Photo by Czapla Photography
It’s rare to meet a professional skydiver whose childhood aspirations match their career. And, true to form, this is not one of those stories.
Elliot Byrd’s journey to camera flyer was meandering, but — when you see his work, his crystal blue eyes and huge, happy smile behind the lens — it’s clear he’s found his calling.
Catching up with Elliot is always a pleasure, and learning about his road to the sky was a privilege. Check it.
Elliot’s big brother has always been his hero. Six years younger, Elliot wanted to do everything Cam did. Cam went to boarding school, and Elliot was thrilled to share in the same experience. Cam started skydiving, and Elliot made his first jump on the day he graduated from high school.
Their age gap offered no opportunity for college overlap, so Elliot moved out west to start figuring himself out. A year in at the University of Colorado, Boulder, he switched from Engineering to Behavioral Psychology. While the coursework sincerely satisfied him, he was hard-pressed to find a job in the field.
Elliot poured his energy into skydiving and skiing, putting in 34 jumps at Mile-Hi Skydiving Center and trying his damnedest to make a living as a ski bum.
In 2010, Cam invited him to try his hand at marketing for the science and tech startup he was a part of in North Carolina, and Elliot moved back east.
The next year brought Elliot big-time happiness and growth. He was holding his own as a marketing professional, he’d made Triangle Skydiving Center his home DZ and earned his A, and met his now wife, Lauren.
Not long after becoming licensed, Elliot observed that there was a whole lot going on in the sky that was exciting, relevant and altogether awesome that few people had the opportunity to witness. Amazing stories were being left in freefall. They were energizing, empowering, inspiring – and untold.
Inspired by the work of Keith Creedy, Norman Kent, Raymond Adams, Ryan Patrick, Mike Brewer, and James Kunze. Elliot got his hands on a GoPro and started bringing the stories to life. At first, he was just messing around – playing with technique and learning his way through trial and error. Then he started getting good, and getting noticed.
So good that he was asked to shoot a 4-way at the 2013 US Nationals despite the fact that the video would represent the first dedicated footage he’d ever shot.
Elliot suddenly found himself in demand. His years in the sport had been dominated by fun. He hadn’t seen a career path as a video flyer … until now.
Elliot and Lauren settled into a groove. They worked their day jobs all week and jumped at Skydive Paraclete XP all weekend. Lauren was training for 4-way and 8-way competition; Elliot was taking dedicated video.
And then an opportunity they couldn’t refuse came a-knockin’.
The U.S. Army Parachute Division’s Female Four-Way Skydiving Competition Team – the “Female Golden Knights” – who represented the USA at the biannual World Championships was disbanding. Lauren seized the day and assembled a team – four accomplished female skydivers, plus Elliot on video – called Phoenix XP.
In December 2016 he quit his job, moved to Raeford with Lauren and started skydiving full-time. It was a big gamble. And they won.
Elliot opened Byrd’s Eye Studio and began to amass clients, including Skydive Paraclete, Sun Path, Skydive Carolina (CarolinaFest), Skydive Chicago (Summerfest) and Skydive Orange (Big O Boogie). Lauren started coaching new and progressing skydivers and hard-core training for the 2018 World meet.
Their dedication paid off. Phoenix XP qualified, earning their official US Parachute Team patches, and ultimately came in fourth in the World Championships. It was a career highlight for both Elliot and Lauren, and just the fuel they needed to never look back.
Sky’s the Limit
Elliot and Lauren have big plans for the future.
Immediately on the horizon is the 2019 US Nationals hosted at their homebase DZ, Skydive Paraclete. Elliot and Lauren will be competing in the 4-way and 8-way comps, and Elliot plans to shoot outside video and stills for the canopy and VFS portions of the event.
The not-so-distant 2020 World Meet in Serbia is calling their name too. To represent the US once was amazing; to do it again would be out of this world. (Watch this space.)
Elliot’s ultimate aspiration is to apply his creative eye to more elaborate videography projects. He loves the rush of boogie edits, but his work with manufacturers like Sun Path and Cookie Composites affords Elliot artistic license and refinement that feeds his soul on a whole nother level.
When he looks back, Elliot’s grateful for his brother’s support as he followed in his footsteps, and for his encouragement when he was ready to go his own way. For those trying to figure out their own path in life, Elliot’s advice is to try anything that catches your eye and, if you like it, fake it til you make it. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what you were born to do, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.