The culture of skydiving attracts an eclectic group of people and for me, some of those people stand out by character, resume and history. I recently met a couple that fascinated me because of their longevity and passion for the sport. They are Gerry and Debbie Harper and they are the DZO’s of Canada’s, Skydive Vancouver.
Gerry and Debbie are still very active skydivers and involved in running their drop zone. Their enthusiasm after all of these years of skydiving was inspiring as many people get burned out, stop jumping because of relationships or just lose their zest for the sport and the people. And not only do they have the enthusiasm, they have grand goals of keeping their drop zone open in Canada even though there are many challenges to face.
So I sat down and asked them some questions:
Gerry: Christchurch, New Zealand on May 20th, 1967
Debbie: Lynden, Washington on June 17th, 1974
What inspired you to make your first skydive?
Gerry: Doesn’t every kid want to skydive?!
Debbie: It was something that had always intrigued me while I was growing up. In my travels I met a fellow who just started and was so excited, he told me where I could go.
What keeps you motivated to stay in skydiving?
Gerry: It’s simple. I still love it! One of our instructor’s once said, ‘As long as we keep jumping, we’ll stay young.’
Debbie: I think this is such an exciting time in our sport. I look at what the freefliers are doing and I am in awe! It’s challenging and inspiring. AND, I get to play in the sky with my husband and son everyday.
How did you two meet?
Debbie: I met Gerald [Gerry] when I went to make my first jump and he was my instructor. The rest is the age-old story! We lived together for several years then married in 1983.
What has been your proudest moment in skydiving?
Gerry: Representing my country (Canada and New Zealand) at World Meets! We won the Canadian Nationals in 1971 for Style and Accuracy, and I represented New Zealand in 1970, 1972 and 1974.
Debbie: My proudest moment is when my dad came out to the DZ for the first time to watch me skydive. He came out only after I had a couple hundred jumps. By then, he knew he wasn’t going to talk me out of it. I was so proud when he watched me! (I landed in the ditch!)
He offered to buy me a new jumpsuit. I guess he didn’t like the one I had, or thought it might improve my accuracy!
Biggest accomplishment in the sport?
Gerry: Winning Gold in the Canadian Nationals!
Debbie: Getting the 30 way Color Concepts (organized by Roger Ponce) over downtown Vancouver in 1995.
Who was your skydiving mentor?
Gerald was mentored by Jimmy Lowe. We both thought very highly of Jim and considered him a friend.
When did you open the DZ?
We took over Abbotsford in 1977 in western Canada and is called, Skydive Vancouver.
What inspired you to take on the challenge of opening a skydiving center?
Abbotsford has been a drop zone since the 1950’s. Gerald and his friend, Rod Bishop, Canadian Team Member, were training students in the late 1970’s and grew into taking it over.
What’s a cool fact about Skydive Vancouver?
The first US/Canadian Nationals were held here in 1961 or 1962.
In the past, skydivers always leased property to use for jumping, when this property came up for sale, the jumpers organized to buy the land before a blueberry farmer did.
What is your season? And what do you do in the off-season?
We consider our season to be March through October, although we often jump in February and December.
Having slow time in the winter allows us to work the airplanes and getting gear ready for the next season.
In the off-season, we like to take some time off- like going to the Puerto Escondido Boogie over New Years. Nothing hard core, just fun.
You had stated that skydiving is fun, but what about being a DZO?
It has its moments. We may write a book....if we ever had time!
What was it like when your son, Jess first started jumping?
Gerry: I never questioned it. He has always been capable.
Debbie: Jess was determined to skydive from an early age. We ignored his requests because he was so young. However, he started asking questions to other Instructors. When they told us what was happening we knew we couldn't ignore him much longer. He did a Tandem at 8, Static Line at 16, then AFF.
I knew it was inevitable that he would be a skydiver, but I never wanted him to run a DZ and I pushed him to get an education. He got a diploma in Mechanical Engineering, but he has been working at the DZ since he finished school. There was probably never any way of stopping him. Now he is my boss!
Advice to new jumpers?
Gerry: Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Debbie: Slow is fast.
Advice to not-so-new jumpers?
Gerry: Complacency kills. Stay vigilant.
Debbie: Remember why you got into this sport: because it is fun!
Gerry: We have seen a lot of DZs close for various reasons. We have to operate commercially in Canada, which has overburdened many small operators financially and created a paperwork load that many find overwhelming. Some have lost location due to building etc. We want to keep skydiving alive, available, safe and fun in the Lower Mainland.
Debbie: To make more fun jumps and learn from the kids.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Gerry: I am happy to be jumping my Stiletto 120 and square reserve and not my 28' C9 and my unmodified 24' twill reserve!
Debbie: I feel so very fortunate to have met and so many wonderful people in this sport. People I meet when I travel to other DZs and skydivers that come to our DZ; people that have become lifelong friends and people I met just yesterday. Customers who make 1 jump and skydivers I have learned from, some more experienced and some less experienced than me. Everyone adds a piece to the puzzle.