Parasailing a thrill yet peaceful too

Associated Press
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In this Sept. 24,2012 photo, two people parasail over the Miami Beach, Fla. area. Soaring high above the ocean off South Beach, tethered only by a rope to a boat hundreds of feet below, riding in a parasail is at once exhilarating and oddly peaceful, even quiet. For millions of people, that's the takeaway from a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But every year there are accidents, some of them fatal. The Parasail Safety Council, which tracks injuries and deaths from the activity nationwide, reports more than 70 people have been killed and at least 1,600 injured between 1982 and 2012, out of an estimated 150 million parasail rides during those 30 years. Despite the inherent risk, few federal or state safety regulations exist for parasailing. In Florida, which has by far the largest number of parasail operators at about 120, repeated efforts to enact new rules following fatal accidents have landed with a thud. Florida is seen by safety proponents as a national bellwether because of parasailing's popularity in the state. (AP Photo/Tony Winton)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — I'm not afraid of heights, or flying, or thrill rides. So I didn't hesitate to take a parasail ride for an Associated Press story about the activity's lack of safety regulations.

Equipped with a small video camera, I was buckled into a tandem harness along with Miami Beach Parasail crew member Gabriela Samut. With a parachute-like sail already aloft behind the boat, we sat on the aft deck in our harnesses and got clipped into a tow bar. Then the boat picked up speed and we were gradually lifted into the air by the wind.

At first I felt a slight stomach drop and couldn't help but kick my legs in freedom. Soon, the noise of the boat's engine died away and it was akin to riding in a hot-air balloon: there's almost no sound but the wind. At 300 or so feet, we could see rock formations under the clear sea and scan the upper floors of South Beach's famed Art Deco hotels.

Below us, the boat circled. We were connected only by that one thin rope.

Eventually the boat slowed and we gradually descended as the crew winched in the line. A highlight was the "toe dip," where we were just above the water line and were able to stick our feet into the water. Up again we went, then gradually down until we landed gently back on the boat with both feet.

The ride was more exhilarating than scary. In all, the fun lasted about 10 minutes.

View Curt Anderson's parasail ride here: