocking feeling of the chilly water, flooding their wetsuits.

Despite the harsh conditions, the short documentary shows the beautiful and mystical land and surroundings of the Arctic Circle where the crew set up. With the sun rising well past the mountains and the North Atlantic Sea, the video captures waves that have relaxed after windy weather, implying that the Arctic can be forgiving.

The film even captures the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, which is a natural display producing amazing colours in the sky.

Burkard makes effective use of slow motion. When the scene slows at the sight of a surfer walking in the snow, it emphasizes the tough battle he must overcome. When it slows to a surfer jumping from a wave, it highlights the unique victory.

It becomes obvious why Burkard chose to photograph and film a documentary on the Arctic. As Burkard says, photography is his release and his way of experiencing the world. His goal is to inspire people by sharing his work and he does not fail with this production.

His work also portrays the surfing community as a family. They are passionate about their sport and the shared experience draws the group closer to each other, as they come together over a campfire and sing songs.

In his narration, Burkard points out the importance of making sure the documentation is accurate and appropriate, doing justice to the surfers. For the surfers, chapped lips, cold fingers and riddled skin are all worth it, because the greatest reward is at the end of the line.

The movie has been made available by SmugMug Films, the producing company, on their YouTube channel.

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