In the space of 10 years, Elliot Byrd has risen from an enthusiastic A-license holder to winning gold at the 2021 World Meet in Russia – and he’s checked off a hefty list of goals in the process.
Elliot owns Byrd’s Eye Studio with his wife and teammate, Lauren; flew for her team in the 2018 World Meet and 2019 World Cup; and won 4-way and 8-way at the USPA Nationals in 2019. Elliot has been propelled by good, old fashioned hard work and determination – virtues we hold dear – and it’s a beautiful thing to see that it’s paid off.
We are pleased to have Elliot as a member of the SSK family, and happy to support him alongside his other sponsors, including Sun Path Products, Performance Designs, LiquidSky Sports, Cookie Composites, Hypoxic, and in-house favorites LB Altimeters and CYPRES.
Raised in Vermont, Elliot spent his high school years in Connecticut (skydiving for the first time on graduation day) before heading to the University of Colorado, Boulder where he earned his degree in Psychology.
Just 30 minutes from both the slopes and Mile-Hi Skydiving Center, Elliot skydived in warm weather and skied in cold. It was the perfect home-away-from-home playground, but finding a job in his field proved challenging. When his brother offered him a marketing job at a tech startup in North Carolina, he took it.
It was a decision that would change the course of his life in profound ways.
Finding His Feet
Upon settling into his new home state, he found himself a new home DZ: Triangle Skydiving Center. Through sweet serendipity, on his first day of refresher ground school he met Lauren who, three years on, became his fiance.
Their engagement was significant and high stakes in more ways than the obvious happily-ever-after one. He proposed at the 2013 USPA Nationals where Lauren was going out for her first big comp as part of an 8-way team and Elliot was shooting his first-ever dedicated video for a 4-way team.
The pressure was high, and the results were stellar all the way around – Lauren said yes, her team was first in the 8-Way Intermediate, and Elliot took the leap into what became his career.
Prior to Nationals, Elliot was your average fun jumper with a GoPro on his head, capturing sky-high sickness and sharing his cuts. After a whole lot of trial and error, though, he’d found his groove, finessed his style, and started getting noticed. Agreeing to the gig at Nationals had been a gamble worth taking. Before long Elliot was in demand and, in time, his hobby became his livelihood.
In 2016, Lauren had seized a rare opportunity to form an all-female 4-Way team — Phoenix XP — to compete at Nationals, and Elliot was to be their camera flyer. Committed to giving it their all, Lauren and Elliot quit their day jobs and moved to Raeford, NC to settle into a 24/7/365 life in skydiving. They worked at Paraclete, trained with Phoenix XP, and established their own business, Byrd’s Eye Studio.
Their risks were rewarded. Phoenix XP qualified to represent the US at the 2017 Nationals at Skydive Perris and went on to take fourth at the 2018 World Meet in Australia and bronze at the 2019 World Cup at Skydive Arizona. And Elliot successfully created a niche business disseminating close-to-live coverage from comps and events – a model that would serve to advance the sport while increasing his visibility.
And Then: 2020
As is everyone’s 2020 story, all plans were dashed.
Elliot’s new 8-Way team, Airspeed XP8 – which is jointly supported by Skydive Paraclete and Skydive Arizona – was to compete in the 2020 World Meet in Russia after winning the Nationals in 2019 under Paraclete XP. They trained hard before having to take time off for “the curve to flatten”, and optimistically resumed gunning for Worlds six weeks later.
Despite the comp being postponed by a year, the team continued traveling between NC and AZ in order to sustain their level of preparedness. As we know now, the choice to keep grinding was right on. They went into the 2021 Worlds tied for top ranking with Russia and France, and ultimately won by one point to bring home that good-good gold.
Making It Count
Never a pair to rest on their laurels, the Byrds made some 2020-edition lemonade. They maximized their time in quarantine by chewing on some ideas that proved mighty fruitful.
Elliot recognized that there’s no guidance “out there” on how to build a camera helmet. So, he partnered with Cookie Composites, LB Altimeters, Liquid Sky Sports, Hypoxic, The Ranch PROshop and Schier Concepts to raffle a fully-loaded, custom-built helmet … and then film the build from scratch. Proceeds from the raffle were donated to Liquid Sky, who were producing COVID masks for essential workers.
Later, Elliot accepted a marketing position at Skydive Midwest that started in October, and the couple put down new roots in Wisconsin. Bonus: they’ll no longer have to travel cross country in order to train with their open level 4-Way team, Skydive Midwest NEXT.
Onward & Upward
Elliot’s spirit of entrepreneurship has no quit. The response to his helmet build crystallized an idea he’d been kicking around in his head: a camera school.
Typically, camera flyers learn by spending time with peers at their local dropzone, watching videos from their idols (in Elliot’s case – Keith Creedy, Norman Kent, Raymond Adams, Ryan Patrick, Mike Brewer and James Kunze), and by pure trial and error. Often, novice flyers inadvertently buy the wrong gear or software and do things the hard way – and even in an unnecessarily dangerous way – before they figure it all out. There has to be a better option …
Over the next several months, Elliot will develop discipline-specific curricula and, before 2022 comes to a close, begin implementing hands-on training from their new home base in Wisconsin. The goal is to create courses as meaningful and widely respected as those offered by Flight-1 and, ultimately, produce qualified and equipped camera flyers who equally value process and safety in their pursuit of a high caliber product.
If the past bears any clues to the future, Elliot is going to smash it.
To Those On The Rise
Elliot has learned a lot in his 10 years in the sky that he knows will help those coming up behind him, including:
Consistently jumping with gear on your head can be hard on your body. Keep your core and your back strong so you wear your rig; it doesn’t wear you!
- Pace Yourself
Remember, camera flyers jump all day in order to catch the action – and then edit and label for hours afterwards in order to keep it. If it can wait til tomorrow, prioritize rest.
- Weigh Need Against Want
It’s tempting to buy gear before your skill level will let you even use it. And when you’ve got it all, it’s tempting to bring it all up with you! Jump with what you need and no more.
- Be A Jack of All Trades
The sickest aspect of camera flying is getting into the nitty gritty with amazing flyers across all skydiving disciplines. Try them all and keep things fresh.
- Follow Through
Be intentional when setting expectations. If you commit to delivering a body of work by a certain date, stick to it. Period.
Elliot, you’re a beast! We commend your professionalism and your commitment to excellence, and we are proud to have you on Team #SSKInc. Go forth and conquer, dude – blue skies!