Action/Adventure, Extreme Sports, Parasailing
Parasailing with LBI Parasail (Long Beach Island, New Jersey)
By Caitlin Doherty — February 14, 2011
Parasailing is said to "combine the thrill of hang-gliding with the excitement of parachuting.” Parasailing (or parascending) is where you’re secured in the harness of a parachute or parachute-like canopy, called a parasail. This is attached to a 300–1,500 foot long towrope, and a vehicle, usually a boat called a parasailingboat (also called parasailboat, platformboat, winchboat, paracraft or parascendingboat) pulls it forward, forcing the parachute to catch wind and rise up, hoisting you, the “parasailor,” (or “parasailer”) aloft with it.
Interesting America's extreme sports enthusiast, caitlin doherty, tries parasailing at long beach island in new jersey, calling upon lbi parasail. here we see caitlin at an altitude of about 400 feet. (Photo © richard grigonis)
A parachuting instructor named Pierre-Marcel Lamoigne apparently invented parasailing back in 1961. Lemoigne developed ParaCommander-type of parachutes known as “ParaCommander” or PC-canopies based on free fall parachutes. To teach people parachuting, Lamoigne attached one of his parachutes to a car and dragged it and the person attached to it up in the air. At a certain height the person would release the tow rope and, now set free, they drifted down as they normally would with a parachute. Lamoigne called this technique “parascending.”
In 1963 a French-American recreational parachutist and investment banker Jacques-André Istel, “the father of American skydiving,” bought a license from Lemoigne to make and sell the parachute canopy he had developed for towing which was trademarked as a “parasail.”
LBI Parasail's winchboat heads out to sea from Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Note the launch platform at the end of the boat, and the canopy inflation mast at left. (Photo © Richard Grigonis)
Then, in 1974, Mark McCulloh , who invented just about everything associated with modern parasailing, came up with his most famous invention, the winchboat, which is a big, specially-designed motorboat that has a platform on the back to launch parasailors from the back of the boat and a winch system then pulls them back in. A line from the top of a canopy inflation mast is attached to the canopy “riser” lines so that the oncoming wind immediately inflates the canopy, then the mast line is lowered and detached from the canopy riser lines. Pretty much all commercial operators in resorts worldwide use winchboats, as does the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida.
The LBI Parasail crew adjusts the canopy inflation mast in preparation for parasail takeoff. Caitlin, at right, looks on. (Photo © richard grigonis)
Winchboat platform parasailing really is the most popular kind of parasailing (about 90 percent of parasail operators offer it) but there are in fact two other methods of parasailing: One of these is “beach parasailing” where the parasailor starts by standing onshore, on the beach. The tow boat, just offshore, accelerates forward, and the parasailor starts running toward the boat as the line suddenly gets taut and he or she is pulled into the air. From that point on, beach sailing is like winchboat parasailing except that the boat doesn’t pull you in. Instead it pulls you closer to the beach and then slows down, giving the parasailor a signal to steer the parasail right or left (by pulling on the right or left rear “risers”) and then the boat keeps reducing speed until the parasailor lands running on the beach.
Our Caitlin Doherty ready for liftoff from LBI Parasail's tour boat. Parasail canopy is catching the wind and everything is looking good. (Photo © richard grigonis)
Beach parasailing is obviously the most dangerous kind of parasailing and for that reason I’ve never done it. This is also dangerous in that there are crowds on the shore and tour operators don't like it because starting from the beach requires more staff, making it more expensive and less profitable. A safer version of beach parasailing involves landing on the platform on the boat, as in platform parasailing.
For an amateur, the easiest form of parasailing is true platform parasailing where the towing powerboat and a platform are always aligned into the wind and the flight is more controlled by the boat, so the parasailor doesn’t have to steer the canopy. The boat slows and then stops in perfect synchronization with the parasailor above platform, otherwise the parasailor could miss the platform and land in the water.
and she's airbone! Caitlin takes to air high and “parascends” above the seas surrounding long beach island in new jersey. you can see atlantic city from up there. (Photo © richard grigonis)
Also, in parasailing the most important thing that controls your height above the water is the boat’s speed. The faster the boat goes, the more air is moving into the canopy, and the higher up you can go. The actual altitude depends on the how much tow rope is being used, whether it’s 500, 800, 1,000 or 1,500 feet or more. In some forms of parasailing you have the ability to steer the canopy, but the boat has a lot of control in this too.
In all forms of parasailing, you get a helmet, a lifejacket and a crash course in water survival training in case of an emergency. There are also various types of harnesses, such as a single harness for one person (the most common type), a double harness for two people (in in front of the other), a tandem bar harness (a metal bar on which you can hook up to three seats), and the “skyrider chair” or “rigid chair,” where you are seated in a partly reclined position without straps in a chair that can float.
This was a pretty controlled platform flight, so Ms. Doherty didn't have to worry about steering or maintaining altitude. They did give her the option as to whether she wanted to land on the boat's rear platform or in the ocean. (Photo © richard grigonis)
Living in New Jersey as I do, I went parasailing using LBI Parasail, of Long Beach Island, New Jersey. They offer single and rides and tandem rides where two people are harnessed and attached to a tandem bar so they can fly side-by-side. Even so, the ultimate decision whether or not to fly tandem is made by the captain once he sees he figures out the combined weight of the two people and the conditions (winds, seas, etc.) at the time of the reservation. Technically there is no weight limit, but the weather and sea conditions can impose a limit. Children or lighter parasailors usually fly with an older sibling or adult to add more weight in the parasail.
The ride is about 8 to 10 minutes long, from the time you leave the boat’s platform. Tandem flights are 10 to 12 minutes long. If you’re on a full boat of six parasailors, expect to be out on the water for about one hour.
Caitlin doherty literally gets her feet wet during her parasailing experience, all in good fun. (Photo © richard grigonis)
With LBI Parasail you tend to reach an altitude of between 300 to 500 feet, though of course you can ask to fly lower. In clear weather you can see Atlantic City, and of course you can see all over Long Beach Island, which is flat, and you can look down on the 172 foot lighthouse that’s nearby.
LBI Pareasail lets you bring a disposable or waterproof camera (only), but they obviously won’t be responsible if you lose it. They also offer a photo package: they take about 20 pictures of your parasail flight with a professional-grade digital camera that has a long telephoto lens with optical zoom ability. At the end of the trip they give you an erasable digital photo card you can take home and download the images to your computer or you can have them printed out as snapshots at your local drugstore.
Caitlin takes a short dip in the ocean off long beach island, going from being a parasailor to a parasurfer. (Photo © richard grigonis)
When visiting a quiet place like Long Beach Island, parasailing with a company like LBI Parasail gives you something exciting to do for those long days at the beach. It’s probably the least expensive way to get airborne, and it’s a lot of fun.
Caitlin Doherty, when not functioning as Interesting America's pizza-ologist and fun eatery afficionado, is our action-adventure/extreme sports reporter. She also likes fun places to visit when she can find the time. A New Jersey native, she is a pharmacy technician for a hospital.