Have you ever heard anyone mention something about parasailing off mountain slopes? If so, you know they're confusing it with paragliding!
Parasailing. The very word makes experienced paraglider pilots roll their eyes. I've seen one comment where a paraglider pilot described it as 'dragging a sack of potatoes into the air, behind a speedboat' or similar words.
You see, a paraglider pilot really is a pilot, skilled at making an aircraft do his bidding.
In contrast, a parasail passenger is just hanging on for the ride with no control at all. Sometimes a very undignified ride!
You can find short video clips on the Web of overweight people being yanked violently through the sand and surf on their faces, before swinging like a... uummm sack of potatoes, through the air as the speedboat roars into the distance. Very funny stuff, but probably not for the person experiencing the ride.
Ok, enough parasailor-bashing! :-) On the plus side, with a decent speedboat driver and good equipment, a ride under a parasail is a thrilling way for a non-pilot to fly through the air for a while.
For these people, the rewards are the feeling of flight, the great ocean views during the ride and the satisfaction of telling others about their adventure. And perhaps bragging about the height they achieved, if the operator estimated it for them.
Some people call these rides parascending, and the person going for the ride is a parascender. Never done it myself, the gear had only just been put on the market when I learnt to fly in the 70s.
By the way, modern operators are very professional and statistics have reflected the much improved safety standards over the years. Getting 'yanked through the surf' and other dangers of parasailing are not so likely these days!
The first was a guy called Brian Gaskin, who founded the Waterbird Parakites company. He fiddled around with ex-army parachutes in the 60s before releasing the first real parasail in 1974.
This design was the fore-runner of nearly all the commercial designs being used today.
Hauling tourists into the air behind a speedboat is quite big business now. Particularly since some modern gear is designed to take 2 or 3 riders at a time! The bigger operators can be found along the South East coast of the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean.
Typical heights off the water are between 100 and 150 meters (about 300 to 500 feet) while the operators at Daytona beach in the U.S. sometimes take people up to 600 meters (2000 feet). No wonder the Daytona operation is rather well known.