Olav Zipser spearheaded the freefly revolution of the early 1990s. He, along with a group of jumpers known as the Freefly Clowns, pioneered head-down skydiving and freeflying as we know it today. 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
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.
Jump Philosophy: Always do your risk calculations.
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 Canopy: 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
USPA License: D-11733
Championships and Records: Multi-time national and world champion in freefly and freestyle. Numerous freefly records.
Total Number of Jumps: 22,750
Sky High Fashion photo shoots: 150
Balloon Jumps: 40
Total Number of Cutaways: 22
Are you a neat packer or a trash packer?
Would you rather swoop or land on an accuracy tuffet?
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.
How long do you plan on skydiving?
[I’ll] freefly forever, as long as it will give me the feeling of freedom.
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.
What do you like least about the sport?
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.
How did you become interested in skydiving?
[I was] looking for the freedom to express myself.
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 the 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 most embarrassing moment at a drop zone?
Missing a load during competition.
Someday I am going to own …
A FreeFly Astronaut Bio-Mechanical Flex-Wing Space Activity Suit.
The toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving is:
Survive all the time.
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?
I helped to inspire people’s [belief] that they could fly in the air. I believe that before, they thought they were falling. Inspiring pure, human-body free flight.
While in freefall, what has been your strangest thought?
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 best skydiving moment?
Seeing with my own eyes the vast empty space in front, above and below—all around me—while freeflying from the stratosphere.
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?
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 do motivate yourself to skydive year after year?
I appreciate the feedback from my students. It makes me happy, and I like to see them improve and succeed, especially when they become world champions!
How has head-down flying progressed in the past 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.
Do you have any idea of how many record jumps you’ve been on?
Many, starting from the first 2-way freefly, the first three-point 10-way ... and so on to the 108-way freefly world record. But in the early times, it was not official. But I’m happy with not counting [them]. It’s not about being a part of records for me.
Explain Olav Zipser in five words or fewer:
Freeflies his mind.