Adventure photographer and PUC alumnus D.J. Struntz will speak for Career Day colloquy in the PUC Church sanctuary at 10 a.m. on Thursday, March 7.
Struntz grew up in Angwin, graduated from PUC Elementary and PUC Preparatory schools, and graduated from PUC in 1997 with a degree in biology. He worked as a research biologist after college and planned to spend his career in marine mammal research.
However, his life took a surprisingly different turn and Struntz left his work as a research biologist to become a staff photographer for Surfing Magazine. In this new line of work, Struntz traveled the world and photographed every major surfer in the industry. His photos have been featured on CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC and CBS.
He explains becoming a photographer happened accidentally. “I was going on a surf trip with friends and took a camera for giggles and shot a photo an East Coast regional surf magazine ended up running,” said Struntz. “Eventually I started sending slides after cold calling surf magazine photo editors. Six months later I had a job offer.”
Struntz says his small-town upbringing set the tone for his current life. “[Angwin] was an incredible place to grow up and fostered my love for the outdoors,” says Struntz. “I have great memories all the way around. PUC was a lot of fun, going wakeboarding and waterskiing at Lake Berryessa.”
Struntz credits PUC with giving him a strong, personalized academic foundation. “I knew all of my teachers on a first-name basis. College was a very personal experience,” he says. “If I didn’t understand something, I’d walk over to my professor’s house and ask.”
Bill Hemmerlin, retired professor of chemistry, remembers those days. “D.J. was our third son. He lived right across the street,” says Hemmerlin. “He is one of the most inquisitive people I have ever known. We’re thrilled he’s coming back to talk to the students.”
After following the unpredictable and demanding career path of a surf photographer for 15 years, Struntz decided he needed a change of pace to spend more time at home with his family. He now works for the North American Rescue, a provider of medical solutions for first responders. Their products are used in situations ranging from military affairs in Afghanistan to major civilian traumas such as mass shootings.
“I get messages every week from people saying, ‘Your product saved my life.’ That’s really powerful,” said Struntz.
Although he lives life without regrets, Struntz does wish he took his faith more seriously in his early years. “Growing up Adventist, you take it for granted. In the real world, you have a different awareness and your faith is tested in a lot of different ways,” he says. “You have to sink your roots deeper in your faith and ask yourself if you are inviting God to lead you or to follow you.”
His advice to college students is to realize what truly matters. “It’s so easy to get stuck in grades and test scores,” says Struntz. “Instead of focusing on what you’re becoming, focus on who you’re becoming.”