How Christa Funk went from Colorado to the Coast Guard to be one of Pipeline’s best water photographers.
Within five minutes of meeting Christa Funk, I throw a glass of water right in her face. The photographer had just arrived in Hossegor around 10.30 in the evening, after a 30-hour journey from her home on the North Shore of Oahu. As a guest and ambassador of Db, the Norwegian luggage brand, she may have expected a less wet, and more warm, welcome.
Now look, I’m not an animal, the glass of water was a third full. And when Christa had sat down at the table with six of us, I had explained that we were playing the Water-in-the-face-game*. I mean, forewarned is forearmed and all that.
Funk wore the water well; with grace, humour, poise, and positioning. Perhaps that is unsurprising, they are just four elements that have helped the ex-Coast Guard Officer and marine biologist become one of the best water photographers at Pipeline. Sophie Everard’s piece on Christa’s life and art is a great look into her unique backstory. But just how did Funk, born and raised in landlocked Colorado, become able to sit in the perfect place at Pipeline? Well, after she dried her face, she told us.
Learning The Art Of Photography
“After a teacher lent me a camera when I was 13, I was hooked. My dad brought me a Canon Rebel 2000 on eBay and I started high school photography class in my freshman year. I shot for the school newspaper, and I learned all the aspects of Photoshop and InDesign. I was drawn to sports and I loved being right near the action in football or soccer, amongst the sweat and smells. Later at the Coast Guard Academy, I did a film and digital photography course, and it felt so good to have art in my life.
Knowing the rules of photography was a benefit when it came to shooting water. I think that gave me a different perspective and a great foundation that I could build on.”
Being a Good Swimmer Helps
“I swam competitively from the age of 7 to 22. There was the discipline side to it, which I enjoyed, and the fitness aspect which I still love. However just knowing that in almost every difficult situation in the ocean, the answer was to swim out of it, gave me confidence. Swimming is what I’d always done and been pretty good at. “
Learning To Surf In Hawaii
I started surfing and bodysurfing in Hawaii. So I had a crash course in the ocean, and it was straight to the advanced class. I was surfing with experienced guys who took me out in solid Hawaiian conditions. I’d hit Sunset and I had to learn quickly how to handle myself and not panic in situations that my inexperience had got me into. Later bodysurfing and shooting at Pipe, that baptism of fire became useful.
Making Pipe My Happy Place
I remember the first day I swam at small Pipe. Work had been really, really difficult, but as soon as I left the land, my entire focus shifted. It was complete tunnel vision as you have no option but to be immersed in the environment. After that first session, I said to myself “I’m going to get hooked on this.’”
Listening to The OGs
Just by swimming and bodysurfing I met some great photographers and friends. Kenji Croman showed me how to use a water housing and took me out for my first session at Pipe. He was so generous with his knowledge. I started shooting with Flynn Novak. He opened up and started talking more about Pipe. It’s just a thing where you don’t hand off information for free because it takes so many years to figure some of those things out. By asking questions and listening to OGs and lifeguards too, I tried to absorb as much of their stories and experiences as I could. Then, obviously, you are on your own.”
Every Swell, Every Time
Every time Pipe broke and I had time, I would bodysurf or shoot it. I started off on the small days and just progressed up to the biggest days. I learned the contours of the shallow reef, and how the water moved off the deep sections and swirled and coiled on the shallow coral. Lineup markers on land became almost second nature. I also learned that despite all that learning, a Pipeline wave could take you out in a heartbeat and that the ocean inevitably will hand you your ass.
The Pipeline Pathway
In those early days at Pipeline when I got back on land, and the adrenalin seeped away, it meant I could keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. It was so crucial at that point in my life and I was so grateful it provided a path. It has led me to where I am today… Having a complete stranger throwing water in my face after a day and a half in the saddle (laughs).
* Rules Of The Water In The Face Game
You pick a category (say surf brands, dog breeds, or colours), think of an example in your head (Billabong, Labrador, purple), and go around the table. Whoever says what you thought of gets the water in the face. If after two rounds, no one has said what you thought of, you throw the water in your own face (whilst everyone chants “In your face, In your face”).