FAIRLEA — Much like the Ferris wheel or roller coaster, Jungle Island’s 80-foot ladder is visible from one end of the grounds of the State Fair of West Virginia to the next.
And when a man clad in a leopard-print bathing suit bottom stands perched at the top, it tends to attract a crowd.
Audience members are drawn in before the long climb to the top, however, as the Jungle Island High Dive Show promises wild animals will run through the crowd before plunging off of diving boards into a swimming pool.
But the zebra, monkey, black panther, jaguar and (pink) giraffe that come roaring into the waiting crowd, encouraging them to dance and limbo before the show begins, are actually mostly comprised of retired Olympic level competitive divers in costume.
“You’ve never seen a pink giraffe, right?” asks diver Alex Yurchyk, of Belarus.
For the next 20 minutes, the team of “wild” animals entertains the crowd with a mixture of comedy, splashes and skillful dives as they twist and turn through the air — solo and in tandem — leading up to the big finish.
“James will climb 80 feet to the top and hurl himself into the air and into the pool, reaching speeds of up to 55 miles per hour and stop in 9 ½ feet of water, before he could hit the pavement like a brick wall beneath our feet,” emcee Marc Dobson told the crowd.
And after a 10-count, diver Jaime (James) Arroyave dove 80 feet into the waiting water.
“It was great,” said Kathy Lee, of Clifton Forge, Va., who attended with her three children Elizabeth, Patricia and Nicholas. “They did a really good job.”
They all said they were happy, and a little relieved, the show featured diving humans instead of animals.
“I was a little nervous,” Elizabeth said, laughing.
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The State Fair of West Virginia marks the first time Yurchyk; Arroyave, of Colombia; Dylan Glumac-Berberich, of Minneapolis; David Petrison, of Rochester, N.Y.; and Mykayla Fielding, of Los Angeles, have ever performed together.
Brown Entertainment puts on the events, which feature divers performing different themed shows around the world.
“There are animal shows, pirate shows, penguin shows,” Yurchyk said.
Arroyve explained this is how he and others, who have retired from competitive diving, stay in the game.
“This is our life,” he said. “We travel around the world doing this for the company. We do this for the people the best we can.”
Glumac-Berberich and Petrison are still in school and said they are using the job for experience and as a way to stay active.
“This is a fun thing for us to do during our time off from college,” Glumac-Berberich said. “We still do some practice. We’re learning a lot more stuff and a lot more fun dives.
And they’re having fun.
“When people ask me, I say, ‘They pay me for playing in the pool with my friends,’” Arroyave said.
Fielding echoed, talking about the difference between competitive diving and show diving.
“In competitive diving, you want to be on point, but this is more loose and fun,” she says. “It’s kind of like the bigger the splash, the better. People see the splash and they’re like ‘woo.’”
Glumac-Berberich said audience participation is key.
“If everyone is being loud and getting you going, it makes you want to jump higher and do harder stuff.”
The divers said they look forward to the rest of the fair and encourage people to come out and enjoy a show.
“You want comedy? You want springboard dives jumping off of 80 feet?” Glumac-Berberich asked. “You want goofiness? Fire dives? We set a diver on fire and send him off at the 6:30 show. It’s all there.”
Yurchyk chimed in, adding, “If you want to make your day better, come see a jungle show.”
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Jungle Island High Dive Show is performed daily at noon, 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
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At the Fair Today
Gates open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Carnival rides from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
West Virginia Lottery opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m.
Open Horse Show at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Unclaimed Property Auction at 5 p.m.
At the Grandstand tonight: TobyMac with special guest Aaron Cole at 7 p.m.