The Mercury Marine Pro Team is rife with characters, legends, iconoclasts and trailblazers. People who redefine their specialties and bring home the hardware to prove it. But even in this matchless class, Jason Arnold stands alone.
Arnold of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, grew up as the son of a commercial fisherman in South Florida and has been in and around the water his entire life. In the mid-1990s, while still a teenager, Arnold started surfing professionally and competed for 10 years. It was an incredible journey, he said, but Father Time eventually overtakes everyone, and Arnold was wise enough to see that before an inevitable demise.
“I realized that surfing wasn't going to pay the bills at some point, and I needed to find something else to do as I was getting older,” said Arnold, now 41. “I was getting, I guess, less athletic and more cerebral about life by then. I had ended up hanging out with a lot of photographers on tour, and so I started shooting some at the same time I was competing.”
That led him to earn a degree in commercial photography, and he then went to work for Reuters news organization, followed by Getty Images – two giants in the photography world. Those jobs would take him to NASCAR races, the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl, the NHL Stanley Cup and the Olympics, among other exciting assignments. Life was good, but he was burning out after 10 years of constant travel and countless sporting events, and the water kept calling. It was about that time Arnold started doing some underwater shooting just for fun while out with his father.
“And then in the late 2000s I entered this photo contest for Sportfishing Magazine and I actually won,” he said. “The prize was like a bunch of Costa gear and some other stuff and I was like ‘can I just meet your editor-in-chief?’ I met him – it was (and still is) Doug Olander – and I told him I wanted to get into marine photography. Pretty soon he had me going on trips and shooting a bunch of stuff for them, and that's how this career kind of took off.”
Today, Arnold is a well-regarded freelancer working for all manner of marine-related entities such as Mercury, electronics companies, boat companies, and fishing and boating magazines. Naturally, his work often requires him to provide his own conveyance/shooting platform, and he has two boats: a 16-foot Hewes Bonefisher with a Mercury 115hp Pro XS for inshore and skinny water, and a 25-foot Parker with twin V6 225hp FourStroke engines for offshore work.
Photoshoots are often expensive and logistical nightmares that involve coordination of equipment, shooters, captains, models and weather. So, if a photo boat is dead in the water, it can be a massive, embarrassing problem.
“I need my stuff to run perfectly on every shoot,” Arnold said. “You know, these companies are paying for hotels and flights and all kinds of things, so I need my equipment to run flawlessly all the time. My boats, my electronics, my camera gear – everything. If I'm not shooting, if boats aren’t running, I'm not making money. And worse than that, I’m disappointing my client.
“I depend on my Mercury engines. So far they’ve run flawlessly, which is what I expect.”
Arnold and his wife, Beth, have a six-year-old son named Fin who has taken to the water just as his father did. Arnold takes Fin on shoots whenever he can, and the two spend a lot of time fishing together as well.
While this is, essentially, Arnold’s third decade-long career, he’s decidedly not feeling the itch to seek a fourth.
“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” he said. “I love it because no two days are the same. Every time I jump off the boat and go underwater, I don't know what's going to happen that day. Two days ago, I jumped out of the boat by a log way offshore, and there's like 500 mahi around it. And below the mahi there were just as many wahoo. I've been doing this a long time and I’ve never seen anything like that before.
“Yeah, you never know what you're going to see when you jump in.”