There Are No Strangers Here … Just Friends Who Haven’t Met
Nearly eight years ago, in the small town of Shinglehouse, Pa. (just southeast of Olean, NY), I took a gigantic leap of faith and it completely changed my outlook on the world. In all actuality it was more of a tuck and roll than it was a leap, but as soon as it happened the world around me seemed to be rushing by me at a hundred miles an hour. But then again, jumping out of a Cessna 182 at 10,000 feet will tend to have that effect on you.
If you have never purposefully jumped out of a perfectly good airplane before, you might want to add it to your “to do” list. Attempting to put the experience into words is nearly impossible, but imagine the sensation of every inch of skin on your face being suctioned back as you plummet towards the earth, and yet at the same time you feel entirely weightless. Time stands still, despite the fact that you know that with every passing second you get closer and closer to the ground, as you gaze out on a landscape that you’ve only seen in photos before. Now … imagine that while your dive-instructor, a gregarious and energetic Australian, is strapped to your back and shouting “Yaaa-hooooo” all the way down.
If you’re not familiar with the location, Shinglehouse is by no means a Mecca in the highly specialized, close-knit world of skydiving. Nevertheless it is there where you will find Freefall OZ Skydiving Center and Oz’s Homestay B&B. Owned and operated since 2004 by Ash and Celeine Easdon-Smith, this one-of-a-kind facility offers its guests a unique opportunity to truly get away from it all. (How many other places can you spend the night in a renovated barn-turned-B&B, wake up to a home cooked meal, go fishing in the morning and then jump out of a plane?)
“We were living in our RV ‘Frank,’ named after Frank Sinatra, traveling around the East Coast looking for a small airstrip and hangar to run a small DZ (drop zone),” said Celeine. “We had seen 27 properties in about a year and were in Florida when we got an e-mail regarding an airport property in north central Pa. for sale. I am from Northeast, Pa. and we thought what the heck, let's go check it out. We drove up to see the property here and fell in love with the area, the people and the property. The renovated barn was a bonus and led to the B&B idea. We loved that the property was flat yet surrounded by hills and bordered by the Oswayo. We spent about a week here and got a good feel for the area and the community and it felt like home. The airstrip was in great condition and even if the business didn't work, we felt we would be very happy living here on the property.”
That property soon became more than a place of business for Ash and Celeine; it became a place that they could call home. After traveling all around the world, the couple was excited to move on to the next chapter in their life.
Even though the adventurous pair was sure that they had set roots in the right location, the Shinglehouse area was not without its challenges.
“Our biggest challenge is that we are in a fairly remote area with no large cities or densely populated areas close by,” said Celeine. “We are two hours from Buffalo, Rochester and Erie. We don't have much population to draw from for a sport that appeals to a limited population to begin with.”
Despite these obstacles, word of the business began to spread, mostly due to relentless work on Celeine’s part to market the unique venture. “Word of mouth is our best form of advertising but it takes a long time to have an impact,” Celeine said. “I believe we are turning that corner and seem to have had some large events recently that should help spread the word.”
According to Celeine, the majority of the people (upwards of 95%) that come to skydive are beginner divers. “We have an occasional experienced jumper stop in from time to time. We do not have an experienced jumper base like DZ’s in Buffalo, Rochester or Grove City do. They have bigger populations with more people to pull from.” Nevertheless, the presence of Freefall OZ has brought people to the area.
In fact, over Memorial Day, Ash celebrated his 4,000th jump. Considering he has been jumping now for 25 years, that equates to an average of 160 jumps a year, a number that is that much more impressive when you take into consideration the amount of jump time that he now loses due to the winter months.
When asked about his most memorable jump experience, Ash will tell you that it’s very difficult to pinpoint one particular memory but that the inspiration for his career path came in 1988 when he was visiting the U.S.A. for the second time. He was in Davis, Calif. at a large skydiving center and saw professional skydivers from all over the world practicing for a routine that would be part of the opening for the upcoming Seoul Summer Olympics. Ash had a chance to meet what was referred to as the Dream Team - selected skydivers from all over the world who were chosen to jump the Olympic rings into the arena. At the time he didn't realize that these individuals were pioneers of skydiving. It was their dedication and passion that had made the sport what it was then and paved the way for it to be what it is today. He watched them practice over and over again for six weeks in California. After this experience, Ash knew that he wanted to be a skydiving instructor.
By focusing in on his passion, Ash eventually found himself in a position to make his dreams a reality. “Do what you enjoy doing,” Ash advises. “Don't worry about when and where the money will come from. It will come naturally as long as you keep going and don't ask how or why. But, also be prepared to eat lots of beans on toast! There will be sacrifices made along the way including down time, holiday time and alone time. But, if you are doing what you love, these are minor inconveniences that are far outweighed by a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and happiness you get for giving it your all, following your dreams and having faith in what you believe in. It's better to have given it a go and fail then to never try at all. No ‘what ifs’ or regrets then.”
So what does a guy who jumps out of airplanes do for excitement when he’s not working? Run with the bulls in Spain? Wrestle grizzly bears? Dive with sharks? Actually, it’s the complete opposite. Ash says he enjoys checking out a good movie, going out to eat great food (his family has a history in the culinary arts so his appreciation of fine food is quite high. In fact he is an accomplished cook himself and does a lot of the cooking for the B&B) and going on a holiday with his wife, who happens to share many of his passions, which no doubt helps their working relationship. He also enjoys building furniture, which you can see throughout the B&B.
The B&B has four rooms and is usually busiest from late May through early December. It is open year-round and attracts visitors throughout the winter for special occasions and holidays like Valentine's Day, birthdays and anniversaries.
Additionally, Ash and Celeine have also started to cater for special dinners and parties such as bridal showers, memorial services and birthday dinners with advance notice. This summer they have also been host to five weddings and pre-wedding parties.
Whether you are looking for a quiet, secluded weekend away or to get the exhilarating thrill of a lifetime, Freefall OZ Skydiving Center and Oz’s Homestay B&B has you covered. Check them out online at freefallozskydiving.com or give them a call at 716-378-2211. Ash and Celeine are looking forward to meeting you!