One of the easiest ways to leave an imprint on the sport of skydiving is to become a world-class competitor. Whether it be by 8-way belly or swooping, leaving a legacy is much easier when you are a reigning champion. The first “famous” skydivers who come to mind for anyone in the sport are people who have blazed a trail through the skies in the most popular discipline of their time.
But what do you do if you are the best in the world in a discipline that is growing right along with you? Who do you turn to for mentorship, and how do you judge your place in history? For the members of XP Ascend, only time will tell. Until then, all Jason Brigmon and Jake Carlton care about is finding out what it takes to live every day as world champions, and seeing how far they can take the Freestyle discipline into the future.
Jason Brigmon grew up in Barnardsville, NC, and eventually ended up in Raeford. He wasn’t aware of skydiving as a kid, but if he were, it would have fit right into his other hobbies. When he was young, he raced motorcycles for fun. A life of adrenaline and high-stakes adventures has always been in his blood.
Jason met a couple guys through motorcycle racing who had also been skydivers, and they invited him to an event at Skydive East Tennessee. He was hooked the second he felt the energy of the dropzone. Jason started slow, focusing on fun jumping and enjoying his time in the sport. It never crossed his mind that he would compete. But then again, he never thought he would become a skydiver, either. The only thing that was certain at that point was that his family was happy he wasn’t racing anymore.
“Anything to get me off a motorcycle,” he says. His skydiving habit is exponentially safer than racing motorcycles.
Jason loved skydiving enough to make it a priority through college and a career as a civil engineer. He would pack parachutes at the dropzone just to make extra money to pay for the 100 jumps a year that he would make on weekends. When Jason moved to Raleigh to go to NC State, he decided to try out the tunnel at Paraclete XP. Flying within the tight constraints of the tunnel helped him realize that he had a lot of work to do to become a good skydiver, and he signed up for their tunnel membership. This new consistency helped him progress.
Opportunities started to present themselves as Jason got to know more people jumping and tunnel flying at Paraclete. He started working remotely and moved closer to Raeford so that it would be easier for him to do what he loved. It was thanks to this commitment to progress that Jason would eventually meet the man that would help make him a world champion.
Skydiving was never on Jake’s radar as a child, but competition has always been a centerpoint in his life. Growing up in Bradenton, Florida as an only child, he ended up at the University of South Florida playing as a tight end on their football team. Jake lived for the competition atmosphere, and even though skydiving was nowhere in his plans, this drive to compete and dominate would play an integral part in his destiny.
His draw to competition never waned even once he entered the professional world. He got a job as a firearms instructor and eventually began competing in that realm, as well. Always looking toward growth, Jake had plans to go into business as a firearms instructor. A lot of people he was training were formerly in the Special Forces and wanted to get into competitive shooting, and they told him the best thing he could do for his business was join the Army.
Jake took their advice to heart and was selected into the Army as a special forces recruit. He moved to North Carolina and decided to get his skydiving license prior to entering Freefall school with the Army. He refused to go into the Special Forces unprepared. He didn’t know it yet, but this commitment to preparation would lead him to an adventure he never could have imagined.
Up to Speed
Jason and Jake met at the tunnel at Paraclete XP. Their initial connection didn’t necessarily suggest that they would be world champions together someday, but they enjoyed each other’s company and had fun flying together.
Jason had already had a successful experience competing on a world stage. He had joined a freestyle team in 2017 that had come in second at Nationals in Paris, and then medaled in Australia representing team USA 2. Jason would medal with that team in every subsequent World Competition they participated in, priming him for his later success with XP Ascend. Jake had about 700 jumps at the time he met Jason, and could fly well in the sky but was quickly humbled by the changes of flying in the tunnel.
The guys really started to connect when Jason started coaching Jake in the tunnel to get his flying skills up to speed.
Becoming XP Ascend
The two hit it off right away, but teaming up to create XP Ascend didn’t happen instantly. It wasn’t until Jason saw the work Jake was putting into progressing that he realized he would be a good fit for the team. Both of them agree that the most important and hardest thing to achieve is to find someone whose expectations and work ethic align with your own. Luckily, they found that in each other.
Jason and Jake became good friends before they ever decided to form a freestyle team. Time, money, and physical skill are all obviously at the top of the list of requirements for success, but possibly the most important factor is whether or not you can spend enough time with your teammate to adequately train.
They knew from the outset that they were incredibly like-minded. Both Jake and Jason prioritized work. It’s not about the destination for either of them. Both found fulfillment in the process itself, and that makes it easy for them to have cohesion all the time. Personal responsibility comes first.
Jason and Jake started training the first day of September, 2021 and it was full send from the get-go. XP Ascend completed 325 jumps in the month and a half before Nationals. Jason, who had been flying camera for his previous team, was now performing, and Jake had never been on a team before. They knew they had a lot of work to do and if the plane flew, they jumped.
