"You're crazy," my wife said, "and I won't watch you. . ."
". . .fall from the sky and get splattered all over the beach" was left unsaid.The topic of discussion was parasailing. I wanted to try it, because it looked exciting. LuAnn was adamantly opposed. She thought I had some sort of death wish.
Parasailing, for those who have never seen it, is a fairly sedentary sport. It doesn't call for the athletic prowess that, say, football or raquetball, require. For exercise and burning calories, it probably falls somewhere between tiddlywinks and table tennis.
But for an up-in-the-air "high," it's probably more in league with hang-gliding and sky diving. It can be done on land (a little more difficult, I presume, trailing behind a Jeep on some back-country roads), but it's a hot item at the beach - whether you're at Bear Lake, Waikiki or the Mexican Riviera.
It's sort of like flying a kite, according to outdoor writer Ken Grissom of the Houston Post, "except you are the kite."
Basically, the sailee is attached to a harness, which is attached to a large, colorful parasail. The other end of the 400 or so feet of what you hope is industrial-strength rope is hooked onto a motor boat. The boat revs up, the parasail billows up with wind - and you're airborne.
I saw my first parasailers about seven years ago on the beach at Acapulco. But I didn't have the time, or the inclination (or the guts?) to try it.
So when I was back in Mexico recently, I had another opportunity to experience the thrill (or the death wish) of parasailing.
One parasailing trip around the bay at Puerto Vallarta takes about eight minutes, I was told. So, after the shortest 16-minute wait in my life, I donned a lifejacket (just in case you miss your landing mark and end up in the bay) and was buckled into my parachute harness. Offshore, the motorboat crew was waiting for the signal to pull out.
The instructions were simple. They'd take care of the take-off, but you had to help a little with the landing.
"Listen for the whistle," I was told. "When the first whistle sounds, pull down on the strap at your left side and hold it firmly down by your shoulder. Then, when you hear the second whistle, let go."
First whistle, pull down. Second whistle, let go. Sounds easy. Unless you black out or have a massive coronary failure somewhere between take-off and 400-feet.
About the only genuine athletic ability required for parasailing is a short run along the beach, between the time the boat starts up and your body leaves the ground.
After being securely cinched into the harness, the beach crew gave the go-ahead to the guys in the boat. All at once I was scrambling (being prodded and shoved? No - pulled!) toward the water as the rope tightened. Before I had a chance to yell "No! Wait! I've changed my mind! Let me see your credentials!" - I was 10 feet off the ground, then 25, then . . . soaring with the eagles (or at least the pigeons) 400 feet above Puerto Vallarta's beautiful, deep blue Bahia de Banderas.
I let go of the side straps (I was securely buckled in - I prayed), and grasped the camera dangling around my neck. You don't think I was going to let this experience get away without being preserved on film?
Grissom was right. I was a kite!
I felt like the Darlings in "Peter Pan." I wanted to sing "I can fly! I can fly! I can fly!" But it would've disburbed the magnificence of the moment.
For sheer, unadulterated adventure, those eight glorious minutes pretending I was a kite over Puerto Vallarta rank right alongside a helicopter trip swooping over and through the volcanoes and canyons of Kauai in Hawaii two years ago.
The old slogan "a bird's-eye-view" takes on an almost reverent new perspective. Except for the whoosh of the wind and the slight vibration from the parasail rigging, the first thing that hits you is the feeling of freedom and solitude. It's just you and the elements - and 400 feet or so of rope.
Oddly enough - but probably not to other journalists - the one real fear I had while I was soaring over the bay was that my pictures wouldn't come out. I was more concerned about what the vibrations were doing to my photographs, than I was about whether or not I was going to get down safely.
Don't sweat the small stuff, right? I wouldn't fret about the landing until I heard the whistle.
Tweeet. Tweeeett! Tweeett!
What's that? The last train from Copper Canyon?
Oops! That's my signal! I let go of my camera. (Still safely secured to my neckstrap. Good.) Now, what did they say? Pull down on the strap over my left shoulder.
I pulled down, then lost my grip. The whistle blows again. Sounds like they're a little irked. Maybe it was the other strap. Nope, the left one. I pull down again and hang on for dear life.
Then, the beach is considerably closer. Must be losing altitude.
Wow! What a great shot! I try to hold my grip on the strap with one hand and get a quick shot off with my camera in the other hand. Bad move.
Oh, oh. Made the whistle-blower mad again. One thing you don't want to do when you're parasailing is irritate the folks in charge of getting you down. Better just pay attention to the landing and forget about capturing that Great Prize-winning Photograph.
Then, almost before I realize it, I'm about to hit the ground and two members of the parasail crew run alongside to catch me. They unbuckle the chute and help me out of the lifejacket.
"Muchas gracias! Muchas, muchas gracias!" I thank them profusely, not only for unbuckling me, but for the entire experience.
P.S. - If you really want to know, the most frightening thing about the parasailing experience was when it suddenly occurred to me that I was up there - 400 feet in the air enjoying the scenery - and my wife was somewhere down on the beach. . .shopping! And there wasn't anything I could do about it!
Now that's scary!