Catching up with Larry Henderson

Everyone knows Larry is 'as happy as Larry'. Quiet and unassuming, yet a force to be reckoned with, he is always positive and sees the joy in every action. He has been skydiving for over 40 years, was World Team captain for 15 years and is still a top level skydiver today. He coaches with a whole heart, bringing the best out of everyone by making them feel included, respected and valued.

Larry Henderson — by Craig O'Brien
Larry Henderson — by Craig O'Brien

Occupation – Abilene Christian University employee teaching Religion, Missions and Culture; director of a summer missions internship for students.

Jumps — 6,300 FS, 20 FF, 2 BASE

First jump — 5 December 1975 (43 years ago)

Equipment — Aerodyne Icon, Zulu 120, Smart 120

Nationality — American citizen born in Florida, currently living in Texas; lived in Bangkok for 35 years

Where in the world is your favorite place to jump?

I am normally a beach person, having worked 13 years as a SCUBA instructor. I have enjoyed hundreds of beach landings, but consider Norway the most amazing place I have ever jumped. You can land on a glacier, fly alongside a rugged cliff, follow a raging river down the mountain and through a waterfall, marvel at miles of pristine forest, land in a narrow valley surrounded by snow-covered ridges or practice your accuracy by landing on a very small beach in the middle of a lake.

In lovely weather I have jumped in shorts and a t-shirt on the island of Traena inside the Artic Circle! I have seen wolverine, moose and even fresh bear scat while looking for a free-bag near the National Training Center in Østre Æra. My heart is pounding just thinking about jumping in Norway!

Larry's first BASE jump, Kjerag Norway, 2005 — by Douggs
Larry's first BASE jump, Kjerag Norway, 2005 — by Douggs

What keeps you still so motivated for skydiving after all these years?

The amazing people I have been fortunate enough to meet through skydiving! I am so grateful for the doors that have been opened for me to travel broadly and experience some of the best our sport has to offer, but it is the gracious, inclusive people in the sport that keep me coming back for more.

Crowded skies above the demo into the center of Bangkok — by Henny Wiggers
Crowded skies above the demo into the center of Bangkok — by Henny Wiggers

What's been your favorite moment in the sport?

There have been some great ones like landing on Kuta Beach in Bali at sunset, where my wife took my rig and handed me my surfboard so I could paddle out until dark. It was also great jumping with both of my children, but the best may have been landing at Sanam Luang in the middle of Bangkok in December 1999. I watched as an assortment of C-130 and other aircraft unloaded almost 1,000 jumpers at 7,200 feet. The sky was full of descending parachutes for about twenty minutes.

What do you like about coaching ? What's your approach?

Coaching skydiving is not that different from other forms of teaching. As a university instructor, I am reminded of the importance of seeing things from the perspective of the student. It does not do anybody any good to pontificate an answer to a question that is not being asked, so I try hard to understand what is happening and then formulate an answer that works. An occasional dose of humility is an important reminder for everyone — especially me!

'PEACE' formation built at P3's Power Play, June 2018 — by Craig O'Brien
'PEACE' formation built at P3's Power Play, June 2018 — by Craig O'Brien

What do you like about working as a coach with the P3 team?

Being a part of the Perris Performance Plus (P3) team has been a great encouragement to me because we never quit learning. Dan BC, Kate Cooper, and Doug Forth have been long-time partners, while Scott Latinis has recently stepped up to replace our beloved Tom Jenkins. Although collectively we have nearly 100,000 jumps and dozens of world records, each of us are still competing at the national level. We try new formations, practice new methods, spend hours in the tunnel and think outside the box. Throw in our international exposure, and you have a group that doesn’t spend much time in a rut doing the same old thing. This year, our coaches are happy to be hosting events in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America. Our ideas don’t always work, but the journey is always interesting.

What do you like about big-way events?

Big way events are fun because you get to hang out with a large number of friends and work together on a common project. Last year's 3 point 216-way sequential record was a good example of people from all over the world enjoying great times together — both in the air and on the ground. We did not let political, religious, cultural or generational differences polarize us into separate camps. We were a team and enjoyed working together.

You’ve been a captain for lot of world records, what is special about those?

I experienced this unified vibe in 1996 when I attended my first World Team event in Anapa, Russia. Although I had jumped in several different countries, I had never before seen skydivers from 30+ nations work so diligently toward a single goal. BJ Worth did a good job of bringing people together and I was honored to be a part of that organization for almost 15 years. Dieter Kirsch, Patrick Passe and Milko Hodgkinson, organizers of the current sequential record were also World Team captains and continue to reflect many of the same values they saw in those early days.

What’s the big deal with records? Why bother?

It was very satisfying to work with the Royal Thai Air Force to bring three world records and more than a dozen skydiving festivals to Thailand in the last 25 years. When I started jumping in Thailand back in 1975, all the skydiving was with the military and had a very narrow focus. Through the years there has been a broadening of awareness and four Thai citizens were on the 400-way in 2006. Earlier this month at the 2018 Thai National Skydiving Championships, a complete 25-way consisting only of Thai jumpers was flown into the opening ceremonies. Although many of my early military contacts have retired from active duty, it is a joy to see a new generation of jumpers thriving in Thai skies.

'X' in honor of HM Maha Vajiralongkorn, the new King of Thailand, formation built in May 2018 — by Bruno Brokken
'X' in honor of HM Maha Vajiralongkorn, the new King of Thailand, formation built in May 2018 — by Bruno Brokken

Tell me about your recent adventures in Thailand

The recent Flag event in Thailand was organized by the Royal Thai Army and hosted on a Royal Thai Air Force base. Although I have jumped with the RTA in several different venues, all of our invitational events, boogies and world record events since 1988 have been hosted by the RTAF. It was an interesting opportunity that brought me into discussion with high-ranking Army officers and I was blown away by their hospitality and commitment to this project. Although we had been talking and planning for almost two years, once we got the green-light, things came together quickly and it was quite gratifying to see Army and Air Force personnel working so closely together for a common purpose.

We had a couple of specific goals in mind as we approached this event. First, we wanted to create the Thai flag in free-fall, using color-coordinated jumpsuits in rows of red, white, blue, white, red. It proved to be a challenging formation and we were all rather emotional when it finally completed. In fact, one of the Casa 295 pilots told me that tears filled his eyes when he landed and first saw the photo of our success. I do not know how widely this jump has been broadcast in Thailand, but the international skydiving community has been very supportive of the flag photos.

A second goal was the completion of a large X in honor of HM Maha Vajiralongkorn, who is the new King of Thailand. His father, HM King Bhumibol, was the focus of several of our skydiving events since 1999, and had the title of King Rama IX as the 9th ruler in the Chakri dynasty. The new monarch is King Rama X, the 10th member of the dynasty. We were very pleased with the completion of the X formation and were happy to offer it to our hosts in honor of their new king.

This article was originally published on skydivemag