When Larry Liebler started jumping in 2009 out at Skydive San Diego (which is, to this day, one of his favorite places), it wasn’t the first time he’d been exposed to the sport. Far from it, in fact. He’d grown up in New Smyrna Beach, Florida–a hop, skip and jump from one of the nation’s most active sport dropzones. This was back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and from the public’s perspective, skydiving was foolhardy.
“It seemed like every other week there was another fatality on the front page of the newspaper. My mother said, ‘You will never do that,’” Larry laughs. “When I was in San Diego, I said, ‘You know what? It’s time. I’m just going to bite the bullet and do it.’ And it slowly just kind of morphed from there.” Today, Larry has a bit under 2,500 skydives.
That kind of mother-defying chutzpah owed to Larry’s utter burnout at the time. He was in San Diego working as the Regional Director for Fundraising Operations for Greenpeace, working 90-100 hours a week. “I was just basically living at the office,” he remembers, “And I got burned out, and I was looking for something to get me going again.”
Larry didn’t stay at Skydive San Diego for long. He nailed his AFF, got those 25 jumps and left–reassigned to another Greenpeace office in Washington D.C. Before he left, he asked his San Diego instructor where he should continue skydiving in the D.C. area. He told Larry to check out Skydive Orange, based on the criteria that “they get naked a lot.” (In fact, Skydive Orange has earned the Best Naked Dropzone award from Blue Skies Mag for several years running.)
Once Larry landed in D.C., his jumping slowed down in the face of his crazy working hours. Slowly, however, the skydiving started to take over as the priority.
“My ability to do my work in D.C. was very significantly affected by the amount of time I was taking to jump,” he laughs. “At some point, my boss at Greenpeace was like, “You know, man, I think it’s time you took a sabbatical. I was like, ‘Okay–I’ll go pack parachutes.’” He went for it, and he never came back. He immediately set about having adventures–for instance, doing his fiftieth jump to coincide with one of the last space shuttle launches ever made at Cape Canaveral (which he got to watch from the sky), and doing his hundredth jump in the skies over Amsterdam. Meanwhile, he was feverishly working towards a career in the sport.
“For several years,” Larry explains, “I was coaching and packing parachutes. I got AFF rating shortly thereafter, and then really just started flying video more than anything else. That was bread and butter for about three years. From there, I hit the road working for Icarus.”
Larry’s gig at Icarus was a dream. He was their boogie tour rep, cruising around the country pretty much full-time, from party to party, hawking demo canopies, contributing to the festive atmosphere and, of course, swooping–his favorite discipline.
“If you ask somebody, ‘Why do you skydive?’ it’s pretty much fifty-fifty down the middle: Half of the people are going to say, ‘I skydive for a freefall.’ The other half are going to say, ‘I skydive to fly my parachute.’ I am definitely in that camp. Any chance I get to go up to full altitude and pull at altitude and fly, I take. That’s what I love.” His work for Icarus, then, was a natural fit.
From 2012 to 2015–”some of the best years of [his] life”–Larry would pack his RV full of parachutes and hit the road. He’d do a circuit of all the big boogies in the country: CarolinaFest, Independence; Summerfest and everything in between.
“On the boogie circuit as a rep, it’s your job to make sure everybody’s having fun,” Larry smiles. “All the tour reps–even ones who are technically competitors–form a very tight family. We consider ourselves ‘the midnight organizers.’”
“It was really cool,” Larry muses. “I got to go back to Skydive San Diego on the boogie circuit when I hadn’t been back there since my graduation check-out jump. There I was again, but this time I was setting up the Icarus tent. It was a really interesting position to be in, talking to those new AFF students who were basically in the same position I was a few years ago. There is a level of humility in telling stories like that, but at the same time, it’s really exciting for younger jumpers to know that if you invest time into the thing you’re passionate about, you can truly do whatever you want.”
The tour schedule was rigorous, though–three weeks on the road to one week home, pretty much nonstop–and Larry wanted to re-prioritize his family. Specifically, he wanted to spend more time with his wife (who, by the way, just graduated law school, first in her class). Larry’s wife jumps, too. In fact, Larry counts his first skydive with her as his number-one favorite skydive of all time. “It was as magical as hell,” he remembers. So: After three years on the road, Larry returned to Virginia.
Luckily, Larry’s wife wasn’t the only warm welcome waiting for him with open arms. There was a job, too: as the Dropzone Manager for Skydive Orange, with which he had a long and happy history.
“Skydive Orange is a very unique beast,” Larry explains. “It’s a club-run drop zone–in fact, the largest club-run turbine dropzone in the country–and as a result of it being club-run, there’s a Board of Directors. Very shortly after I made the full time transition from my old Greenpeace job, I started living at the dropzone and got onto the Board. I did that for four years until I was away too much, on the road with Icarus, to be effective. When I left Icarus, the Board reached out to me to manage. I accepted immediately.” Larry commutes to the dropzone from his Roanoke home –three and a half hours by car from Skydive Orange–in his own little airplane.
Larry still jumps regularly, of course. He’s as passionate as the rest of the Skydive Orange staff about making every jump a landmark moment for new skydivers–and about keeping skydivers in the sport. His background, as you can imagine, makes him an especially good example.
“Stay current, Larry insists. “That’s it. Every weekend you can jump, jump. Stay current. Folks that only jump every two or three months don’t progress as quickly as others. They drop out of the sport. That was the choice that I had to make, too–It was, like, okay; where do you put the priorities? You have to make that choice early or it will make it for you. Choose the sport. It’s worth it.”
The largest tandem skydiving center near Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland.