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TEDActive returns for an annual binge of 'brain candy'

Even a career as glamourous as a surf photographer is in danger of becoming monotonous. Sandy beaches, sun-drenched bodies, sexy swell — it all has the potential to morph and blur into sameness.

Even a career as glamourous as a surf photographer is in danger of becoming monotonous.

Sandy beaches, sun-drenched bodies, sexy swell — it all has the potential to morph and blur into sameness.

Chris Burkard, one of the legends behind the lens, who dreamed of becoming a surf photographer ever since he was a boy flipping through the pages of surf magazines, didn't want a good career of the ordinary; he wanted to find and capture the extraordinary. He wanted what he calls "a fulfilled career."

So, he started to look beyond the obvious. Far beyond.

He found the extraordinary in far-flung regions over the world where surfers, and surf photographers, rarely dare. Norway. Iceland. Alaska. These mystical, fearsome, uninhabited homes of icy glacial waters.

"I had to push through some of those elements that made me fear these places and what made me scared and what made me go into the unknown," he says. "Because I was a young kid from central California and I wasn't built for these conditions.

"It was through a lot of suffering and pain that I found what I was looking for, which was a fulfilled career."

Next week Burkard is taking the stage at the TED conference in Vancouver to deliver the talk of a lifetime. His talk, as with all TED talks, will be simulcast at the TEDActive conference in Whistler — "little TED," if you will. There is also the chance for members of the public to hear the talks at the Whistler Public Library (see below).

Cheeying Ho, executive director for the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, which is co-hosting the public screening at the library, calls the TED talks "brain candy."

"It's not necessarily on-the-ground action," said Ho. "It's the ability to think big."

The talks foster thought, inspire greatness, challenge beliefs. And often, they're just really interesting and cool stories.

This is TED's second year in Canada, having moved here from Long Beach (TED) and Palm Springs (TEDActive) last year.

"It is so significant for Canada to be chosen to host this event," says Trent Yeo, who is travelling to Whistler from Queenstown, New Zealand for the second year in a row for TEDActive. Whistler is close to home for Yeo, though it's on the other side of the world. He is director of ZipTrek Queenstown, a company with roots in Whistler.

"TED is one of the biggest movements of our time," adds Yeo. "It represents the meaningful potential of the Internet, the diversity and cross-disciplinary approach of the future, and goes far beyond Technology, Entertainment and Design from which it came 31 years ago. The influence of the people at this event is as big as it gets in the intellectual world."

That billing doesn't set Burkard's nerves on edge. He's no stranger to the stage; sharing his photos and his stories is part of his life's passion.

His last public appearance in Whistler was during the 2013 Pro Photographer Showdown. That year he won the People's Choice award.

This, he knows, is a whole new ballgame.

"I love telling stories; that's what I got into photography for," he said. "So this is the ultimate storytelling opportunity.

The stories on the TED stage

The TED talks are the public face of TED, the invitation-only annual event committed to the idea of having "ideas worth spreading."

The name itself has grown into an almost larger-than-life brand. There is a dizzying array of TED offshoots — TEDGlobal. TED Fellows. TEDMED. TEDWomen. The TED Prize. TEDx.

But for the masses, TED is really about that illustrious main stage. Since June 2006, the talks have been offered for free online through As of November 2012 TED talks had been watched more than 1 billion times worldwide.

The top 20 TED talks are a motley crew of characters covering a variety of topics from the bold "10 things you didn't know about orgasm," to the enticing "How to spot a liar," to the honest "Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model."

In its 31 years, Nobel Prize winners have taken the stage, scientists, adventurers, musicians, politicians, models, astronauts — Bill Clinton, Bono, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall.

Don't let the names, or their titles, intimidate as you plan for 2015, the theme of which is Truth or Dare. It costs USD $8,500 to attend.

Sure, there's a roboticist, researching self-driving cars for Google, and there's an exoplanet expert "on the hunt for a twin Earth." There's also an epidemiologist, named to Time's 2009 list of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." That's just the tip of the iceberg in 2015.

Burkard knows he is in prestigious company.

He has revised his nine-minute talk about 85 times, he says.

He's putting the finishing touches on it now, perfecting it, making sure that his key message is understandable, digestible, relatable.

"It's one thing to have a good talk, but with the TED talk you're kind of reaching for a great talk," he says.

For the man who has spent his life making his career in some of the harshest conditions on the plant, this is what he said about his preparation:

"The process of working on a TED talk is gruelling. Absolutely gruelling."

As the big names take centre stage in Vancouver, the smaller TEDActive conference will come alive in Whistler.

This is how Yeo, who is a TEDActive host this year, sees it.

"...(I)magine a room fill of the most successful people in the world (TED), well, TEDActive is some of the fastest up-and-comers, some of the dreamers and a whole lot of people that make TEDx events happened around the world."

Whistler hosts the world in TEDActive

TEDActive isn't Whistler's biggest conference by any stretch of the imagination. It may, however, be its most international and the one with the most cachet.

Unlike TED in Vancouver, proclaimed from banners hung across bridges last year, Whistler's first TEDActive was a lower-key affair.

In fact, you could be forgiven for missing it altogether, tucked away as it was at the Fairmont in the Upper Village.

This year will be a little different.

The event is taking place at the conference centre in the heart of the village, its very location putting it front and centre.

Last year was deemed a success, with more than 70 countries represented in the 600 attendees.

"We moved from the warm desert to the beautiful snowy mountains," said Kelly Stoetzel, director of content for TED, of the bold move from Palm Springs to Whistler.

"There were a lot of people who had never even seen snow before, which was incredible... It was an amazing thing to be a part of their first experience with the mountains and with the snow."

The international flare lives on this year. Many of the TEDActive participants are drawn from the wider TED community, most significantly those people who organize independent TED talks in their own community through the TEDx program.

Like Ziptrek's Yeo, who organizes TEDx in Queenstown.

He is particularly pleased to be back this year, given one of the Queenstown TEDx alumni will be standing on the big TED stage — aerial videographer/BASE jumper Chuck Berry, the first man in the world to skydive using a tent. A tent!

"(It's) a proud moment to know that your community can be represented amongst the world," says Yeo of his TEDx alum. "Interestingly the talk is around Point of View (POV) cameras, and how they have shaped adventure sports. A fitting subject to those in Whistler."

Engaging the local community

There is something to be said about watching TED talks with others, even if it's not live in Vancouver but live simulcast.

Once again the Whistler Public Library is partnering with the Whistler Centre for Sustainability to simulcast the TED talks at the library. The centre also organized Whistler's first TEDx event during the 2010 Olympic Games.

"For us this is a great opportunity that they're allowing non-profit organizations to livestream it," says Ho.

After the Thursday session from 2:15 to 4 p.m., the centre will hold an hour-long dialogue to talk about the ideas.

"Sometimes your brain gets full of these ideas... and you have to let them out," says Ho.

The session is open to all members of the public.

Last year local resident Bonnie Munster bought the TED package to live stream the talks in her living room, inviting friends and neighbours to come by and soak it all in.

"It's more engaging," she says. "It's more inspiring when you've got a group of people and you can talk about it."

The community, she adds, should be involved; this is a prime opportunity for Whistler and the resources that are on hand this week are so valuable — some of the top thinkers and doers in the world are on the resort's doorstep, ready and willing to share their ideas.

It provides, says Munster, an invaluable interconnectedness with the rest of the world, not to mention a chance to expand the mind.

She adds: "I think we want to be a part of that."

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