- Written by Ben Jacklet
- Category: Mountain Characters
- Published: January 08, 2014
Now that the snow is finally piling up on Mount Hood, Grant Myrdal is back doing his thing, riding the first lift up, scouting out the prime powder, setting up his gear, and shooting action photos of all of us. It’s quite a gig for anyone, but a surfer from South Africa who grew up with no snow? How did that happen?
Grant Myrdal was born and raised in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, just down the road from Jeffreys Bay, one of the best surfing spots in the world. His claim to fame as a surfer is that he won the Billabong J-Bay Surf Classic in 1987. What that means is that the top surfers in the world converged on his hometown, and Grant beat all of them.
"It really went my way," he remembers. "I got good waves and beat all the stars."
Grant is 47 now, but he still carries himself very much like an athlete, with his lean, rangy build and his ruddy complexion. He also has a lively sense of humor and excellent story-telling skills, as I learned recently when I sat down with him over a beer at the Alpenstube, to get the story on what brought him from J-Bay to Mount Hood.
The story starts with Grant and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Michal getting restless in South Africa and deciding to set out and see the world. Grant had graduated at 21 with a Master's in Urban Planning and gone straight to work, and he did not love his job. So they left.
The plan was to travel for two years, but they were having too much fun to stop.
"We would run out of money and find a way to make money, and just keep going," Grant says. "We spent about six years backpacking around the world. We did two year-long overland trips through Central America with our surfboards in an old VW bus that we bought in San Francisco. When we found a place with good surfing we would string up the hammocks on the beach, just chill for like three weeks, and then we would pack back up and drive a few hundred miles down the coast...
"We wanted to go to South America from Panama, but there is a lot of jungle there, and we would have had to ferry the car into Bolivia, and there was a civil war there. People warned us not to do that. So we just chilled at Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica on the Caribbean side. We spent like 4 months camping right on the beach, surfing every day, eating coconuts, living the life."
Unfortunately a life like that can't last forever. Eventually Grant and Michal found themselves stranded in the U.S. with no green cards and no desire to return to South Africa. The good news was that Michal got a job, managing a 35-horse equestrian facility, which allowed them to stay on. The bad news was that her job was in North Salem, New York.
After roaming the world with total freedom, including two seasons shredding Utah powder in Park City (pro surfers tend to pick up snowboarding pretty quickly), Grant was now trapped in a suburban east coast world of crappy snow and crappy waves. He hurt his back on the ice and temporarily gave up snowboarding. His immigration status was floating in limbo because of the U.S. government's clamp-down following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Even though Grant and Michal were married now, they had to wait on citizenship as "resident aliens."
"We couldn’t leave the country to travel because if you leave, you can’t come back," he says. "You can’t start a business, you can’t buy a house, you are basically in limbo."
This was when Grant began to pursue photography professionally. Before he left South Africa to travel, a friend had given him an old manual-wind-up Olympus camera. He taught himself as he traveled, developed his skills and honed his style. Traveling to Hawaii, he started landing photo shoots with top pros. He got published in all of the top surfing mags, and decided to give the New York gallery scene a try.
"I got up enough courage to take my portfolio down to New York City without any leads at all," he says, "just hit the pavement and knocked on doors, went into galleries, said 'this is what I do.' Some of them were real snobby. But one woman, her son was a surfer and she ran a real swanky gallery in Soho. I ended up doing four shows there."
They stayed in New York for nine years, got their papers in order, and decided to move out west, someplace good for horses and the outdoor lifestyle. After hearing good things about Bend, Oregon, they loaded their horses into a trailer and moved there sight unseen. Bend has been their home since 2005.
Grant liked Oregon so much that he convinced one of his New York buddies, Alex Nekrasov, to move out. Some time later, Alex told him about a colleague who was looking for a photographer to do a day-shoot of her whole family enjoying Mount Hood for a birthday celebration. Grant took the job and spent a day in April 2009 enjoying Mt. Hood Meadows with this family, capturing all sorts of action shots and family portraits. He was all set to collect his check and hit the road when he finally learned who it was that he had spent the day photographing.
It was the Drake family, as in Mt. Hood Meadows CEO Mathew Drake and about 20 other family members who had gathered to celebrate the 83rd birthday of Franklin Drake, the pioneer who first earned the permit to build a resort on the east side of Mount Hood. Grant laughs as he recalls the moment when this key information finally dawned on him.
"So this guy is telling me, yeah, I’ve been to your website, I love your photography, I really appreciate the way you treated my family. And I still don't know who he is. And then he says, Well I’m Mathew Drake. That’s my dad who you photographed. He started the resort and now I’m the CEO. And I’m just sitting there thinking, is this a job interview that I didn’t plan for today?"
During the course of that conversation, Matthew Drake proposed that Grant set up a business at the resort to photograph guests on a commission deal with Meadows. That was the beginning of a collaboration between Grant Myrdal Photography and Mt. Hood Meadows that continues to this day.
The business has expanded into the windsurfing and kiteboarding scene at Hood River, and Grant is employing four photographers on the mountain this season: Bob Stawicki, Kristen Randolph, Dylan Newman, and Patti Newman. They shoot hundreds if not thousands of images daily, load them up as quickly as possible and offer them for sale through the recently redesigned website, grantmyrdal.com. Grant also offers Mountain Photo Workshops every now and then at Meadows. The first workshop is scheduled for tomorrow, January 11.
Shooting, downloading and editing all of those images keeps Grant extremely busy, especially since he also works plenty with Michal keeping the horses healthy and happy in Bend. But he is also finding time to get back into the artistic side of things. The local gallery Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River is planning to host an exhibition of Grant's work in November 2014.
More on that later. For now, here is a slideshow of some photos Grant Myrdal has shot over the years at Meadows. As you can see, he has an excellent eye for composition, and a knack for capturing moments of bliss.
Images by Grant Myrdal