For almost four decades, Mark Kruse has been a positive force in the skydiving community at multiple levels. The six-time USPA Nationals gold medalist and world champion in canopy formation is also an FAA Master Parachute Rigger, former Designated Parachute Rigger Examiner and Commercial Pilot. But Kruse is known most for his sense of humor, friendly attitude and, as he puts it, his “tendency for mischief.” As a key participant in the 400-way formation skydive, 100-way canopy formation and 64-way night FS world records, he has a big goal for next year: Become the only member of four major large-formation world records—daytime and nighttime, in freefall and under canopy.
“Sincere with a peppering of controversy, endless wisdom and insight tempered with empathy and sensitivity, nobody in this sport tells more and better jump stories than Mark Kruse—largely because he’s been there and done it all. He’s quick with an observation or opinion you may try to challenge but will almost always fail. Mark somehow makes everyone he engages feel like his best friend, and he’s truly one of mine.” –Kevin Gibson, Parachutist profilee #271
Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marital Status: Married to Leesa
Children: One, Maxine
Pets: Buddy the dog
Occupation: Parachute Operations Contractor
Pet Peeves: Bad manners make me scratch my head, but generally, I try not to let peoples’ poor behavior bother me.
Hobbies: All things parachute-related, motorcycling and travel.
Favorite Food: Good Thai and Mexican
Rock, Rap or Country? I can listen to almost all music, except the angry kind.
Life Philosophy: Perform one random act of kindness every day, no matter how small. Exercise empathy.
Neat packer or a trash packer? Depends on the situation.
Jump Philosophy: Take care of the new people; pay it forward.
Team Names: Zen Crew, Quantum Leap, U.S. Parachute Team, World Team (to name a few)
Sponsors: Cookie Composites, Performance Designs, Skydive Paraclete XP, Sun Path
Container: Sun Path Javelin
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Valkyrie 96, Sabre 2 170, Lightning 126, Proxy 280.
Reserve Canopy: PD Reserve 113, 143
AAD: Airtec Cypres
Discipline: Formation skydiving, freeflying, canopy piloting, canopy formation, demonstration, BASE jumping
Home Drop Zone: Currently, Skydive Paraclete XP in Raeford, North Carolina
Year of First Jump: 1985
Licenses and Ratings: D-11173; PRO; FAA Commercial Pilot
Total Number of Jumps: 18,000-plus
Total Number of Cutaways: 30-plus
How did you become interested in skydiving?
I dropped out of school when I was 17 and hitchhiked around the country for a few years. Discovering new places and new people from all backgrounds changed my perspective on life in a very meaningful way. That experience is what attracted me to the skydiving lifestyle.
Would you recommend CF to everyone, or just a select few?
I think anyone who can manage their fear and keep a cool head under pressure can perform CF successfully. As with all teams, I recommend first finding teammates that you get along with and don’t mind spending time with. Establish their commitment second and worry about talent third. The learning curve in CF is very steep. And of course, get a coach.
What do you like most about the sport?
We have the opportunity to change lives for the better (if we do it right).
What do you like least?
The toxic people that make others leave the sport. (They do it wrong.)
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
Mike Starck (“Ravin”), John Eddowes, Craig Girard and Chris Gay. I look to them as character role models. There’s also my pilot mentor, Rob Branch.
What is your perfect day like?
Waking up in a new place, preparing for a new adventure and doing something memorable with a new or old friend.
What safety items do you think are most often neglected?
Clean cutaway cables and secure toggles.
I skydive because …
I came for the fun; I stayed for the people.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with and where would it take place?
A low-pull contest with Adolf Hitler over an active volcano. (Cue the Bond music …)
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?
A life well lived with the ability to pay it forward.
What has been your strangest thought under canopy?
I was in the middle of the 100-way world record canopy diamond, and because of a radio malfunction, we were well below the planned break-off altitude. It was almost complete, and I thought, “If I let go of my grips this thing will come down like a house of cards! Many people will surely die, and it will go down in history as one of the greatest aviation tragedies of all time! Right up there with the Hindenburg!” and then I thought … “I should probably just hold on.”
Suggestions for USPA:
I think most of the team at USPA works very hard to put the interests of the membership first. I have generally always been satisfied with the value we get for our membership dues. Especially compared to other sport aviation organizations.
Best skydiving moment?
When training for the ‘96 world meet, I walked away from a triple canopy entanglement (including my reserve). The moment I realized I wasn’t dead or crippled, and that I was going to see my wife again, made me feel incredibly grateful.
Greatest competition moment?
Winning the gold medal at my first Nationals.
What advice do you most often give to prospective riggers?
Keep references of the Federal Aviation Regulations, advisory circulars, service bulletins and manuals at the ready, and know how to use them. It seems like half the riggers out there don’t do that.
Worst skydiving moment?
In 1988 I watched, from above, my best friend go in after cutting away from a canopy wrap, only to experience a reserve steamer. He was pumping toggles and risers from 1,000 feet to impact.
A BASE jump, actually, on Christmas night in 1988 in Milwaukee. After a toggle jam, building strike and river landing, I proceeded to drown. After five minutes underwater, I had a very vivid out-of-body experience. The euphoria was interrupted by the sound of Joe Trinko jumping in to rescue me.
What do you like most about flying for Paraclete XP?
The D’Annunzio family invited me to air-boss and fly for the 2019 Nationals. In 2020, I was contracted to help set up the new rigging loft. They share my passion for our great sport, and treat me very well. I am grateful to be a part of their team.
Explain Mark Kruse in five words or fewer:
Trusting skeptic, pragmatic dreamer, grateful.