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Movie inspires man to buy Maryland skydiving business

WEST OCEAN CITY — Patrick Swayze helped change the trajectory of Josh Dolan’s life.

In 1991, Dolan went with friends to see “Point Break,” a film starring Swayze and Keanu Reeves, he explained from a perch in the Ocean City Skydiving Center’s office. The film includes one of the most popular filmed skydiving scenes of all time. Dolan decided he wanted to try it out for himself.

Soon after, he and some friends went for a dive, and he really enjoyed it. So much so that he’s done it more than 10,000 times since; his wife, Jeanice Dolan, has parachuted from a plane more than 1,000 times. The couple now owns and operates the skydiving center at the Ocean City Airport, where they employ two full-time professional tandem jumpers, two pilots, two parachute packers and some office help to maintain their seasonal business.

“People always laugh when I say that, but it really is the truth,” John Dolan said about his affinity for the scenic “Point Break” scene.

The Dolans bought the business 10 years ago from a man who decided he’d had enough of it. “It was one of those things where one man’s dream is another man’s nightmare,” Dolan said while he sat in the office’s waiting room, watching recent divers come in and asking about their experiences.

The process starts with a video about skydiving they show in the waiting room while skydivers-to-be fill out their waiver forms. After that, they get suited up and the diving instructors fill them in on what they’ll be doing.

A Cessna 182 takes skydivers up to over 12,000 feet in about 15 minutes, and then the tandem jump from two-and-a-half miles high is made with one of the professional drivers. The amateur and the pro are strapped together, and the pro is in control of the chute.

“When the doors open up, that’s really when it was scary,” said Baltimore native Kelly Dodson, who had come to the airport so she could check skydiving off her bucket list.

Dodson jumped from the same plane as her friend, Gina Smith. “We always do these types of things together,” said Smith, who admitted to an initial fear. But she and Dodson said they both want to do it again.

“There was a little while there where I was afraid I might pee my pants, but then it just becomes a thrill and a rush,” Smith said.

Diving professionals Daniel Williams and John Judy — who have both eclipsed the 10,000-jump milestone — speak with the divers as they make their descent, and point out various coastal landmarks. They’re solely responsible for the operation of the parachute equipment, so customers can enjoy the scenery without worry.

The whole process takes an hour or so, and the landing takes place in a field by the airport.

“It was so beautiful, and the guys give you a little tour of what you’re seeing,” Smith said. “They were great.”

Williams and Judy make as many as 12 jumps a day. Judy comes from a family of parachuting enthusiasts, and he’s been diving most of his life. He began packing parachutes when he was nine, he said.

The Dolans are a family of enthusiasts, as well, and the center is a family business. Their children, 10-year-old Jenna and seven-year-old Chase, hang and help out at the office when they’re on summer vacation from school.

“We have a lot of fun here,” Jeanine Dolan said.

The parachute packing process takes 10-15 minutes, and is more intricate than one may think. It’s much more than just stuffing it in a bag, and the Dolan’s packers are certified. The packing takes place in a room at the office. The way the process works, you can’t complete the next step of the packing if something has been done improperly in the previous step, which helps ensure safety, according to Jeanice Dolan.

There is also a back-up ‘chute in the storage backpacks, as well as a tiny computer that monitors rate of descent and altitude, and will automatically deploy a parachute if needed. “Those days of thinking your parachute isn’t going to open are pretty much behind us,” Jeanice Dolan said. In its decade of operation, the center has had a 100 percent safety record.

Rates start at $249 per person paying cash, and $259 for a credit card payment. Videos and photos of the jump taken by staff can also be purchased at varying prices.