interview / tom carey

Making a name for herself at the deadliest wave in the world, Christa Funk has become a staple face in the lineup at the world famous Pipeline. With fifteen years of competitive swimming and fresh out of the Coast Guards, she’s been logging hours upon hours honing her water photography skills around the waters of the Hawaiian Islands. In an ultra-male dominated profession it’s a breath of fresh air to come across so such a laidback, eccentric woman risking life and limb to bring us these fresh images – which, we’re sure you’ll be seeing more and more of in the near future.

State you name and where you are from and how old you are.
Christa Funk, Colorado and I’m 27. 

How did you get into surf photography?
I saw photographers in the water at Pipe and I thought, “I can do that.” I’ve swam my whole life and love being in the water. I came out here and started surfing and body surfing and I’ve always done photography so that was just like a combination of all my activities into one. So I went for it, but I tried to do it in a smart way, starting small and then building up to things.

So you were in the Coast Guards and then got stationed over here [Hawaii], is that right?
Uh huh, I went to the Coast Guard Academy for four years and then I got stationed over here. Right after I finished the Coast Guard Academy they had me on a boat for two years and then I did three years at a land unit. So I had all five years that I had to do active duty on Oahu.

So how did you get into photography before that? Were you already shooting as a hobby and how did it all cumulate into water surf photography? Was there a certain person, a surfer or a photographer, that helped you out?
I was in an eighth grade computer class and I kinda got ahead in my work and my teacher asked me if I wanted to learn Photoshop and if I wanted to borrow her film camera too and I said, “Sure.” She gave me a picture of her golden lab with a Christmas hat on and she said, “Make my lab black and white and leave the Christmas hat in color.” That’s where I started learning Photoshop and then I started taking pictures with her camera and scanning in the negatives and that really became a fun class for me because she just let me do that on the side. It was good because she let me take out an old video camera too and let me use all the old tools to do stills, so that was good.

And then you came over to Hawaii…?
Coming over to Hawaii yeah… I was always doing that kinda as a hobby, I kept doing photography from like eighth grade through high school and then college. Once I finished college I would just kinda do it every now and then. My friend, who I surfed with a bunch said, “If you like shooting pictures you should shoot after your sessions and right before the sunset. You should take a look at surf photography and maybe get into that.”            Then I started doing that and would see the guys in the water and I ended up talking to a guy who was about to swim out at Pipe, Kenji Croman, and he said, “Yeah, if you wanna do it there are not really any woman out there and going for it. And I’ll take you out to Sandy’s when you get your water housings and we’ll start there, just get in contact with me.” It was a swell in April, so it was late season already. So we went out to Sandy’s and then he coached me along and then when winter came around I started out going to Rocky Point and then he said he’d swim out with me for my first swim at Pipe. So he’s the one who taught me how to go out, how to come in – kinda the basics of it.

Tell us about being the only female photographer at Pipeline; is Pipeline your favorite wave? You seem to be out there on every swell. Is it intimidating being the only girl out there, have you caught any flack, any good or bad experiences you’d like to share with us? It definitely seems to be a male-dominated sport, please tell us a little more about that.
As far as that goes, going to the Coast Guard Academy the majority of the people there were guys so the majority of my friends ended up being guy friends. Even working in the Coast Guards I’ve always been in a very male dominated environment. So transition that to going out at Pipe, it’s that same kind of environment that I was really use to and even the humor that goes on, I’m not gonna sit there and get offended by things that get said in the water. Just as long as you go out there and you’re not cocky and rude and you position yourself well and you make an effort to not sit in front of people it’s not a super aggressive place. But if you’re cocky and rude people will call you out on it, regardless if you’re a guy or a girl. They might just say it a little nicer if you’re a girl but that’s kinda the gist of it.

Any beat-downs or anything… any bad stories or scary moments?
Oooo, yeah. One time there was a guy that was pretty close to me and we were in the zone and we had a wave come, a sneaky one, that caught us both off guard and when we were tumbling in the whitewash his body just slammed into my shoulder. I felt my shoulder go out of place. We came up and there was another one ready to land on us again and he went more to the shoulder and I didn’t want to put myself right behind him again so I went more to the worst part of it, I guess. I felt my shoulder go back into place during that part and I came up and I was so disoriented. I got washed in and I kicked over and came back out to try to shoot and I was just so out of it that I just called it a day. Evan Geiselman got hurt on that same day, it was after it happened, it was a weird session.

Tell us about your favorite photo out there, or your first published photo. Are there any other girls that shoot out there? Who are some of the other photographers you look up to and who has helped you out a lot?
Let’s see, favorite moment out there… funny enough it’s actually the guy I’m dating right now, Jake DiPaola. When we started dating he was like, “Don’t shoot pictures of me, please don’t shoot pictures of me surfing.” It was not last October but the October before and it was an early season swell and it was too big in the morning but it really turned on in the afternoon. The wave spit twice and in the pictures he’s getting spit out and he’s soul-arched and in the pictures he is just absolutely, supremely stoked on all parts of it. It was a heavy wave and being able to give that to him and watch him get that wave, it just meant so much to him. And even if he wasn’t my boyfriend I would have been so amped to give that to the surfer and have them have that memory because it was just so good. It was afternoon light too, so it kinda glowing.

