UPDATE: Paree and Jordana Del La Varis alongside eight other women set a sequential jump national record on Saturday 5 June. They completed a two-point nine way formation.
One is a horse veterinarian by trade, and the other a retired nurse who used to fly small aircraft.
But away from their daily hustle and bustle, the mother and daughter duo of Paree and Jordana Del La Varis are avid skydivers.
Mum, Paree, holds two New Zealand records in the sport – the last accomplished in the ‘largest star formation’ category with 20 people in Parakai back in 1987, four years after she got into the sport.
She already had her licence to fly before seeing an ad for parachute training at the local aviation sports club and literally jumped at the opportunity.
And now 28-year-old Jordana wants to follow suit and have her name etched into the history books alongside her parents – who were involved in skydiving throughout her childhood – and set a New Zealand record with her 64-year-old mum.
The Del La Varis family had a small sheep and beef farm in Kumeu in northwest Auckland, where Jordana grew up riding horses and competing in eventing. But recently she decided she wanted to be like her mum and leap out of planes.
People are a little shocked to hear Jordana skydives with her mother. “It’s not a normal sport to be doing especially when people might only know one person [who skydives] but certainly not a family of skydivers,” Jordana says. “I think when people find out, they’re really intrigued and in awe that we can do it together as a family.”
Paree adds: “It’s a really special thing to have your daughter on the same load. Sometimes I think we should go on separate loads, but it’s still pretty special.”
Paree has stayed involved in the sport, despite having breaks along the way to have her two children and repair a broken leg. She lost her husband, Wayne, tragically killed in a car accident on the way to a drop zone. She’s currently working for NZ Aerosports, a local business providing a range of parachutes for skydivers in New Zealand and around the world.
She wasn’t sure if her daughter would be interested in the sport. “But as she’s shown such keen interest and has really done a lot within the sport with her various training regimes, I certainly feel very strongly that she would be there [for the record].
For Jordana, it’s a special moment too. “I’ve never set a New Zealand record so I guess getting it ticked off would be an amazing achievement,” she says. “But then on top of that to be able to do it with Mum, it makes it so much more special.”
The pair attempted to set a national record at the weekend, with a sequential jump attempt with eight other women from around the country. The complex, first-of-its-kind attempt in New Zealand, was part of a seven-day skydiving festival, the ‘Mad King Boogie’ (named in honour of Parakai local ‘Mad Dog’ Ross King).
The ‘sequential’ record is building and completing multiple points within a dive. With a larger group of skydivers at varying skill levels, it didn’t quite work out this time round. But a second attempt is planned for next spring at Skydive Auckland.
The Del La Varis women say it will only drive the group to reflect and practice more.
Jordana says they’re both really competitive. “We’re quite good at pushing ourselves and each other to achieve more,” she says. “After jumping we always debrief if we’re in the same car because I’m always wanting to do better. And I know Mum is the same.”
Paree agrees: “Jordana is an extremely focused person and I guess that gives her a really good level of expectation for herself.” Jordana is also involved in distance running and completed the Maraetai half marathon last month.
With just under four decades of skydiving to her name, Paree says women’s records are really special because in her experience, having a group of women in the sky is different to men.
“It’s lovely to see women’s faces all around you when you’re up there. There’s a real camaraderie within the sport,” she says. “And there’s some really strong powerhouse women in the sport, it’s just great.”
For Jordana, it’s important to have more experienced women as role models.
“Having that strong supportive female space as a younger jumper is really special,” she says. “I’ve done a few jumps but I’m still a relative novice jumper in the scheme of things so having older jumpers to look up to and encourage us is really good.”
A lot has changed since Paree started. “There’s definitely more women doing it now,” she says. “And there’s been huge changes in the equipment and gear we use. It’s evolving literally before your very eyes. There are so many disciplines within the sport now in comparison to when I started.”
Paree recalls starting when parachutes were round and less controllable. “It was all very exciting,” she says. “Some people were landing in trees and other places.” When they changed to rectangular, “it just progressed from there really.”
There’s been progression in training and regulations too. That’s an area Fiona McLaren, the operations manager at Skydive Auckland, is interested in. “I developed a real passion for teaching and competition,” says McLaren, who represented New Zealand at the 2012 world parachute championships. She no longer competes but in her role, she’s still able to help others get to where they want to in the sport.
McLaren says there are around 350 registered, active skydivers in the New Zealand industry. Skydive Auckland have the largest community and carry out more than 10,000 jumps every year.
“The community is amazing. We’ve got a mix of people from so many different backgrounds, so many different professions and so many different ages,” she says. “We have a skydiver here who is over 70, and then you’ve got people who come in on their 16th birthday to sign up.”
The women’s sequential jump record attempt is about involving all of the community including those who are still learning, says McLaren.
“It’s an inclusive thing about bringing all the women on board for it, not just the top female skydivers in New Zealand. It’s about making it open to everyone so everyone gets to experience it,” she says.
The Del La Varis women were unable to put in a team for this year’s national competition just before the festival, but plan to enter next year. “We were actually in a team a couple of years ago together which was really nice,” says Paree.
Long-term, representing New Zealand is Jordana’s goal. “Being on more New Zealand records would be amazing first-off. That’s a big one within New Zealand,” she says. “And then ultimately representing New Zealand is sort of every sports person’s ultimate goal if they’re of a competitive nature like myself.”