The new team leaned heavily on the support of Paraclete XP and each other. There is a lack of coaching and mentorship in Freestyle skydiving because of how fresh and unknown the discipline is. Jake and Jason spent the month and a half of training figuring things out for themselves with trial and error, getting aesthetic feedback but not much in the way of technique. To compound the difficulty of missing leadership, the better they got, the less their future competition wanted to reveal their secrets of the trade.
Even so, Jake and Jason spent a lot of time rubbing elbows with legends like Kirk Verner. His intensity and professionalism rubbed off, and they were able to find inspiration from his mere presence. Paraclete XP itself was motivating to be at. The dropzone had three teams representing the USA, and the culture there is centered on teams and skill growth. Jason and Jake saw this and used every opportunity they had to learn and get closer to where they needed to be to win.
Jake and Jason had each other, their mutual drive to compete, and the resources that would continue to change both of their lives.
What’s the key ingredient to forming a world championship freestyle team? The wind tunnel.
Both Jake and Jason understand how important sacrifice is to pursuing a goal. Most people living in Raeford would say there isn’t anything to do. XP Ascend thinks that’s the best reason to live there. There is a world-class dropzone and tunnel, and not much else to spend your time or money on. Success is about priorities.
Just like you can’t get strong by going to the gym once a month, it takes consistency in training to be a good flier. XP Ascend knows this, and their number one priority is to live like a world champion every day of their lives.
The Mentality of a Champion
Contrary to the saying, “you have to train like you compete,” XP Ascend employs the philosophy of competing in how they train. In the process of the previous World Meet, they did 940 training jumps and only 14 competition jumps. It makes sense that they would want to maintain the mindset that they are more familiar with.
Instead of bringing a competition mindset to their training, they carried a training mindset through the World Competition. Jake played chess in the plane on every load during the last World Competition. That’s what he does when he trains, so why wouldn’t he also do that during the jumps that training was for?
The one thing that stands out about XP Ascend is that both of these men are fierce competitors. They talk about walking around and looking at other teams and feeling the competitive edge that drives them. They talk of excellence, thoughtful execution, and confidence. Like the most elite athletes in the world, the preparation is what matters to Jason and Jake.
Being prepared means being confident … and being confident means being calm. When you leave the plane in the final round of a World Competition, being calm and collected is what sets first place above second and third.
Part of the reason Jake and Jason work so well together is because of their ability to take ownership for mistakes. When something goes wrong on a skydive, they argue over whose fault it is, and it’s always self blame. This personal responsibility has created a culture of objectivity and open communication that allows XP Ascend to accurately assess what could be done better without fear of judgment.
As physically demanding as Freestyle Skydiving is, the thing that wins championships is the mind.
Ups and Downs
Perhaps feeling that heavy medal hanging on their necks would be the logical high of their journey, but there is so much more to all of this than winning. Jason and Jake reminisce about the people they’ve met, the work they’ve put in, and the excitement of the future.
Not surprisingly, their favorite moment so far happened in the sky. They had one jump to go at the end of the World Competition and all they had to do was complete it to win. They checked each box as the jump unfolded and knew they were getting closer to finishing first.
The energy built as the ground got closer, and after their last move, they knew they had done it. As they broke off to track away, the feeling of being world champions swelled in their chests. All of their work had paid off.
But the road to the top is not without its bumps.
Pushing the Envelope
Between all of the training, the time, the money, and emotional sacrifice, the most difficult thing for Jason and Jake is coming up with a routine. Mixing technique and creativity isn’t always easy. There are always new things to try and more complex moves to incorporate.
For people who constantly push boundaries, coming up with a routine that flows and is technically challenging can be harder than the performance itself. Jake describes it as something like a jigsaw puzzle, with all of the pieces in front of them, but not quite knowing where they each fit. When they finally click, it’s an aha moment that brings the entire picture together.
The Competitive Edge
It’s about the journey, not the destination. That might be a cliche, but that cliche is how XP Ascend won a World Championship. Every day for three years, Jake and Jason focus on what it looks like to be the best in the world rather than actually being the best in the world. Their scope is much larger than one meet, one competition.
They want to impact the sport long term. They want to see how far they can push this discipline that changed their lives. As long as they are committed to living that philosophy every day, the rest will take care of itself.
Winning the world championship wasn’t the goal. For XP Ascend, it was like a box that needed to be checked along the way. This wasn’t their peak, and they knew that before they even entered the competition.
What is their peak, you ask? “Two World Meets? Are you really a champion until you defend it? I dunno.” (Spoken like a true competitor.)
Advancing the Field
Besides winning medals, Jason and Jake want to grow the discipline. They enjoy the process, the people involved, and the encouragement of sharing and growing the sport.
To them, Freestyle is the most connected flying you can do. It’s just you and your teammate, locked in on your moves, all attention on each other. Your routine comes from your heart, a creative expression of your flight style. You aren’t limited by points and docks, only the ends of your imagination. The discipline is constantly changing, and this makes it both exciting and accessible.
So what is XP Ascend’s legacy? We’ll have to follow along on their incredible journey to find out – they’re just getting started.
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