Johnny Gunn is a family man, world champion vertical-formation skydiver and holder of an overabundance of world records—head-up, head-down and belly, day and night. He made his first jump in 2005, and in the relatively short time since has ascended to the highest levels of competition—mostly notably as camera flyer for VFS world-champion team SDC Core. That being said, Gunn continues to not only work on improving in every discipline, but to incorporate the challenges of learning new skills into teaching new skydivers.
“Johnny is the kind of guy you can depend on, especially in a pinch, who will always have your back. Aside from his accomplishments, he is just an all-around awesome and talented guy with a lot of heart, and I’m happy to see he’s finally getting his recognition.” -Lisa Mazzetta, Parachutist profilee #207
Nicknames: Redshoes, Ridgeline
Height: 5’10” (5’11’’ with heels)
Birthplace: Jackson, Michigan
Marital Status: Married to the most amazing, supportive and badass woman, Megan
Children: Two; Evelyn and Juniper
Pets: Two cattle dogs, Ninkasi and McNab
Life Philosophy: Be kind and inclusive.
Sponsors: Advanced Aerospace Designs, Cookie Helmets, HYPOXIC, Larsen & Brusgaard, Mastercard/Visa, Performance Designs, Skydive Chicago, United Parachute Technologies, Vertical Suits
Container: UPT Micron 316-1 and 314-1
Main Canopy: PD Valkyrie 79/75 PS and Peregrine 67
Reserve: PD Reserve 113
AAD: Vigil 2 Extreme
Home DZ: Skydive Arizona, but I spend a lot of time at Skydive Chicago in the summer. My heart will always be at Skydive West Plains in Ritzville, Washington, where it all began.
Licenses/Ratings: USPA Coach Examiner, AFF-I, TI, PRO, S&TA, SL/IAD-I; UPT Tandem Examiner; Military SLJM, MFFJM, Tandem and Tethered Bundle, MFFI #625, MMPCI #26, HAPS; FAA Senior Rigger, Private Pilot and Instrument (Rotorcraft); USHPA P-3
Associations/Memberships: USPA, USHPA, AOPA, Chive Charities, Journey Home Project
Total Number of Jumps: 17,387
Camera: a lot
Largest completed formation: 164-way head-down world record
What’s the best part of flying for SDC Core?
I joined Core at a time when I needed it more than I knew. My wife, Megan, and I had a little girl, Evelyn, who passed away the weekend before Nationals in 2019. We thought she was just a few weeks early and had no idea she had the complications she did. We were blindsided. I decided to step down from AZ Anthem and be the alternate to spend time working through it. JRuss, Steph, Megan and I were all working a military contract together, and JRuss asked, “Why are you quitting?” He genuinely didn’t want to see another VFS team stop competing. The next day he asked if I wanted to win a world championship, and told me my pal Jake Jensen was stepping down and they needed video. I hadn’t shot much VFS video but had flown inside for seven years. Then COVID hit. I was in a tough place mentally, and a change of scenery—with a chance at achieving the dream I’d moved to Eloy for seven years prior—helped pull me out of a dark place.
Any advice for new camera flyers?
In general, don’t ever let video be a distraction. Easier said than done, but with low experience it can make a bad situation worse. In VFS specifically, at least fly with some folks in the tunnel and learn all of the points at a basic level. It’ll help let you be able to anticipate where the jump is going and where to get in position. When in doubt, fly steep and on the verge of burbling someone. Ideally, behind the primary head-down flyer.
I skydive because …
It’s one of the only places I can focus 100% on the moment and nothing else. I grew up in collegiate wrestling, and it was similar in that way. And the people. I’ve been fortunate to meet and become friends with so many amazing folks around the world.
Greatest competition moment?
In 2012, we trained our butts off freeflying just prior to Nationals at Skydive Arizona. We were on the plane next to Travis Mills and Tiffany Lamb a bunch, as they were at the top for freestyle at that time and training hard, as well. We’d seen Travis on the cover of all the skydiving magazines and wanted to fly our canopies like him. They gave us pointers, made sure we were on the plane in the correct order (we were green at civilian jump operations) and generally made us feel welcomed like we had been friends for years. When we walked off of the podium with our medals, Travis stood up and came to the center aisle to “cheers” his medal into ours and told us we had earned it. That simple gesture had a huge impact on the next decision in my life.
Most people don’t know this about me:
I try to be in a constant state of learning. I get antsy if I start feeling stagnant, which has pushed me to try just about every discipline out there. I strongly believe that learning something new can help career instructors and coaches develop empathy for their students.
Suggestions for USPA:
Support the teams from top to bottom. Get funding sorted for the heads of delegation and team managers (even for the World Cup years). It’ll help get the correct folks there to support the teams that work their butts off to get there. Help fund the athletes. I’m not talking every team that’s out there. But if you’re going to the World Championships, you’re sacrificing a lot. We already have quite a presence at the world level—imagine if we could step that up a notch.
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
O.J. Anderson, for his work ethic, attention to detail and unparalleled ability to coach and mentor; Steve and Sara Curtis, for setting the tone for the type of competitor I wanted to be—kind and inclusive; Thomas Hughes and Andy Malchiodi, for being consummate professionals and masters of their craft who exemplify the type of professional skydiver I strive to be.
Most neglected safety item?
Gear checks. I had a jumper with a very similar rig accidentally grab mine during a boogie, jock up and go to the loading area. I fortunately found him in the loading area. He had around 100 jumps, was on a 190 or so canopy, with a hackey on the PC. My rig had a PD Valkyrie 71, with a PUD. A gear check or handle check could have prevented him putting it on. He was very relieved that I caught it. Also, jumpers not using an AAD, MARD or RSL. (MARD over RSL for high performance if possible.) Having one of these could have likely prevented the loss of some really good friends.
Most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?
Teach. I have somewhere around 10,000 instructor/evaluator/coach jumps over the years. It’s taken a long time to have confidence to say it, but teaching a person effectively in freefall and watching them learn, progress and succeed would have to be it.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with?
A tandem with my Momma. She passed away a few months before I started skydiving (I was 21), and is a big reason I took the leap. I never got to share any of this story with her, but have no doubt that she would be proud. She was always my biggest cheerleader.
Best skydiving moment?
Megan and I were in the landing area in Bex, Switzerland, watching the sunset in 2017. When we met in 2005, I had about 70 jumps and had a hectic military training and deployment schedule. I was really into her, but explained that I loved skydiving and it was my passion—so much so that if I’d been in the field or gone for two weeks, and I got back Friday, I was going to jump on the weekend. She was more than welcome to join me and hang out, but I wouldn’t be upset if she didn’t. I told her someday I was going to figure out how to make a living jumping. Fast forward to 2017: I had just finished competing at the World Cup in Germany and lined up the freefly and canopy courses I’d be coaching in Bex. As we were watching the sunset staring at the Alps, I had my arm around her and she pinched me. I asked what that was for. She said, “You did it!”