Max Cohn | D-20252
By Brian Giboney
Max Cohn, D-20252, made a name for himself in the 1990s as an East Coast freefly talent when most of the evolution of the discipline was occurring in the West and in Florida. Without the benefit of extensive wind tunnel training, Cohn cracked the freefly code and became a top-notch competitor on several teams, including Generation Freefly, which originated many vertical formation skydiving moves. As an integral part of the head-down scene, Cohn participated in three head-down world records from 2003-2005. He was also a respected coach. Today, Cohn continues to jump and occasionally coaches, staying involved in the sport he loves.
Birthplace: Hackensack, New Jersey
Marital Status: Married to Alyona Subbotina
Occupation: Model management, packing parachutes, selling stuff online, licensed massage therapist and occasional freefly coach.
Education: Colgate University, B.A. in sociology
Pre-Jump Superstitions: I tie and re-tie my shoelaces several times on the ground and in the plane in fear they will come undone in freefall. They are always a little too loose or too tight; the perfect middle ground is elusive …
Life Philosophy: Color outside the lines, live outside the box
Jump Philosophy: Safety first
Team Name: Generation Freefly, Ranch EXTreme, Freefly Circus, 2001 U.S. Team, Team Romance
Sponsors: Formerly Advanced Aerospace Designs, Aerostore, Bonehead Composites, Cool & Groovy, Flexvision, Flite Suit, Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales, Go Fast Sports, Icarus Canopies, Larsen & Brusgaard, Mirage Systems, Performance Designs, Pier Media, Precision Aerodynamics, the Ranch PROshop, Rawa, Royal Lens, Sky Systems, Skydive America, Skydive the Ranch
Container: United Parachute Technologies Micron
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Katana 107
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs Optimum 126
AAD: Advanced Aerospace Designs Vigil
Home Drop Zone: Skydive the Ranch in Gardiner, New York
First Jumps: Tandem, August 1995; AFF, May 1996
Licenses and Certificates: A-25069 and D-20252, Federal Aviation Administration Senior Rigger
Medals and Records: A few medals at the Space Games (1998-2001). A few unofficial head-down records, including the first 10-way round (1999) and three-point 10-way (2000) and 12-way (2000). Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Records for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive: 24-way in 2003, 42-way in 2004, 53-way in 2005.
Total Number of Jumps: 11,000-plus
FS: A handful, with the first 20-way round in Puerto Rico in 2001 being the only one worth mentioning
Demos: A handful
Tunnel: Maybe 30 hours (mostly between 1999 and 2001 before they were high speed) plus team training in 2009
Largest Completed Formation: 53-way FAI World Record for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive
Total Number of Cutaways: Five or Six
Most people don’t know this about me:
I’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar II since 2007. Please take care of your mental health and be there for others when they need to talk.
What do you like most about the sport?
The counterculture and lifestyle compared to the non-skydiving world.
What do you like least about the sport?
Losing a bunch of friends in skydiving accidents.
Who has been your skydiving mentor?
What safety item do you think is most often neglected?
I think everyone should jump with two audible altimeters. It’s a small investment that adds significant awareness and safety.
Do you have any suggestions for students?
Ask many questions and find a diverse group of mentors.
What’s the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?
Figure a lot of things out without modern wind-tunnel training. With that said, those tunnel pros can literally fly circles around me.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way, whom would it be with and where would it take place?
Original Freefly Clown Mike Vail was a huge freefly influence of mine who I was never able to jump with. I would jump with him in Davis, California, back in the mid-‘90s.
What has been your most embarrassing moment while at a drop zone?
My first paid gig as a freefly organizer was in June 1999 at Archway Skydiving in Vandalia, Illinois. On my first jump, I landed out in a wet field. I slid in face first like a kid on a Slip ‘n’ Slide and emerged totally covered in mud. “How’s it going? I’m the cool freefly organizer you just brought in.”
What has been your best skydiving moment?
The entire experimental/developmental era of freeflying I was involved in was surreal. A relatively small group of flyers were constantly experimenting, developing concepts, giving names to new moves, building a structure and proving to the skydiving community at large that freeflying was a legitimate discipline in our sport.
What’s your greatest competition moment?
Being invited onto the U.S. Team in 2001. My goal since I decided freefly was my path was to be the best. I was not the best, but climbing that ladder was a personal victory, and I had come as far as I needed to in competitive freeflying. I then focused most of my time on teaching and organizing.
What’s your worst skydiving moment?
The day my friend Claudio ‘Crods’ Knippel died in a skydiving accident in 2015.
What’s your weirdest skydiving moment?
After 11,000-plus jumps and 23 years with no skydiving injuries, I had my first skydiving accident in September 2018. I was complacent with wind direction and lacked currency and put myself in a spot where I couldn’t avoid a tree. I broke a 6-inch diameter branch and fell the rest of the way about 30 feet. Despite 14 broken bones, it was a profound experience that I’m grateful for. All the injuries were best-case scenario with no surgery. I was back in the air less than seven months later.
What was the secret sauce to learning to fly the way you do?
Jump, jump, jump as much as possible, watch VHS freefly videos non-stop while critically analyzing every millisecond (Freefly Clowns’ “Chronicle II”) and seek out, hang out with and be in the air with the best flyers in the world as often as possible.
How did you become interested in freeflying?
I saw a sign at the Ranch for sit-flying coaching from Kim Emerson, which planted the seed of “that looks more fun than belly,” so I just started jumping and trying all that stuff. In 1996, ESPN televised the X-Games skysurfing and the SSI Pro Tour freeflying meets. Watching the Freefly Clowns, Mad Style and The Flyboyz was mesmerizing. Also, Jamie Paul’s photo of a 3-way vertical accordion—Olav, Omar Alhegelan and Charles Bryan—over Eloy in USPA’s 1997 calendar was a game changer.
Explain Max Cohn in five words or fewer:
Doing the best I can.