Christa's Happy Place

“Pipeline was an all-encompassing mini-world full of excitement, focus, and adrenalin. It was a firebreak from my life. It ended up being the pathway to a better one.” Christa Funk

Everyone has a happy place. A patch of land, sea, or mountain where everything makes sense. A geographical and emotional pin, where the past, present, and future can connect easily or meaningfully. For photographer Christa Funk, that place is Pipeline; the iconic and infamous surf spot located on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. 

Christa Joy Funk grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado. A competitive swimmer since the age of seven, she developed a passion for the ocean when the family moved for a few years to the Atlantic Coast of Delaware. During High School, she discovered and studied photography and loved how it aligned with her love of sport. 

“I liked being right in the thick of the action. I wanted my images to somehow capture the sweat and the smells; to portray that the visceral feeling I was getting,” Funk recalled. 

After High School, Funk enlisted in the Coast Guard Academy and after four years of study achieved a science degree in marine biology. Aged 22 she was posted to Oahu for five years of mandatory active duty in the Coast Guard, which included working and living on a 378-foot cutter boat for two years on patrol.  

“I had some of my best and worst life experiences in the Coast Guard. You can meet the most amazing people and the most incredible ass hats,” she chuckles. However, with her swimming and photography background, and having started bodysurfing and surfing on the Islands, her interest was inevitably drawn to the art of water and surf photography.”  “I remember the first day I swam at small Pipe. Work had been really difficult, but as soon as I left the land, my entire focus shifted,” she recalled. “It was complete tunnel vision as you have no option but to be totally immersed in the environment. After that first session, I said to myself “I’m going to get hooked on this.’”

Funk’s new addiction led her to chase every swell at Pipeline at every opportunity. As her comfort levels grew even on the biggest and gnarliest of days, the images she captured started to draw attention. The 5’3” girl from Colorado was often the first photographer out on the biggest days at Pipeline and began adding a fresh slant to the most famous and photographed, wave in surfing. 

“I learned the contours of the shallow reef, how the water moved off the deep sections and swirled and coiled on the shallow coral,” Funk said. “I could anticipate different surfer's tracks on a wave. Line-up 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 me my ass.”

Funk eventually left the Coastguard after completing her service. By that stage, her imagery from Pipeline, and other big wave spots like Jaws and Mavericks, had found an audience. Demand for other aspects of her photography including work in freediving, marine life, and lifestyle imagery meant she could work full-time on her photography.  

“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,” Funk said. “It was so crucial at that point in my life and I was so grateful it provided a path. I’ll have that deep bond with that patch of coral reef for the rest of my life.”

Words by: Ben Mondy

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