history of parasailing

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!

Lake Chelan adventures

Lake Chelan Adventures in the Sky

Naturally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Lake Chelan is home to Washington State’s first parasail operation (yes, we’re name-dropping ourselves). But our beautiful lake hosts a bounty of other airborne options for adventure, and believe us when we tell you that the lake’s unspoiled beauty is even more breathtaking when seen from the air.

Sadly, one of our favorite options—and a true symbol of Lake Chelan—is closed for the 2017 season due to construction and changes at the Chelan Marina. As reported in the Lake Chelan Mirror, Chelan Seaplane, operating a jaunty orange DeHavilland Beaver since 1945, is seeking a new permanent home. We wish them luck and hope they return to the lake soon.

That said, there are other ways—besides parasailing Lake Chelan—to get up in the air. Here are a few of our favorites!

Lake Chelan Adventures in the Sky

Lake Chelan Parasailing

While we weren’t the very first to take advantage of Lake Chelan’s natural beauty by air–that distinction goes to Chelan Seaplane–we’re proud to have brought a whole new way of doing it when we inaugurated the state’s very first parasailing operation back in 1983. Since then, we’ve given thousands of riders the thrill of a lifetime as they sail hundreds of feet above the lake. Come be next!

Lake Chelan Skydiving

Let’s cut directly to the chase: When it comes to airborne thrills, nothing competes with the raw rush of skydiving! Skydive Chelan offers a range of options from tandem jumps—in which you’re hitched to a seasoned instructor—for beginners, to full-altitude or quick “hop-n-pops” for licensed pros. If you’re feeling shaky about jumping, you can even schedule your jump to land at a winery for a rapid and controlled come down.

Lake Chelan Helicopter Tours

If you’d prefer to stay inside the vehicle, Lake Chelan Helicopters offer a more sedate airborne experience. Their attractive little Robinson whirlybird is available for tours, winery and dinner hops—just to be clear, you wine and dine on the ground, not in the air!—and passenger flights to nearby Stehekin and Holden Village farther up the lake.

Lake Chelan Zip Lines

For those of you who prefer your airborne fun a wee bit closer to the ground, Tunnel Zip Lines offers a truly unique and thrilling ride. Sailing above a decommissioned apple orchard at breathtaking speed (but, needless to say, complete safety), riders are slingshotted from station to station on a virtual tour of the canyon. We can’t recommend a visit strongly enough; it’s a one-of-a-kind melding of the natural and human-made worlds. Kind of reminds us of another place we know, come to think of it…

We hope we’ve made our point when it comes to summer fun in Chelan, the sky really is the limit. Come see beautiful Lake Chelan by land, by water–or by air! And maybe you can invent a whole new way of enjoying it!