Going Where the Action Is

This article published in the Lake Oswego Review .  

For action photographers like Lake Oswego resident Jason Murray, riding a jet ski in high surf while carrying 20 pounds of camera gear always includes the risk of capsizing and being hit by other watercraft and surfers. So sometimes, Murray will use a small boat instead.
But there are never any guarantees that all will go as planned, Murray says — like the time his boat engine stalled at a major surfing competition while 5,000 spectators looked on.

Murray was driving his ’78 Robalo in 6-to-8-foot seas, filming a surf contest in California in 2002, when the engine on the boat stalled. That sent Murray and his one additional crewmember into a scramble to avoid injury to themselves or the surfers. All turned out well, but the resulting video has become a YouTube classic (search for “Boat Stalls in Surf” by War79Swift).

For a man who loves his work and enjoys being outside, it was just another day at the office.
“Any day, I would chose outdoor adventure or action,” Murray says. “I like being in the elements. Shooting in more sterile environments, on a set or in a more controlled environment, I tend to not be as challenged. When you are out in the environment, there is a myriad of elements that you can’t control, and that makes it more exciting. You work with ambient light, work more on the fly. Creatively, it’s more stimulating for me.”

Murray, who moved to Lake Oswego in 2013 with his wife, Malia, and sons Kai and Quinn, has worked as editor in chief for Nike Better World, digital marketing manager for Nike Football, photo editor for Surfer Magazine and director of photography for Quiksilver. His jobs have taken him around the world, to places such as Indonesia, Tahiti and South Africa.  He has a graduate degree in Applied Economics from the University of California at Santa Cruz, but says his photography skills are self-taught.

“I learned a lot on the job during my editorial years at Surfer, being around the best in the business,” he says. “I was also passionate and very much entrenched in the subjects I focused on: surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. A familiarity with the subject matter was key to a shorter learning curve.”

David Pu’u, one of Murray’s colleagues and a renowned sports photographer in his own right, says he recalls working Murray at Mavericks, where monster waves crash into the northern California coast.  “It was a pretty epic day,” he says. “Surfers told me that the day was historic, because it was the largest, cleanest, heaviest surf ever for a paddle in a competitive event. It figures that both Jason and I were there. He’s a super low-key guy. You have to want to listen when working under him, because he is just not going to tell you what to do. I owe Jason a lot with my own career.”

Murray’s photos have been widely published in print and online, for media outlets including Surfer Magazine, Men’s Journal and ESPN.  His work can be viewed online at photomurray.com. Recently, he took a break from his busy life to talk about his career, his family and his move to Lake Oswego.

Q: You had a successful freelance career in California. What brought you to Oregon?
A: I came to Lake Oswego because of Nike.  The opportunity to work on a bigger stage was something I couldn’t pass up, so my family and I relocated from San Clemente.  I had a few friends that I had met through Nike who showed me around Lake Oswego and shared the virtues of living here with a family. It seemed like a good place to be with the schools, the community and the proximity to Portland.  The lake was a huge factor. Our family has lived most of our lives in close proximity to a large body of water, and that was critical to our sanity.

Q: What else do you love about Lake Oswego?
A: I love the fact that Tryon Creek is in my backyard. I spend a lot of time hiking there.  The proximity to Mt. Hood is an incredible thing. I’ve been up to the mountain more days that I want to admit this year. I think Lake Oswego is a nice balance between a small town and a large urban area. It’s like the best of both worlds.

Q: You have two children who attend Forest Hills Elementary, your youngest son in Kindergarten and your oldest son in second grade. How do you maintain a career and also be deeply involved in the life of your children?
A: I love the family aspect of Lake Oswego. I feel like the values here are great values with which to raise kids. The schools are great; the class size is relatively manageable.  I walk my kids to school, and that is incredible. I volunteer in my kids’ classrooms. I’ve been fortunate enough to coach my sons’ little league and soccer. That is amazing. It’s fun to be around them and get to know their friends.

Kristin Peterson, a second-grade teacher at Forest Hills, says Murray has been “a present and visible dad these past two years. Last year, the kids had a fun run in the spring and he was there with his big camera taking action shots of all the kiddos. When I asked him for a few photos to share with the kids, it wasn’t a few — it was his entire file with all his edited pictures.

“The first day of school is always a special day," Peterson says, “and every year I take photos of each of my students to commemorate the event. This year, I emailed Jason before school even started to see if he would come and take photos of my students. Later that week, he sent me 27 beautiful portraits, capturing each of their personalities and their best smile, which can be hard to do.  Those portraits are displayed in our class all year long. It's nice to have each kid feel a sense of belonging, like their class is their home, and Jason's photos helped me to accomplish that.”

Q: You’re no longer working for Nike, so what are you doing now?
A: I’m consulting on a variety of creative projects in marketing and communications and working with a clothing company called Depactus, which makes clothing for fishermen, surfers and people who paddle. I’m also a co-producer of Epicurrence, a gathering of 70 creatives that was like a TEDx conference on a beach in Hawaii. We spent four days on the North Shore, discussing the state of the creative, getting inspired, teaching people to surf. It was a chance to reconnect with your peers in an area outside of your work environment.

Beyond his family and his love of the snow and surf, Jason is nurturing another large project.  He is developing and directing a feature documentary film on big-wave surfing with the company Brain Farm. The movie will star Shane Dorian, Greg Long and Mark Healey.

PJ Clark lives in Lake Oswego, where she likes to talk to strangers, collect bruises, eat chocolate, fall off things and write. Her “In Real Life” column about interesting people in Lake Oswego appears monthly in The Review.