Aaron Holly, 47, spent a number of years in the Army, the majority of which were logged at Fort Bragg, N.C., first with the 82nd Airborne Division and then as an engineer with the 20th Special Forces Group. He later became a Special Forces Medic (18D) and completed the Interservice Physician Assistant Program offered through the military at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas sponsored by the University of Nebraska. This resulted in a masters degree, and Holly took this with him into civilian life, working as a PA, most recently in the emergency department at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville, N.C.
Did we mention that he jumps out of planes too? And this is something he has taken into civilian life – with a vengeance. Eighteen months ago he took the plunge and made this passion his business.
Skydive Myrtle Beach [ www.mbskydiving.com] operates its drop zone at the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, and is becoming a Mecca for all things related to skydiving.
“I wanted to bring the most extreme, exciting thing to the area,” says Holly. “Myrtle Beach is full of dinner shows, restaurants and bars. What is more extreme than being over the beach, looking at the ocean and probably the prettiest view on the East Coast? On a clear day you can see all the way up to Bald Head Island and down to Murrells Inlet. My business model was – if you are going to jump out of an airplane, I want to give you the postcard view – so where can I do that on the East Coast? This is it.”
The idea for Skydive Myrtle Beach came one night when Holly was sitting at his computer at home in Raleigh, N.C., enjoying a beer one night. “I had been skydiving for a long time and had been an instructor forever. I thought, ‘I’m going to start up my own drop zone.; ” Indeed, Holly’s first civilian skydive was in 1993, and he did this on the side for many years while working full time as a PA. “On weekends I would go do tandems and teach people how to skydive.”
He was surprised that there was nothing here yet. He took a look at the Grand Strand Airport on Google Earth and was impressed. He drove down from Raleigh to see it for himself, and loved it. “So I came back home and started trying to find out who the hell to talk to about this,” he says. “It took me about two weeks to figure out phone numbers – but instead of calling people, I just showed up on doorsteps. It’s kind of hard to say no when you are looking at somebody eye-to-eye.”
He prevailed. “Now that we are up and running, we offer everything,” he says. “You can come in here and do your first skydive, which is a tandem [attached to a certified instructor]. You can learn how to skydive and we can license you as a skydiver. If you are licensed, you can come here and get any instruction offered in the skydiving world – or just want to have fun and jump out of an airplane.”
The business also offers observation flights. “We call these Introduction to Skydiving, and they can actually go up and watch jumpers skydive and then have a badass plane ride on the way down.” He asserts that most of these observers sign up as soon as they get back down – and go straight back up for the real deal. An observer flight is $35, and a tandem skydive is $235.
After signing a waiver, watching a video and receiving some brief training, the experience begins with the freefall – and then a graceful descent. “It’s about a seven minute ride underneath the canopy,” he says. “You are parasailing from about a mile up – all the way down.
But do people start begging not to jump after they already signed up?
“Once they get up there and see how nice and steady the plane ride is – and the view – nobody says they don’t want to go. If I could record two phrases from people – and you see this on just about everybody’s video – the first phrase is ‘Oh, fuck,’ and when you see them coming down with the videographer in their face, it’s ‘fuck yeah!’ I don’t care if they are 85 or 18.”
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