The Evolution and History of Parasailing

Parasailers are a common sight not only on Lake Chelan—where, as we’re sure you already know, we were the first to bring it to Washington State—but around the world. It’s a bona fide craze with fans on literally every continent (yes, including Antarctica!) Who would suspect that only a few years ago, parasailing was just another “crazy dream.” Here’s how and why parasailing became so popular, and the many experiments and improvements along the way that make it such a thrilling—and safe—way to fly today.

Parasailing: High-Tech Beginnings

The story of parasailing is a story of adventure-seekers and risk-takers, but also one very practical and methodical designer: Pierre-Marcel Lemoigne. A French engineer, Lemoigne was primarily interested in simplifying the process of training parachutists for military and commercial uses, but as with so many other things, once the potential for fun was recognized there was no way it was going to be stifled!

By modifying a standard “ParaCommander” parachute, Lemoigne created an “ascending-gliding” parachute. Skydiving trainees no longer needed to be taken aloft in airplanes; with sufficient wind and velocity, they could make limited controlled ascents and descents, greatly simplifying the training process.

Parasailing…Into Outer Space?

Within a short time, NASA and the United States Air Force recognized the system’s potential and employed parasails to train astronauts for the 1965 Gemini 6 orbital mission. After the mission’s successful (and televised) completion, it’s probable that civilians started putting two and two together and realized that controlled parachuting over water sounded like a lot of fun!

The first step towards recreational parasailing came with vehicle-towed “beach parasailing” on tourist beaches in Mexico and the Caribbean in the late 1960s. But beach parasailing was by all accounts a relatively crude and unsafe approach: Vehicles had limited access to empty beaches, and maneuverability was severely limited by the extent of passable sand. Today, the practice has almost entirely disappeared; from a health and safety standpoint, we’re glad to see it go.

The Modern Era of Parasail: Leaps in Safety and Reliability

In the early 1970s, Mark McCulloh pioneered the combined launch and recovery boat equipped with a winch, the standard arrangement still in use. In 1976, designer Brian Gaskin, using cutting-edge waterproof fabrics, engineered a design we’d recognize today as being thoroughly modern. This leap forward and subsequent improvements have made parasailing so reliable and safe that two- and three-seat models—like the ones we operate over Lake Chelan—are commonplace.

In short, parasailing has a long and fascinating history, and its been continually improved over the last 55 years or so. While it’s every bit as thrilling as when it was first envisioned, it’s now so safe that anyone age five or older can go for a flight. If you haven’t experienced the beauty of Lake Chelan from the air, you’re in for the thrill of a lifetime. Catch the end of our summertime deals and come fly the Lake with us today!