In 2017, four surfers suddenly found themselves caught in the worst storm Iceland had seen in 25 years. After capturing their life-threatening journey on camera, Chris Burkard came back to his hometown to share their story on the big screen.

An award-winning photographer and documentarist, Burkard held an exclusive screening of the documentary “Under an Arctic Sky” Feb. 21 at the Performing Arts Center (PAC).

The 39-minute documentary, which he directed, showcased what was originally meant to be a unique surfing journey in Greenland — until a dangerous storm hit the very spot where they were filming.

Burkard and his team were suddenly forced to leave the icy waters of Greenland, which led them to Iceland. There, they obtained unprecedented footage surfing underneath the northern lights. 

“If we leave our expectations at the door and open ourselves up to what nature can ultimately show us, then amazing things can happen,” Burkard said.

In addition to sharing his experiences with the world, Burkard said he also hopes others will make memorable experiences of their own in nature. This, he said, might help people appreciate the environment as much as he does.

“You can only spend so much time in nature without feeling a certain responsibility for it,” Burkard said. 

Many attendees arrived early for a chance to meet Burkard and purchase some of his signed photos and merchandise. Tickets ranged from $10 to $50 for the opportunity for a meet-and-greet with Burkard. All proceeds supported the San Luis Obispo Classical Academy (SLOCA).

“[The documentary] is dear to his heart,” SLOCA Marketing Director Betsy Ashby said. “It’s a way for him to give back to his community, while we’re giving back to ours as well.”

Burkard is a Pismo Beach native and father to two sons who attend SLOCA. Local singer and musician Inga Swearingen, also a parent of SLOCA students, opened the event.

Mechanical engineering junior Sydney Hosokawa is one of the many Cal Poly students who came to see Burkard and his documentary. 

“I’ve followed him since high school,” Hosokawa said. “I’m just super excited. I’ve always been really interested in travel and photography.”

Ashby said Burkard was especially excited to screen the film in his hometown.

“We hope that our students are inspired by [the documentary] and follow their own passions and go the extra mile to make that happen,” Ashby said.

Burkard’s upcoming projects includes a new 20-minute film featuring Elli Thor, one of the surfers in “Under an Arctic Sky.” The film was also recently accepted to the Tribeca Film Festival and will premiere in New York in April 2020.

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