Kian Bourke-Steer: The Arctic Aussie

Kian Bourke-Steer: The Arctic Aussie
Image by Mark Clinton

Image by Mark Clinton

From Sydney to Lofoten, Kian Bourke-Steer shoots cover-shots for a range of surfing and bodyboarding magazines. He started to shoot pictures in Sydney, and until recently he lived in Lofoten, Norway. Safe to say his photo collection is a little more diverse than most.

Seafox, decided to catch up with Kian with a classic Q&A to discuss surf, travel and the hunt for that elusive perfect shot.

Q: Thanks for joining us Kian! How did you get into surf photography?

A: In the beginning it wasn’t so much about surfing. At the time bodyboard culture around Sydney was strong, and the heavy reefs and wedges in my local area fascinated me. It was cool, I remember I joined a bodyboarding club at some point, which was rad.

When I was around 16 I realised I was not going to be able to turn pro. From there I got my kicks from taking pictures. It was a great way for me to enjoy the lifestyle while also having a chance of making money.

In the beginning I just got a lot of point and shoot cameras

In the beginning I just got a lot of point and shoot cameras. This was an expensive process. You could only use the cameras once. The photos took a week or two to develop, and it cost about 20$ each time.  I remember the excitement every time you got them in the mail.

I was also really into videography at the time, and after finishing high school I got a 2 week internship at the bodyboarding film crew Walton Brothers. I loved that, and it was a big growing point for me. I was just chasing swells up and down the coast, taking pictures and forming relationships with surfers and bodyboarders in my local area.

A lot of the best surf photographers today come from the bodyboarding world, and I drew a lot of inspiration from them. People like Trent Mitchell and Chris Gurney taught me a lot, and gave me a lot of inspiration at the time.

A lot of the best surf photographers today come from the bodyboarding world

When I was about 19 I got my first real camera. Back in the day a good camera was really expensive, so I got a lot of help from my friends and family to be able to afford it. A good camera changed my outlook on taking pictures for sure.

Relationships are super important when it comes to the creative side of surf photography. It’s a two way street where both the surfer and the photographer has to be on point to get a specific shot. All these relationships combined with a new camera got me my first paid jobs in photography.

Relationships are super important when it comes to surf photography.

The bodyboarders around 2007-2008 were charging all the heavy reefs around and I got to document that. Then around the financial crisis, the industry crashed. It went from 6 bodyboard mags in Australia, to none today, and the livelihood for most disappeared.

Q: I have heard rumours about you swimming out at the famous spot called Ours/Cape Fear. Is this true?

Cape fear is a break that is only twenty minutes away from my house. When you´re there feel like you are in the middle of Sydney. You see the skyline in the horizon. At the same time you’re in a national park. I have seen some of Australia’s deadliest snakes there. Big sharks, whales and I believe even an orca have been known to swim there at certain times of the year. 

I have seen some of Australias deadliest snakes there

So much that goes into the wave.  It only works once or twice a year. On its day, it’s also a left. Bodyboarders have gone left there in the past. The wave breaks right from deep water onto shallow reef. The proximity to the rocks is the scariest thing about it. 

The proximity to the rocks is the scariest thing about it.

To make it out back you had to swim really quickly before the next wave hit or else you would end up on the rocks. To get in, you often needed to swim a long distance to find a suitable spot to swim in. But, it was still 10 foot waves breaking onto rock.

I have been swimming out there for some years. The first time I couldn’t sleep the night before, legs shaking. I have seen a lot go down there. People getting bad injuries, breaking backs and so forth. It shook me to the core.

I remember just before I went to live in Lofoten, there was a gigantic storm. The waves was like nothing I had ever seen before. 20-25 foot faces, offshore and sunshine.  I can´t explain how heavy it was.

Q: Do you have a favourite shot?

A: I don’t have one. That´s a good thing and a bad thing. 

It´s fun, because each time I pick up a camera I’m progressing. I always look back and I am critical. Maybe I should have done this different? Was the lens right? You are always chasing the perfect shot, but it is never perfect.

You are always chasing the perfect shot, but it´s never perfect.

I have a love for the creative side of photography. New places.  New angles. Improving old shots in places you have shot before.

I also like shooting everything, not just surfing. Water, mountains or aerials, you name it. It´s all about passion

Q: I met you here in Lofoten. How did you end up living here?

Lofoten was the first place I wanted to travel to for shooting outside Australia. I had seen pictures of how awesome it was and I knew from the start I would love it.  In June of 2016 we drove down from Tromsø in a campervan. When we first arrived in Lofoten it was mindblowing. I had never seen something so beautiful in my entire life.  

I took freelance photos for Unstad Arctic Surf for a bit when I was there, and that way i was able to extend my travels in Norway. November that year we were going back to Sydney, and as we were about to leave, I got offered a steady job at Unstad Arctic Surf.  

To be honest i did not even need to think about it and just grabbed the opportunity. I was ready, and in January I was back on a plane to Lofoten. I never looked back, until now.

The feeling of living in Lofoten is just insane

That opportunity was really unexpected, but I am so glad it happened. The feeling of living in Lofoten is just insane. For the first period of my time there I was dumbounded, and I was really privileged to call it home for a few years.


Q: How was the transition moving back to Sydney from Lofoten?

Oh yeeeez, where shall I start?!

It’s easier than I thought it would be. But I think that´s because of the stopover in Bali. Lofoten is so relaxed, but Bali is a full on place with lots of people and things going on. Relaxing in a stressful environment was a good way to transition for me.

I still haven’t fully transitioned. I´m still catching up with family and friends. It was amazing to see my nephew whom I never met before. And I went to a wedding, which was sick!

Sydney is never going to be a foreign place for me. Even though it´s the complete opposite of Lofoten, it´s still home and it´s where my family is. It feels weird to be back, suddenly having to deal with traffic is a big one. But I got to say, it´s great to be back.


Whats your plans for the future?

It´s just a few weeks since I got back, so right now I´m not putting a lot of thought into the future. First I need to settle back in.

What I am kind of picturing now is to work in multiple sectors, and take advantage of my diverse skillset. Did you know I used to work in IT development? I could be back into that for sure. 

And I like being creative. I like to tell stories. But whether that´s in a tech, media or hitting the consultant realm it doesn’t matter that much. I like working on a little bit of everything, I am just as comfortable hanging out with creatives around the world, as I am putting on a suit and going corporate. I somehow picture being the middle man between these two worlds. A project manager/photographer would be my dream job.

And of course, I would love to continue working with you guys at Arctic Coworking Lodge, I think you have something special and I'm super proud and pumped to see such motivated guys bring their idea to life.  I'll definitely be back to visit someday!

Lofoten would be glad to have you back Kian! You can catch up with Kian’s latest post on Instagram, or work with him through N&K Creative.