SPOTLIGHT: Larry Rippenkroeger

We got the opportunity to sit down with jetski legend turned Hollywood stunt double extraordinaire — Larry Rippenkroeger. We talked about his incredible career, and his new movie — Hot Water.

1. Larry, before we get to the good stuff, lets start at the beginning. How did you originally get started in Jet Skiing?

I was working as a motorcycle mechanic at a Kawasaki dealership in the mid seventies and Bob Phares was our district sales manager. He had an early model jet ski and introduced me to the sport.

2. What was the first Jet Ski you ever rode?

I believe it was a 1975 JS400. They were only sold in a few select markets at the time.

3. What made you want to get involved in racing?

I was a local pro motocross racer when I first rode a jet ski. I thought I was going to step right on the thing and rip. I made it about twenty feet before I fell off. It was such a challenge and gave me the same thrills as motocross but the crashes were a lot easier on my body.

The Ripper. Photo by Chris Lauber.

4. What inspired you to transition to freestyle exclusively?

There were a lot of things in play at the time. The sport was developing to the point where it was becoming increasingly difficult to be proficient in all of the disciplines. I wasn’t ready to completely retire so I decided to focus on just freestyle.

5. What was your favorite accomplishment from competing?

That’s a tough one. I got to see the world and make some great friendships that continue on today. I had dreamed of being a factory motocross racer as a kid so my favorite accomplishment is probably being able to sort of fulfill that dream but on the water instead.

Larry (left) as a color commentator for ESPN.

6. A lot of people remember when you were a commentator for the races on TV! How did you get involved in that?

When I decided to only compete in freestyle the timing was good. The production company producing the jet ski tour shows for ESPN needed a color commentator and asked me if I wanted to do it. They were really accommodating letting me commentate on the show, then take a break during the day to compete in the freestyle event, and then change clothes and go back to commentating for the rest of the day.

7. You also have a pretty wild resume of stunt doubling. At what point in your career did you start doing that, how did it come to be?

In 1994 I was at crossroads trying to figure out what I was going to do after jet skiing. I had tried to break into the movie business for years but it just wasn’t happening. I had nearly given up on that dream then I got a call from the stunt coordinator of the movie Waterworld. That call changed my life and opened the door for me.

8. So many Jet Skiers remember Waterworld. What was your involvement in that film? Favorite memory from that project?

I was initially hired as a stuntman to do jet ski stunts. As it turns out, all the stuntmen were really cool and welcomed me to their family. I ended up staying on the entire run of the show doing all kinds of stunts. My favorite memory is just pinching myself each day going “I can’t believe I finally broke into the movie business. I’m getting paid all this money to ride jet skis, shoot machine guns and all these other stunts”. Still, to this day, it’s the best movie making experience of my career.

Larry (middle) standing between Breaking Bad leading actors Bryan Cranston (right) and Aaron Paul (right).

9. You went on to have a pretty serious career in the film industry as a stunt double and coordinator. What were some of your favorite roles?

There’s so many! I’ve done over 100 films and every one of them has at least one story and memory. Doubling James Cann throughout his TV show, Las Vegas was a lot of fun. Doubling Bryan Cranston throughout Breaking Bad was amazing. Bryan’s an incredible actor. It’s the only time in my career that I’ve gotten chills watching scenes being shot. My biggest notoriety came from doubling Bruce Willis for about 10 years. I remember stepping onto the set dressed as John McClain on Die Hard 4 and just standing there taking it all in. It was one of those WOW moments where I reflected on the amazing journey it took to get there.

Seeing double? Larry and Bruce Willis on the set of Die Hard.

10. Lots of people know about your role as a stunt double for Bruce Willis. Not as many have heard about the incident where you were seriously injured on Die Hard 4. Could you give us some insight into that, how did it affect your life going forward?

I fell from a fire escape about 27 feet, face first to the street. I went from living a dream to waking up in a nightmare in the hospital fighting for my life. It was devastating and by all accounts I shouldn’t have survived. A lot of people said I’d never work again, but hearing naysayers has always just inspired me to push harder to succeed. It was a brutal and long road back. Two year’s of surgeries physical therapy before I was back full time.

11. For those who don’t know film… what is a Taurus award and who has one casually on display in their home?

That’s the happy ending to the whole Die Hard adventure. About 5 years after my accident, Bruce Willis decided to do another Die Hard, “A Good Day To Die Hard”. I trained extra hard, went in really focused and totally kicked ass. As a result, the car chase we did earned me the Taurus award for “Best Work With A Vehicle” that year. It’s the highest award the stunt industry has for performers. It was also a great way to close the chapter on that one.

Larry (second from left) alongside the cast of Hot Water.

12. The internet has been buzzing about the upcoming Hot Water film! Can you describe your involvement in that?

I wrote, produced and directed my first feature film, Hot Water. Of course my first one has to be about watercraft racing.

13. How long has Hot Water been in the making?

I’ve been trying to get a movie made about the sport since I was competing back in the 80’s. 

14. Some people ask why it’s taking so long. Can you give us some insight into what goes into making a legitimate film? What were some of the trials and tribulations of this project?

Trying to make a real feature film was one of the most difficult challenges on my life. There is so much bullsh** in Hollywood! I spent years dealing with producers that claimed to have financing behind them only to learn later that they didn’t. Some wanted to “polish” my script with a rewrite, only to destroy it in the process. It went on and on until I got fed up and decided the only way to make it happen and keep it real was to do it myself. My wife agreed to help me produce it. We put up a large chunk of our own money and raised the rest through family and friends.

15. What can we expect from the movie?

They say a great summer movie will make you laugh, make you gasp, and make you cheer and Hot Water does all that. Our tagline is “It’s the funnest ride of the summer!”

16. What are your hopes for the film?

With the current situation of our world I think we could all use a couple hour escape from all the bad news and enjoy a good laugh. My hopes are that everyone enjoys it as much as I do and it does well enough that we get to make Hot Water 2! I already have a lot of that script written.

17. What else have you been up to lately?

Hours of makeup. Larry Rippenkroeger in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Near the end of last year I took a break from post production on Hot Water and did some more stunt work. Watch for “The Tomorrow War” with Chris Pratt this Christmas and “The Suicide Squad” sometime next year.

18. What skis are in your garage? What are you riding these days?

A replica of one of my freestyle skis from back in the day, a couple 550’s, a Kawasaki 800, two sit downs with one of them set up for my flyboard. I also have a 1,100cc triple stand up that was Richard Hurt’s ski in Hot Water. Not sure if I’m going to keep it or sell it yet.

19. What advice do you have for someone who might be interested in a stunt or film career?

I’d say the easiest path is to get hired on one of the live stunt shows in a theme park. They typically hold auditions every year. It’s a great way to learn and sharpen your skill set. From there you’ll make the connections needed to break into the TV and movie world.

20. Anyone you’d like to thank?

There’s too many to list them all, but certainly at the top of the list is Chris Hagest at Pro Watercraft, Ryan Horn at Azeo Vodka, Sam Nehme and Broward Powersports, Hydroturf, Jettribe, Skattrak,  and the entire staff of the IJSBA. Hot Water would not have been possible without their support and all the others that helped out.

Be sure to check out the trailer for the upcoming jetski film, Hot Water, and like their Facebook page here.