Meet Bo Bridges: Action Sports Photography’s Indiana Jones
Since my first time seeing “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” I made a decision to one day become just like Indiana Jones—traveling the globe while dodging giant rolling rocks inside tombs, decoding ancient secrets, and choosing the right cup when life depended on it.
Over my career, I studied Anthropology at the Universities, circled the globe studying a variety of cultures, and learned the ways of the traveling journalist. And it was during one of my travels, providing journalism coverage of the Burton U.S. Open of Snowboarding in the self-governing town of Vail, high up in the Colorado Rockies, where I met up with Bo Bridges—a real modern-day Indiana Jones.
If you have any interest in action sports (or you’re a Tom Cruise movie buff), chances are you’ve seen Bridges’ work in snow and surf publications—and possibly on a movie poster or billboard. And while he has become a world-renowned advertising and fine arts photographer, Bridges yearns for more, constantly following his heart into new challenges and fresh territory, which has taken him to fantastic places around the world, through dozens of countries as he chases his holy grail: capturing the spirit of each moment through his lens.
Bridges didn’t have the traditional American start in school, as his family moved from Florida to Switzerland when he was 16. “The first thing they did was take my license away, since the legal driving age in Switzerland is 18,” Bridges tells me. “My commute each way to school was two hours. I rode a Mofa moped to catch the train to Lucerne, then I’d take the fast train to Zurich where I got off in Zug. From there, I took the bus to the base of the mountain and then rode the funicular up to the top. This was my trek every day.”
His daily commute would eventually improve and it was at the American International School in Zurich, where Bridges developed a budding interest in photography.
“My ceramic teacher asked me to take his photography class,” reminisces Bridges. “I jumped in there and fell in love with the dark room process, double exposures, everything about it.”
Upon returning to the United States, Bridges attended Miami University in Ohio, initially as a sports marketing major, but ultimately talked his way into the fine arts department without a portfolio.
“I played rugby, completed my EMT certification and got a minor in marine biology,” says Bridges. “I just wanted to be outside, travel, and work outside. During my senior year, I also got my pilot’s license, thinking I might want to become a bush pilot, taking people fishing in remote places.”
With his pilot’s license and a camera, Bridges made a name for himself as an aerial photographer, composing landscapes from the sky while flying small aircraft.
“I would fly over these awesome patterns of soy and corn fields, bank the plane sideways, open the window, and shoot over my shoulder,” Bridges tells me. It only made sense that, once back home in Florida, Bridges founded his first business shooting aerial photography of prestigious waterfront homes and business.
“Then I met these girls from Vail, Colorado, who told me I should move there and shoot the action on the mountain,” he continues. “I decided to give that a try, packed up my Pathfinder, and moved to Vail on New Years Eve.”
In Vail, Bridges took work in film development where he spend 2 1/2 years honing his skills as a photographer while living out of a closet he rented for $150 per month. His first big break in the business came when he took a photograph of free skier JP Auclair that Spyder, a ski apparel company, purchased from him. Subsequently, Bridges was hired to shoot the company’s catalog in Whistler, Canada.
“While I was there shooting all these free skiers, I saw a Mountain Dew sticker on one of the guys’ equipment,” says Bridges. “I found out that Mountain Dew’s headquarters were in Connecticut, so I flew there soon after, walked right into their corporate offices and met Phil Shalala, a Principal and VP of Business Development for action sports and athletes. We became fast friends and he hired me on the spot.”
Over the next several years, Bridges photographed campaigns all over the world and with big names at the time including NASCAR racer Jeff Gordon. It wasn’t long before Bridges became a sought-after action sports photographer, traveling the world for big brands including Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Mountain Dew, NASCAR and most all surf and snow sports magazines.
And with these adventures in photography, Bridges would often find himself in remote, and sometimes, very dangerous locations.
“[Big-wave surfer] Garret McNamara invited me to Cordova, Alaska for a shoot,” says Bridges. “He didn’t explain anything, just that it was super important that I should be there—the kind of invitation I can’t resist.
“Four flights later I arrived in Cordova, but my gear didn’t make it. So with only a camera and tripod, we drove 60 miles down a dirt road to this massive ice shelf the size of Rhode Island where I met up with McNamara and Keali’i Mamala, both North Shore big-wave surfers.”
As Bridges tells it, when the ice shelf calves, massive sheets fall into the sea, producing waves. The surfers had been waiting for weeks for this to happen. In fact, they waited so long that their crew had been whittled down to a couple of completely drunken videographers and two Sea-Doo jet skis with inexperienced drivers to help with safety.
Just as Bridges set up his tripod on the shoreline the first sheet of ice calved. “We were in a position such that, if the ice tilted and fell toward us, we would have all died,” he explains. “But instead, the ice dropped straight down, sending a colossal wave that Keali’i surfed all the way down the river. I shot the entire sequence and then grabbed my things, ran and climbed back to higher ground. Three more waves came through annihilating the shoreline that I was on—I barely survived.”
Bridges’ photography of Keali’i went viral around the world through editorial.
Along with his success, Bridges relocated to Manhattan Beach and opened a gallery.
“I realized that we were constantly traveling to exotic locations to shoot action sports,” explains Bridges. “And if I just turned around, I could shoot these beautiful landscapes from all over the world.”
It was a paradigm that changed Bridges’ life. His galleries became a big source of income as people began purchasing large format prints for their homes and businesses. With his talents in advertising and fine arts working for him symbiotically, Bridges opened another gallery back in Vail.
Nowadays, Bridges’ work is on display throughout the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Vail Valley.
“They purchased a ton of large format landscape artwork I created based on all the seasons,” says Bridges.
One day, Bridges got a call to travel to Morocco and shoot a stunt with Tom Cruise for the “Mission Impossible” movie franchise. After seeing Bridges’ first shots, Cruise invited him to stay for several weeks and continue photographing stunts.
“I have mad respect for Tom,” says Bridges. “He was riding motorcycles, racing cars and hanging on the outside of an airplane; doing all of his own stunts.”
Throughout the production, Bridges traveled extensively with Cruise and filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk.
“We were in London and Tom was hanging outside of an airplane for this scene,” tells Bridges. “I shot from the ground, but Tom and I decided it would look better from the sky, so he got me a helicopter. Those shots looked good, but we decided it would be better if I was hung out the window of the same airplane Tom was on and captured that close-up vertigo perspective.”
At over 200 mph, a harnessed Bridges was dangling outside the window of an Airbus A400M Grizzly plane that cost $50,000 per hour to operate; flying over London with Cruise harnessed and hanging onto the side of the plane.
“It was 30 degrees outside and the wind was causing my eyelids to flap and fill with water,” Bridges tells me. “I just had to keep shooting in Tom’s direction and then get pulled back in the plane to check my shots. We kept circling London until I got my shots and the entire time Tom was out there trailing in the wind.”
The resulting images of Bridges’ shoots became the movie poster and billboard for “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.”
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