Matt Altavilla – Forming Bonds at 75 Feet

Fear is a funny thing.

That pit-of-the-stomach ball of white fire that builds in defiance of any rational argument can have the strangest effect on people. Some jump out of planes in pursuit of that shot of primal fight-or-flight adrenaline. Some race motorcycles. Some are content to merely scour the horror section of Netflix.

Matt Altavilla found his fear at 75 feet, and in sharp defiance of his fight-or-flight reflex, he embraced it.

“I was terrified of heights,” he said. “I grew up afraid of heights. When I first went up on the zip line, I was hugging the trees.”

It’s an interesting admission, given that Altavilla makes his living as one of the high-flying tour guides at ZipLine Hilton Head, where he spends his days towering over the treetops dangling from cables. At the same time, that fear gives him a unique insight into the many guests he takes upwards of seven stories in the air over the course of a day.

“It’s great helping people overcome that fear and get them out of their comfort zone,” he said. “Everyone will be kind of joking about it, but if someone is up there and they’re nervous I’ll tell them ‘Hey, at least you’re stepping away from the tree. My first time I had both arms around that tree.’”

Obviously, Altavilla got over his fear. But that ability to coax people out of their comfort zones helps build bonds between guests on Altavilla’s tours, something he cites as one of his favorite things about the job.

“In one day with three tours, you meet every kind of person you could,” he said. “Big, loud, crazy families; people who are a little more shy about going up. No matter how many times you go up there, all the groups are different. You get to know everyone personally.”

And from those widely diverse groups, some of whom are strangers before passing through the gauntlet of high wires, platforms and zip lines that crisscross ZipLine Hilton Head, bonds are formed. 

“I’ve taken groups up where you have two or three different groups, and after two hours everyone’s such good friends. They’re going to Up the Creek Pub & Grill after. They’re having a blast together.”

Thanks to Altavilla conquering his own fears, he’s helped other conquer theirs and forge quick friendships high above Hilton Head Island.

As he puts it: “You’re a completely different person up high.”


Originally designed as a quick and easy way to transport goods (and thrill-seeking people) across rough terrain, zip lines emerged as a recreational device in the 19th century. In his novel “The Invisible Man,” H.G. Wells first makes mention of an “incline strong,” because giving things cool-sounding names hadn’t been invented yet. Today’s lines use half-inch-thick galvanized steel cables with a break strength of 20,000 pounds, so don’t worry about grabbing a big lunch before you head up onto the course.