What's a man going to do once he's done with the surf mags? Find war!
The first time I saw DJ Struntz was in Fiji almost ten years ago. While I was carried by natives of the Mamanuca island chain to the beach (my feet are soft and who knows what is buried in the shallows), DJ was emerging from the deep with great lacerations to his thigh.
For DJ, real name William, the ocean is his playground, his office and his supermarket. Follow djstruntz on Instagram for a montage of his life from swimming with tiger sharks to shooting Globe teamriders all over the world to spearfishing with his son.
But, time passes, of course, and eventually, all surf photographers must transition out of the surf game. As DJ surmises, “Do you chase the surf mag treadmill until it dies and you get jaded and bitter? I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t have a way out.”
As it transpires, DJ’s home in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, is surrounded by three bases for American special forces, including Delta Force’s Fort Bragg (251 square miles) and the marines’ 246-square mile Camp Lejeune.
While researching for a trip to Yemen many years ago (his first call was to BeachGrit‘s own Chas Smith!) DJ got talking to a special operations guy who’d done undercover work for the US government there. They became pals (how could he refuse!) and new pal gave DJ a fancy military first aid kit made by the company North American Rescue.
Around the traps, DJ got introduced by his new pal as the “crazy guy who went to Yemen without a gun.”
Soon, doors opened to the special forces community. DJ started to shoot photos with ’em.
“I do some crazy photo shoots with crazy guns and live fire,” says DJ. “I’m close to the muzzle of these guns when they’re firing down range. It’s loud…real loud…”
He liked it. Liked the adventure. The camaraderie.
“They appreciate the fact I don’t try to be someone I’m not,” he says. “You’re not going to win a dick measuring contest with bunch of special force guys. So you laugh at yourself and move on.”
One day DJ was looking at his medical kit and it… clicked. These things are perfect for surf travellers. Not ’cause we get belted by guns, but fin chops, car accidents, reef lacerations.
“Bleeding is bleeding, right?” says DJ.
So he cold-calls North American Rescue, the 100-million dollar company that makes the high-end kits. It’s how DJ got into the surf game. He wants to work for ’em. Wants to help ’em… grown.
Call. Call. Call.
The company is intrigued by the noted surf photographer and offers him a job as a consultant, then as full-time manager of their social channels. In one year, DJ grows their Instagram numbers from zero to almost 100k. DJ takes Facebook, with no advertising, from five thousand to twenty-one thousand likes.
How’s he do it? By story.
DJ says he’ll interview a vet and get off the phone bawling his eyes out. Like Mary Dague who lost both her arms when an IED blew up in her arms while serving in Iraq.
“Now she helps veterans who are struggling with depression,” says DJ. “She does everything in her power to show ’em there’s an alternative to eating a bullet.”
I ask DJ if being pally with special forces studs has made him think, or re-think, American foreign policy.
“Do I think our foreign policy is completely fingered?” he says. “You look at the way the (foreign policy) bus has been driven and it’s been fishtailing all over the road at the cost of so many lives. Am I a fan of the US military? Absolutely! Am I a fan of the implementation of the US military? Sometimes. But there is evil in the world. I look at ISIS and the stuff they do, they troll our feeds, and I see stuff on the feeds I follow and it makes me wanna throw up. Does it need to be stopped? Absolutely! Is the US military the best way to solve the problem? I don’t know. Maybe it would be better if it was stopped by the people who live there.”
Is all this talk of war and amputees and foreign policy making you a little blue?
Watch this! A bunch of vets raised a million-and-half dollars via crowdfunding and made this classic apocalyptic zombie movie. It even stars the double-amputee gal Mary Drague!
“She’s a scene stealer,” says DJ.