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'Wasser Max': Cliff Diving's Underwater Cameraman

Max Struck in Mostar
Date: 04/02/2021

This must be underwater love

It all started in my early childhood. Even as a kid it was hard for anyone to get me out of the water, whether it was a bathtub or the pool in the local open-air bath. Fortunately, that hasn't changed until today. To be honest, combining my love for the water with my professional career as cameraman from Hanover, Germany, was never on my mind. Especially because I worked as camera assistant where we shot TV features about local animals, sports and newsworthy coverage.

Every now and then some of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series highlights were cut in our editing room and it happened that one of my colleagues replaced someone from the camera crew and was sent out to the world. Of course, I was a bit jealous, but I saw it as a chance for me, too. So, I started to work pretty hard and after a while my own big chance knocked on the door.

One sentence changed it all

It all started with one sentence: "We will make you the best underwater cameraman in the world!" Since there is a first time for everything in life, I bought my first wetsuit on June 9, 2015 and jumped into the cold and rough waters of the Atlantic ocean more than 1.000 kilometres away from the Portuguese mainland in the Azores a week later. I was 23 years old.

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In the Azores, where it all began for Max. Photo: Ricardo Nascimento.

Just take a deep breath and dive into the water

Most of the time my daily work feels like being in a movie. Sitting on a speed boat while it is still dark. Torches light up now and then and everybody is fully concentrated and focused on checking their own equipment. It's just the whispering of the wind and the repetitive murmur of the waves.

Something is in the air though. As it gradually gets lighter and the sun rises, busy radio communication breaks the tense silence. With a weight-belt around my waist, I grab my camera and show the rescue divers the OK sign. Fins on, we jump off the boat. As the sun rises completely, a helicopter takes off above the Italian coastal city of Polignano a Mare, Italy, and I witness and capture what gets later known as the first domino dive in cliff diving history.

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Max captures Steven LoBue in action during competition in Polignano a Mare. Photo: Ricardo Nascimento/Red Bull Content Pool.

Face to face

The moment that scared me the most during my work for the World Series started quite harmless. It was a typical day in the Mexican waters, eating tacos on a boat and watching people launching from high cliffs into the water. Immersed in my work, I had the idea of swimming closer to an island where a few animals were sunbathing. After a few meters swimming, something large swam slowly towards me and seemed to be studying me.

I was pretty aware of what was facing me – a leopard seal. It was totally clear to me that they were used to people, but such people commonly stayed on their boats and had not just eaten the best tacos of Mexico a few minutes ago. Coming this close to such an impressive mammal is totally badass and of course a bit scary as well. Especially when you can see the many teeth in its mouth and realize that they are in their element and you are just a visitor. Certainly, an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Each stop has its tests

For example, the waters around the rocks of the Azores and Beirut can be pretty rough. Swimming permanently against the Neretva river in Bosnia, where my equipment and I need to be tied down with a security rope, or to defy the cold sea water in Denmark, Wales or Ireland demands a lot. Not to forget Chile and its Lago Ranco close to the borders of Patagonia and its 8° Celsius. How long's a competition for the women and men including training dives and breaks?

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Ready for the frigid waters of Lago Ranco in Chile. Photo: Tim Ahlfeld.

In Dubai a lot of lens cleaning was part of my daily business, because a permanent film of oil was floating in the marina. Snakes in Texas, sea urchins and jellyfish also make life delicate. On the other end of the scale, nothing beats staying in the water all day long in hot and exotic places like the Philippines.

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Time for a coffee break... Photo: Tim Ahlfeld.

Wasser Max

When with the Red Bull Cliff Diving crew, I often spend several hours in the water each day - during trainings, competitions and special assignments. I'm there before the first diver and I leave long after the last diver has landed next to my lens. This adds up to a LOT of water time. Maybe that's why I go by the name of "Wasser Max", or in English "Water Max".

Enjoy some of the amazing cliff diving action captured by Max in the clip below -