Falling Forward: Clayton Butler

Clayton Butler speed flies through the air. Photo: Lg Trawinski

We’ve all had that dream as we are drifting off to sleep where we are falling.   Suddenly, you kick awake and you are sitting there in your room, alone and afraid.  Clayton Butler loves that dream.  He embraces it so much that he has spent the better part of the past five years trying to recreate that sensation in real life. A reserved young man who works hard for a living, you’d never know that Butler spends his weekends hurling himself off tall objects and massive cliffs.  When he is not cheating death, Butler works as a Porsche mechanic for a race team at Miller Motorsports Park.  His current day job keeps him out of the driver’s seat for the most part, but he has had some interesting test drives that may or may not have involved triple-digit speeds on the 900 South off-ramp of I-15.  Catching up with Butler, I learned the intricacies of a sport few know about.

SLUG: What do you call the sport(s) you participate in?
Butler: Mainly speed flying and BASE Jumping.  BASE stands for building, antenna, span, earth—which are the things I jump off of.  And speed flying uses a wing that allows me to descend from the takeoff and actually fly. I also skydive, but mainly as a learning tool and to stay current.

SLUG: Did you start skydiving and work your way up to the others?
Butler: I started out skydiving, but my first BASE was out at the New River Gorge at Bridge Day in West Virginia.  I bought all the gear and made my first jump.  I was scared out of my mind.  I didn’t know if I could keep doing it, I was so scared.  I thought if I couldn’t keep my stuff together, I would have to sell all my gear.  But then I made my second jump.  A friend and I climbed up 600 feet on this radio tower at night and jumped.  As soon as my feet left the tower, I knew this was it.  I wasn’t gonna stop doing it now.  We ended up jumping that tower almost a hundred more times—it became our local object out at Virginia Beach.

SLUG: After your experiences out East, what made you want to move to Utah?
Butler: Well, the sport really progresses more out West. But before I even started jumping, I wanted to move out here.  I would come out skiing and sleep on my buddy’s couch. Waking up in the morning, looking over the snowcapped mountains was just amazing.  I got back home and put some things together and moved out to Utah. I now have a few sponsors, including Bluehouse Skis and Trew Gear.

SLUG: Once you moved here, how did you continue to pursue your interest in the sport?
Butler: I just kept jumping.  That is the best way to keep current.  You have to prepare your mind almost more than your body.  Although, I still like to be the first one up the hike to the takeoff.

SLUG: What was your scariest moment jumping?
Butler: I have had multiple close calls, but none of them [were] that scary at the moment.  You just go into survival mode and deal with it and correct it.  Sometimes you just gotta manhandle the parachute and make the turn. 

SLUG: Can you describe one of those experiences?
Butler: A recent jump at a spot in Eastern Utah, we jumped this cliff:  We had scouted it out pretty good and I jumped third.  As I was falling, I discovered that it wasn’t as sheer as I thought, it kind of stuck out a little near the bottom.  So, I deployed my chute a bit earlier than expected.  Well, when it opened up, it opened up backwards and I started heading toward the cliff.  I ended up landing on a ledge about halfway down the cliff.  There was no way off it.  My friends ended up convincing me not to try another jump and they went into town to get some rope.  By dark, they still hadn’t showed up and so I wrapped myself in my parachute and went to sleep.  When they finally returned, it was too dark to perform a rescue, so I waited till morning.  A friend from SLC drove out with a bunch of rope and I was able to ascend back up the cliff.  It was actually pretty fun, looking back at it.

SLUG: Aside from sending it off large objects, what do you do for fun?
Butler: In the summertime, I own an ice cream cart.

SLUG: How does one get into that business?
Butler: Well, I love ice cream and I hate bosses.  I built a cooler-trailer out of an old deep-freeze and I tow it around downtown on my bike.  Tattoo parlors and taco stands are my best customers.  I just roll up and ring my bell and they pretty much drop what they are doing.  It’s a pretty good deal.

SLUG: Any interesting flavors?
Butler: I am still perfecting my personal recipes, but one day I hope to make some different flavors for sale.  Maybe some bacon flavored ice cream, or something spicy.  We will have to wait and see.

For videos and more info on Butler’s dare-devil antics, visit his website at theclaytonbutler.com.

Clayton Butler speed flies through the air. Photo: Lg Trawinski “As soon as my feet left the tower, I knew this was it. I wasn't gonna stop doing it now.“ Photo: Lg Trawinski