Free flying

Former Juneau resident has jumped into elite ranks of skydivers

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2005

Susan DeVore knew her son wouldn't end up with a normal job.

"I was going to send him to stunt-man school," she said.

But when a man came to Juneau a dozen years ago offering parachute jumps, she was firm when she said no, she recalled.

After about 14,000 jumps, and recognition as one of the world's top skydivers, Jon DeVore laughed last week when he recalled telling his mother he jumped anyway.

"What could she say?" he said by phone from California. "She was talking to me. She realized I was OK. My whole life I did crazy things."

The 1993 graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School, now 30 and living in Lake Forest, Calif., is part of the Red Bull Air Force skydiving demonstration squad, sponsored by the energy drink company, and team Alchemy, winner of U.S. and world championships in the sport. He does 30 shows a year and travels throughout the country and much of the world.

On July 4, he opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers with a jump in Las Vegas, he said.

His team puts on a great show, he said.

"We'll wear smoke on our feet. We'll generate speed and plane out as we cross the ground."

Also known as "Alaska Jon," he's not part of the "Flying Elvises," he said, scoffing at the comparison between skydivers from the movie "Honeymoon in Vegas" and the jumps he does.

In June, he was in Washington, D.C., being honored as part of a team that set a skydiving record impressive enough that the National Aeronautic Association named it among the eight most memorable aviation records of 2004.

The list included a private flight into outer space and the speed record for an around-the-world flight.

DeVore was part of a team of 42 that set a record for the largest formation in a head-down jump, at the Perris Valley drop zone outside of Riverside, Calif.

The old record was 24, the NAA stated.

And the record now stands at 53, Jon DeVore said. He was part of a team that set the record in May.

Most skydivers are more spread out when they jump, he said, explaining that the record for the biggest belly-down jump is 357 people, hurtling toward the ground at, maybe, 105 mph.

Head-down, he's falling at 177 mph, DeVore said.

It isn't just a matter of jumping out of an airplane and hitting a spot, he said. It's almost like flying. It's speeding toward the ground and swooping up, similar to what jet fighters do in air shows.

In DeVore's world, it's not "skydiving." It's called "freeflying."

"Since I was a kid, it's just what I wanted to do," he said, recalling that kids would jump off roofs with blue tarps as parachutes. "I was jealous of the birds."

Susan DeVore said her son was about 16 when he told her he jumped off the Douglas Bridge - twice. She told him that people kill themselves that way.

"I asked him if he was showing off, and he said no," she said. "I asked him why he did it twice, and he said no one saw him the first time."

Skydiving was only supposed to be part of what he wanted to do for a living, DeVore said. He lists his hobbies as skiing, snowboarding and most water and mountain sports. He wanted to set up an Alaska adventure travel company.

It would have 20 different adventures that people could choose from - such as hiking on glaciers, scuba diving with sea lions, and river rafting.

"I was already certified for white-water rafting guide," he added.

He jumped with the man who came to town when he was in high school because skydiving was supposed to be one more adventure.

But the jump got him hooked, he said.

His mother said she conceded the jumping, but told him he was going to have to attend a good skydiving school to learn to do it right. She thought that would put an end to it.

"It's a rich person's sport," she said. "We're not rich."

But DeVore put his life into it, he said, living meagerly in a tent at the drop zone.

"I was in the right place at the right time," he said.

At a drop zone in Eloy, Ariz., he met his wife, Stephanie, from Belgium, while she was on a break from law school

And he was learning the sport when it was changing and companies came looking for skydivers to sponsor.

Susan DeVore said she has all her son's videos and magazine spreads. She also keeps her fingers crossed. She said she imagines the hand of an angel setting him safely on the ground.

After a stunt in New Zealand in which he jumped out of a helicopter with skis, he called to tell her to "keep doing that thing you do," she recalled.

About a year later he told her that he hit the side of a mountain at more than 100 mph, she recalled.

"Another skydiver landed next to him, and he stood up," she said. "He didn't even have a broken finger."

According to DeVore's biography on the Red Bull Web site, he jumped the day after his crash - into Mount Invincible.

She has been to his shows, and knows he's a crowd pleaser, she said. "He really is. They're just amazed."

She recalled a visit to Juneau in which her son put on a demonstration near the Brotherhood Bridge so spectacular that a woman called police thinking he was out of control, his mother said. Rescue crews were there when he finished.

"A lot of people ask me how I live with it," she said. "I don't have a choice."

Jon DeVore said he knows that the woman who once said he couldn't jump out of a plane now more than accepts what he does.

"I took her on her first jump last year," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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