From Baghdad to the Beach
With Wandering Surfer Studios, Marine veteran Jason Shanahan finds his way to a career and place he loves.
Jason Shanahan grew up in Frederick, Maryland, and wanted to serve his country. So, as soon as he could do so after finishing high school, he joined the Marines.
He was three days away from officially graduating at the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina. His drill instructor entered the room where a group of enlistees were gathered, planning their participation in what promised to be an upbeat ceremony.
“Put the TV on,” the sergeant said. “We’re getting ready for war.”
Together, the young Marines watched the twin towers fall in Manhattan. The date was September 11, 2001.
Talk about a life-changing moment.
That unforgettable day put Shanahan on an unlikely journey: a winding road from the war in Iraq to a college degree, a shrimp farm in Texas and eventually a move to Brunswick County, where he operates his professional photography business, Wandering Surfer Studios.
Reflecting back on his reaction to the events of 9/11, Shanahan recalled that he felt no hesitation about doing his duty.
“I was young, able and ready to go,” he says. “No wife or children. I’m 18 years old. It’s an attack on U.S. soil.”
He was among the first Marines sent to Kuwait and on to Baghdad as a specialist technician. His specific expertise couldn’t be more crucial: obtaining, organizing and outfitting munitions as part of what’s now called the 2nd Marines Logistics Group based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The group’s motto: “You will never fight alone.”
It’s a motto that Shanahan took to heart. When you’re outfitting combat troops, there’s no margin for error, no batting average that’s acceptable except elusive perfection. Soldiers can die and the enemy wins when a round doesn’t fire or larger munitions don’t operate correctly.
“I was fortunate,” he says. “I lost only one friend and was injured just once. It wasn’t a battlefield injury, though it was in a war zone.”
Shanahan smiles slightly when he describes how he hurt his back loading a truck. After eight years, multiple deployments and promotion to sergeant, he decided not to re-enlist for a third tour. “I felt I had done my share,” he says.
Like many veterans, he found civilian life was a difficult adjustment. He says he was used to the military way of doing things. The high expectations he had for himself and others didn’t always translate.
His first stop was New York. He thought his skills might fit private companies involved in demolition, but he couldn’t break into the small, closed circle of such firms. Instead, he went back to college. At the University of Maryland, he earned a degree in environmental management. “I’ve always kind of connected to the Earth,” he says. “Plus, it obviously was an emerging field.”
At Maryland, he met one of the founders of Global Blue Technologies, a state-of-the-art shrimp farm near Corpus Christi, Texas. “It was the world’s first recirculating aquaculture system,” he says. “We raised the shrimp from eggs in 32, 850,000-gallon shrimp tanks.”
Hurricane Harvey nearly destroyed the business in 2017, and shortly after Shanahan left for Reno, Nevada, and a job at a water treatment plant. In Reno, he remained restless and made a radical decision to turn a hobby passion into a profession.
“My old career was a decent one and I made a good living,” he writes on his website, “but I just didn’t feel the desire to get up every day and go to work, so I started thinking about what really makes me happy.”
Shanahan left Reno with his dog, Vann, an abandoned canine he adopted in Texas and named after a species of shrimp raised at the farm. He pointed his rented trailer east until they stopped in North Myrtle Beach, where family members had retired or were planning retirement.
Wandering Surfer Studios was born a few months later. Today, he lives in Supply and most of his clients are in North Carolina.
Much of Shanahan’s work involves networking with Realtors in both states on property photography that includes aerial drone photos of beach properties. He also does wedding, family and portrait photography while welcoming opportunities to show his artistic, creative side with landscape and nature photos.
The Marine training to maintain high standards and pay attention to detail has stayed with him. He’s no fly-by-night drone photographer. He’s fully certified by the FAA to fly drones. He also won’t use Photoshop or other editing software to put people into photos who weren’t present, and he doesn’t change images to cross the ethical line that separates artistic creativity from fakery.
Even when the stakes of his missions aren’t as high, you can tell Shanahan wants to do things right.
About Wandering Surfer Studios
Founder-Owner: Jason Shanahan, Supply, North Carolina
What They Do: Business and personal photography, with an emphasis on real estate listing photos, drone photography, wedding photos, family photos and individual portraits. Other creative photo services available.
Contact Information: wanderingsurfer.com or (843) 303-3883.