Profile - Olav Zipser | D-11733

by Brian Giboney

PROFILE20156Olav Zipser, D-11733, spearheaded the freefly revolution of the early 1990s. Zipser founded the Space Games freefly competition and has earned numerous championships and records, as well as an Emmy award for his work on ESPN’s “X-Games.” He has traveled extensively for decades teaching jumpers all over the world his art of freeflying, and his students say he has a Zen-like presence in the sky.

Nickname: Father of Freefly

Age: 49 orbits of the sun

Nationality: German

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Professional freefly instructor, founder and director of the First School of Modern SkyFlying, founder of the FreeFly Astronaut Project

Life Philosophy: FreeFly your mind.

Team Name: FreeFly Clowns

Sponsors: Airtec, First School of Modern SkyFlying, Performance Designs, Larsen & Brusgaard, Rawa, TonFly, United Parachute Technologies

Container: United Parachute Technologies Vector

Main Canopies: Performance Designs Velocity 71

Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs Optimum 106

AAD: Airtec CYPRES since 1993

Home Drop Zone: Skydive Dubai in the United Arab Emirates

First Jump: AFF in 1986

Championships and Records:Multi-time national and world champion in freefly and freestyle. Numerous freefly records.

Total Number of Jumps: 22,750
Freefly: most
Camera: most
FS: 1,500
Skysurf: 200
Sky High Fashion photo shoots: 150
Wingsuit: 100
Tandem: 100
CF: 50
Demos: 50
Balloon: 40
Stratosphere: 1
BASE: 22

Total Number of Cutaways: 22

When did you start experimenting with freeflying?
In 1986, when I had 13 jumps, I moved to Florida. There I started to fly with belly groups, but soon I wanted more. I tracked [around] tropical clouds and... chased the rainbow around my shadow. This way I got to experiment with all body positions. People like John LeBlanc, Dave Rickerby and others joined me sometimes, but no one had control. I needed to find a way to teach this kind of flying.
In 1988, I was back in Germany and started a small DZ, but this was not really what I wanted, so I moved back to Florida in 1989 and really started to concentrate on my passion: to fly my way.

How did you begin developing the discipline?
In the 1990s I moved to Davis, California, and Chris Conkright asked if I’d like to go to the first freestyle competition in Florida with him as my camera flyer. At this comp I was able to show what I had learned over the years. “Freefly” was what I called it. We did the Tee and the Daffy and the other compulsory moves but for the rest of the jump, I got to do a lot of freefly moves. This, I believe, opened the eyes of the judges and officials to my style.
Later that year I started my first freefly team, the FreeFly Clowns with Mike Vail. We were joined by Omar Alhegelan, Charles Bryan and Stefania Martinengo in 1994. We [won world championships] and also made the “Freefly Chronicle” movies, which I believe inspired the world to fly as we did. In 1994, I started the First School of Modern Skyflying and trained instructors to help me with what began to be a big demand for freefly training. I made a training protocol for instructors and students and tested them on their skills with the space ball. During this time, I also put a lot of effort into traveling around the world to promote my school. In 2000, I had my dream come true when freefly (my life’s work, my baby) was made an official [skydiving discipline by the International Parachuting Commission].

Most people don't know this about me:
I jumped from the stratosphere (47,000 feet) in 1995.

Of all your skydives, does one jump stand out most?
Many were very special, but the last one is always the most important. The stratosphere jump with Patrick [de Gayardon] was the most incredible. It felt like being a private astronaut, up where there is no more air and one can see forever. It was really fantastic.

What do you like most about the sport?
The freedom to swim in the ocean of gas, the view from up there and feeling like a bird.

Who have been your skydiving mentors?
Peter Genore from Canada, Jerry Bird and, of course, all my teammates.

What are your future skydiving goals?
To develop safe return protocols, procedures and equipment for descending from true space altitudes: the FreeFly Astronaut Project

Do you have any suggestions for students?
Think before you fly, evaluate the risk and follow your artistic spirit.

What's the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?
To manipulate the air around my body so pure human flight is possible and to inspire (with help of TV, video and pictures) a world full of people to freefly. That's pretty bad ass...

If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with and where would it take place?
Fly with Elon Musk and land on Mars.

What has been your strangest thought in freefall?
That I am going to die, and that life is so, so special. We must live more in the now.

Do you have any suggestions for USPA?
Teach your AFF instructors to freefly; it will enhance the safety of all future students.

What has been your weirdest skydiving moment?
Colliding with a car at about 9,000 feet.

What has been your greatest competition moment?
[Winning the] 2001 World Air Games gold medal in freefly. It was a real satisfaction for me, personally, to see the new way of flying—freefly—become an official world sport. In the same year, Rook [Nelson] and I took gold in freestyle at the World Games in Japan.

What drives your competitive spirit?
Human nature.

You are very at peace in freefall. Is that natural, or do you teach your students mental methods to become more at peace?
For me, it feels natural to swim in the ocean of gas of our atmosphere. I teach [my students] to override instinctive human behavior that does not allow us to concentrate on flying.

How has head-down flying progressed in 25 years?
Head down is just one of the many ways to fly. To freefly is to manipulate the air around the human body, to create a harmony between the low and high pressures and to use this power to create lift to maneuver. The physical body becomes a wing. The progress I see is in the complexity of flying with a group of freeflyers and that so many people all over this planet like to express themselves with the art of human flight.

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