I didn’t know that once airborne, I was considered a kite: I weighed more than five pounds and was intended to be flown at the end of a rope. At least, that’s how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines parasailing: According to the National Airspace System, parasailers are subject to the same regulations as for “moored balloons, kites, unmanned rockets and unmanned free balloons.” But there in Acapulco Mexico, who knows? Never mind, I was ambling in the sky as if I belonged there.
It started with a choice: taking off from the beach, or from a platform in the water. I chose the sand. As I stood on the beach of the Holiday Inn Resort in Acapulco, I wondered if I was out of my mind. What about my unpredictable fear of heights?
In You Bucket Because…
- Up to four million people do it every year.
- No specific training or skills are required.
- For beach activity fans, and novice but informed risk takers.
Preparing for Parasailing
Of course I was nervous, but the thought of someone asking, “How was it?” was stronger than my desire to retreat. So, I asked the same question to the man who had just landed. “Great! I would even let my grandmother do it,” he replied.
As I watched the flyer ahead of me get harnessed by a crew of two friendly Mexicans, I also saw his soon-to-be parachute laying on the sand like a huge deflated balloon. What if…? I watched him run toward the water as if he wanted to leap in, but he became airborne instead. After ten minutes, he landed back on the beach.
I was next. I bravely smiled as I surrendered to my launching squad and briefly pondered the life jacket I put one on. No special skills were expected of me: Hold on to the straps of the harness, run, and pull the red strap down when the crew waves at me from below. “That’s all!” They said. I gave a last look at my husband and thought my heart would stop.
Seeing the Mexican Coast from the Air
“Go!” I took three running steps and by the forth one I was already in the air. I was still ascending rapidly when I remembered to breathe, but I didn’t dare turn my head, or look down: The straps around my groin reminded me that I was suspended from a parachute about 200 meters above the water, and fastened to a rope towed by a boat. Ah, but once I leveled out, the breezy silence helped me relax into an amazing sensation of weightlessness and wholesomeness.
From the air, I had a perfect view of the arched (and once pristine) coast of the Bahia de Acapulco, famous for the daring divers of La Quebrada cliff. Time stopped as I took it all in, until I watched the white stretch of hotels along the beach get closer and closer. When I finally looked down, raised arms had obviously been trying to get my attention: Pull the red rope!
The beach approached faster and faster, but the crew directed my descent after catching the rope lowered by the reduced speed of the boat. And just as I thought I should get ready to land on my feet, four arms intently reached for me, and I sank in the arms of my welcoming squad.
Parasailing Safety Issues and Recommendations
In retrospect, I am shocked that I did not inquire about the operator’s qualifications. I assumed that the activity was under the responsibility of the resort, which it might have been.
Zero risk does not exist, but it’s still important to know that parasailing is not officially regulated. Serious accidents, however, are less common thanks to operators volunteering to abide by industry self-regulations, and to better equipment–at least in the United States. As for Mexico, the U.S. Department of State warns that aquatic equipment there may not meet U.S. safety standards–and accidents not be covered by insurance.
Incidents and accidents– including fatalities — are part of this sport:
- An aborted take-off from a platform might cause the flyer to be dumped or dragged in the water, and occasionally to bump the edge of the platform.
- A rope that snaps can cause the flyer to crash into power lines, trees, or buildings.
- A boat engine that stalls will no longer hold the parachute “aloft by the wind created from the boat towing it” (FAA). In this case, the flyer becomes subjected to gravity, plunges violently into the water, and might get stuck under the parachute.
Again, risk is hardly avoidable: Think car crash to tripping over a garden hose. So, what can you do?
- Be informed: Ask to see the permit to operate in a specific location. Is the operator insured?
- Check conditions: In doubt about the weather (wind, possible storm), don’t go, or check with the National Weather Service.
- Be prepared: Don’t decide on the spur of the moment, especially after a few cocktails.
- Use common sense: Don’t hesitate to ask a “stupid question,” and avoid taking up to the sky in places where practices might be shady.
- Not all states require a license, but a serious operator will ask for an inspection by the Coast Guard.
- Parasailing is under the FAA and United States Coast Guard jurisdiction.
- Consider these websites: FAA regulations and list of U.S. certified operators at Watersport Industry Association, Professional Association of Parasail Operators, Parasailing Safety Council.
- Consider warnings from the U.S. Department of State: travel info. specific to Mexico and water sports.