Let’s see, so… other female photographers out there…? There’s Maria Fernanda, she goes out there but she’s just been injured this whole season, she busted her knee up pretty bad at Puerto Escondido and she really hasn’t been able to come out because she’s been in recovery. That’s why you may not have seen her recently. And photographer’s that have helped me out – Tony Heff has helped me out a bunch. I remember sending him my first photo submission and I look back on those and am like, “All right, yeah, I’ve made some improvements.” He would just give positive feedback like, “Hey, it’s good to see a woman doing this. Keep it up and keep working at it.” So he’s helped me out… Erik Ipple has helped me out too. He gives me shit too and that’s good to hear because sometimes that’ll get me into more challenging sections. There was that El Nino Jaws swell and I saw him in the airport and I had zero plan for how to get out and shoot that and he helped me along the way. I ended up being able to get out there both days and swim and jump on the back of skis, it was good, so that’s another person.

Ok, so you’re finished with the Coast Guards right?
Yep, finished. Finished in May.

So is this your fulltime job, shooting surfing now, or just a hobby or side project? Tell us how you support yourself.
I shoot surfing when I can and when I have the opportunity. Luckily, right now I have a part time job with a mother and daughter photography team, which I absolutely love. I edit their wedding photos and they’re really flexible when I come in. They’ve told me that when the surf is good to go shoot surfing. And then I do side projects as well – I started shooting freediving over the summer and I got the opportunity to work with Kimi Werner a bunch. So I’ve been shooting her some and doing projects with a company that she started called Keep Wild, and shooting product shots for that. It’s been a lot of fun. So there are a lot of side jobs, I’ll do real estate and kinda anything that’ll put the bills through and it’s been working for me so I don’t have any complaints.

What’s some advice you’d give to other women that are coming up shooting?
For the women, I would just say, I feel like so many other women get hung up on the fact that they are a woman. And maybe I’m gonna have a feminist throw her bra at my head for saying that, but you can’t just bogged down by that or be like, “I’m a woman doing this!” I’m not trying to sound like an asshole here but I just don’t want that to be a defining thing for me. I don’t want people to be like, “Her pictures are good for a woman out there.” But just to any woman who’s doing a male-dominated thing or who hasn’t worked in a male-dominated environment, don’t be super intimidated by it and just be relaxed and be nice to people. That’s about all, don’t be a douchebag and you’ll go places and it’ll be all right. Guys might block you and this, that and the other; just keep a good attitude…

Surf photography to me is kinda like surfing – sometimes you’re in the right spot for a wave and you’ll catch it and it’s good and sometime you’re in the right spot for a shot. And then there’s some waves you’re just not gonna catch them or you’ll have guys in front of you that’ll be hooting because they got the shot and you didn’t get it. You know, you get some and you don’t get some. Just go for it – if you wanna go do something that’s male-dominate just go for it, prepare yourself well for it and do your research and your homework – that’s all you can really do.

Do you train for shooting out here? You swim on some really big days, probably bigger days than I swim, or is it something the Coast Guard really trained you for? What was the Coast Guard like? Was it really intense and did you have train a lot and swim a lot? We see it in a bunch of movies but I’m not sure how accurate that really is…
Gosh, Coast Guard Academy – your freshman year they have you doing twenty-two credit hours but you don’t have full-time job to worry about or having a place to stay, all those kind of things are taken care of. But I was always doing swimming and always on the swim team and I really like how I feel when I’m in shape so just balancing that with school and balancing a workload and training all the time. So I did have that in my head. And when I was on a boat for two years you’d go out for three months and then you’d be in port for three months and I didn’t wanna get super out of shape on those patrols so I’d take any time I could squeeze and just go work out in the gym. It wasn’t the greatest thing but you could definitely put a workout in so I could come back and be good to go. That kinda stuck with me, I’ve always liked working out and swimming. And now to train I’ll wake up at like five in the morning and do a workout, I’ll do that for a couple days and then I’ll have a morning where I do yoga a couple days. That’s what I do now and in the summer time, being on the North Shore in the summer time when it’s flat, it’s like being in a giant lap pool. And it’s gorgeous too, so I’ll swim in the summer and run on the beach a lot too. But then in the winter I’m usually ready to shoot so I’ll do something in the morning and then I’ll either shoot or surf the rest of the day.

So you wouldn’t come out of the academy super comfortable in big surf, like ready for Pipeline, you had to train yourself for that?
Yeah, and that’s the thing, I was a competitive swimmer since like age seven through college and even that, that’s not like swimming in an ocean. Mark Spitz, after he won all his Olympic medals came out to Makapu’u and Mark Cunningham told him, “Hey, there’s a crazy current,” and just let him kinda know what was going on. He went out and then he had to get rescued by the lifeguards. And he’s a fucking Olympic swimmer, so it’s like building up that ocean knowledge and really making sure you listen to people when they talk about currents and things in different spots – that makes a big difference. Yeah and straight outta Coast Guard Academy, no fucking way I’d be able to handle any of this.

Ok, any last words? Or let end this with a better questions – what’s something that no one knows about you?
I’m gonna go kinda deep with this one. Both my parents… oh god, don’t take this as a sob story, they both had to deal with cancer. My mom got through breast cancer and one of things that’s really kinda just kept with me and really stuck with me is that she used to hate having birthdays. As she got older she just didn’t want celebrate it and acknowledge that she was getting older, and then that happen, and it became a shift in her mindset. All of sudden she was like, “I’m celebrating that I had the opportunity to be alive for another year.” And so, that’s really stuck with me, not being afraid to get older and be grateful to be given the opportunity to live. That’s something that people might not know about me.

So that’s what drives you?
Yes, definitely. That drives me. And just seeing both of my parents work so hard and that kind of mentality is something I always got to see throughout my life and I think that’s a big factor on where my drive comes from.