ANDY THOMAS: Parasailing Overcomes Fear of Flying
I'm not afraid of flying. I even owned a pilot's license once. But heights can fray my nerves no end.
Nightmares have me hanging by a thread hundreds of feet up, with my stomach tied in knots. My army quarters at Fort Benning, Ga., were adjacent to the big jump towers where soldiers began their parachuting careers, and it took me extra time to go to sleep as I tried to erase the image of me jumping from one of the them.
Recently in Myrtle Beach, I noticed four parasail rigs operating over the Atlantic and in close proximity to my hotel balcony. I could not help watching these flights as they took off, soared and landed like giant beach balls in slow motion.
This floating phenomenon mesmerized me into inquiring as to weight limitations, cost, flight time and what happens if you want to make an emergency descent. That is, you panic and need to return quickly to terra firma, or, in this case, aqua firma. The young lady in the headquarters shack was ready to put me in the queue, but I explained that I was just inquiring, thank you.
That night, I decided, with geezer bravado, to add parasailing to my bucket list. Maybe it was the fact that George H.W. Bush parachuted on his 80th birthday or something, but I elected to do it. (I'd been tempted at earlier venues in the Caribbean but chickened out.)
As a finally committed parasailor, I went about my business the morning before launch, often pausing to visualize myself up in the air over waters that have been known to accommodate chondrichthyes (sharks).
"Just don't look down," I kept telling myself.
Arriving at the venue about 45 minutes early, I began the process of soaring with the help of a boat and parachute by first signing a lengthy form, which probably transferred my entire estate to the parasail firm if I were to succumb during my trip. They put a sealed band around my wrist -- which I surmised was smart and preparatory to visiting the nearest emergency room, should it be necessary.
After donning a ragged life preserver, I got in line for the ride to the chute boat, which turned out to be a banana boat towed by a jet-ski. Its pilot was a real beach bum, obviously turned on by smacking the waves at top speed.
My physical form doesn't lend itself to a rapid banana-boat embarkation, and the jet-ski pilot took off before I was ready, leaving me more or less splayed on its surface, hanging on for dear life. For a few moments I thought I was riding a brahma bull at the Cheyenne Frontier Days as we bucked, rocked and rolled over the waves.
Reaching the chute boat with a sigh of relief, I faced the next problem of getting my body off the banana boat onto the deck of the main craft. I was breathing pretty hard at this point.
A beautiful blonde girl greeted us and introduced the "captain" -- who, we found out later, is her father. They both looked disgustingly young, lean and suntanned, enjoying their work.
Getting into the harness was easy, and the three of us held onto the crossbar above our heads. Before we knew it, with no fanfare, we were let out like a kite on a string in a Force 5 wind. Nothing to it. Beautiful view. Watched the mother boat fade away. Then looked down at my toes. Wrong move. Because beyond my toes was the Atlantic Ocean, with 300 feet of nothingness in between. Panic? Not me, I just struck up a conversation with my two other chutemates and forgot about the void below me.
I soon became at ease with the whole experience -- which, in retrospect, was really a nonevent, but well worth it. Once.
Andy Thomas lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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