Once a week, for the next five weeks, SURFING will bring you the stories behind each of our senior staff photographers’ careers. From where they started to where they are today. They all got their foot into the surf industry’s door the old school way, before Baby Cobras (consider yourself lucky). And to show each tale, ten self-captioned photos are provided for your viewing pleasure.
Week two: From working for the NOAA to becoming a SURFING staff photographer, North Carolina’s DJ Struntz talks through the past ten years of his life.
2003: AI & Kelly // This was my first season on the North Shore. Straight into the frying pan. I started off at Eddie Rothman's house shooting portraits of Makua and ended up extending the trip to shoot the "Showdown." Somehow after pacing the beach all day I lucked into this intensely personal moment when Kelly told AI "I love you."
2004: Benny Bourgeois, Dominican Republic // Chasing swells in the Caribbean is kind of like dating for most guys—expect the worst and hope for the best. Every once and a while it all comes together. Benny B has been a close friend and prize pony since the beginning. He really helped me get my start.
2005: Bocas del Torro // Just a sleepy little surf town full of expats and hippies. One of my last trips on film and one of my first trips with a Hobgood. Those guys helped shape my career and have become two of my closest friends.
2006: A.I. P-Pass // Fresh off a world title victory. The best surfing I have ever witnessed in person, my only wish is that Kelly would have followed through and showed up. A.I. was surfing like a man possessed.
2007: Camp Hobgood // My friendship with the Hobgoods landed me a gig at Globe and here's an example of the payoff when surfer and photog have a great relationship and trust each other. The surf was tiny but Damo (and C.J.) trusted my enthusiasm to shoot a different perspective. I'll never forget the twins busting their ass to try and help me capture my vision of underwater action.
2008: Skeleton Bay // I spent twenty one groundhog days in the desert sharing a bed with Evan Slater, watching and waiting for this wave to come to life. But oh the payoff when it did. Ten hours of gorging on perfection beyond our wildest dreams.
2009: Julian Wilson, Bocas del Torro, Panama // I saw the swell coming two days before we were supposed to arrive so I begged, pleaded and cajoled and in the end convinced Julian to come early. But evidently the weather was listening cause it came too. In the midst of the rainsqualls we charged a raging ocean with a drunken boat captain and lucked into this little gem of a slab. After one hour and it mushed out, but for that hour it was amazing.
2010: Joe G and company contemplating the forest, France // I pretty much devoted sixteen months to documenting the Year Zero project all over the globe. France was the icing on the cake: perfect waves, perfect food, perfect wine and perfect company.
2011: Dane Reynolds, Japan // We definitely went "Big in Japan." I always wanted to go there and couldn't have asked for a better crew. We scored perfect waves and ate more sushi than is politically correct.
2012: Dion Agius, Wadi Wave Pool, Abu Dhabi, UAE // Not often in my career have I been denied even knowing where my destination was to be, but so implicit is my trust in Joe G that when he called and asked to book me a ticket to "Destination Unknown" I didn't even question. Did you know that wave pools could be tortured by wind? Neither did we, but we learned fast and thankfully had a week to work out all the little nuances. When the time came the Eastern Bloc frolicked in the shallows and Dion was able to surf above and beyond any level he had ever surfed before.
DJ: In 2000 I was working as a scientist for the National Institute of Standards and Technology and NOAA in Charleston, South Carolina. Before I went to graduate school I took a surf trip with some friends to Mexico and shot photos when I wasn’t surfing. After the trip I did a slideshow party and my friends were all really excited about my photos. That got me interested in shooting.
I started contacting magazines, just bombarding photo editors with questions. I moved to Wrightsville Beach and there was this whole crew of sponsored guys that took me under their wing. I would go shoot them when the waves got good. Right around that time I met Aaron Chang, who was pretty inspiring and got me really motivated to shoot while working on my graduate degree in biology. Flame got more and more interested and then Steve Sherman gave me my first color spread in Transworld. Soon after that Pete (Taras) became Photo Editor at Transworld and was like, “Hey can you get some East Coast surfers and do a trip to Nicaragua?” It hadn’t been done for a while with modern surfers and Pete said he would pay for me to do the trip. I called him back in 20 minutes with the whole thing laid out. Flame, who I love to death, was a really competitive human and as soon as that feature came out he offered me a job as a staff photographer at SURFING in 2003. And I’ve been at SURFING ever since.
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