Parasailing is one of the most awesome things you can do on your Punta Cana vacation, and if you really stop to think about it, it’s kind of crazy. You’re lifted high into the sky with a parachute type wing called a parasail, while being towed through the water by a boat, with the sole purpose of having a little fun.
While colorful parasails in the sky are common on the Punta Cana and Bavaro coast, we wondered, just who came up with this wild idea? Well, wonder no more, because what we have here is a brief history of how parasailing came to be.
Parasailing actually originated for a purpose much different than catching aerial views of white sandy beaches and coconut trees, it was actually used as a training exercise. Around 1962 a parachute instructor named Pierre Lemoigne towed students equipped with parachutes with rope and a truck. While it sounds like a dare or fraternity prank, the purpose was actually to give parachuters a chance to practice steering the parachute before jumping out of a plane. This method became such a popular method of teaching parachuting that Lemoigne developed a whole aeronautics school just for this purpose.
From land parasailing, it was actually the Air Force that took parasailing to the water. A boat and parasail tow system was used by Air Force flight crews to simulate emergency bail out situations over water. Throughout the 60’s parasailing caught on as a training tool, and was even used by astronauts in NASA! It wasn’t until around 1969 that parasailing started to appear as a recreational activity in tourist areas such as Mexico and the Caribbean.
In the 70s, recreational parasailing really started to get some attention, with the addition of equipment made especially for this purpose. Mark McCulloh is considered the father and the founder of modern parasail equipment and of the safety standards for parasailing. He designed the first ever “winchboat”, a boat that uses a hydraulic winch made specifically to launch and retrieve a parasailor on a boat. The invention of the winch boat made parasailing much safer than the stationary platform that was used before. Today, this same McCulloh winch boat system is the same equipment that is used all over the world; in fact McCulloh was even contracted to design winch boats for the US military.
The parasailing industry has only sailed up since the winch boat invention. In 1976 Brian Gaskin designed the first canopy to be used specifically for parasailing. Parachutes before Gaskin’s invention were typically designed for free falling, and were usually military grade. The need for a special wing also came from the fact that parachutes are different from parasails because parachutes have to be steered, while the parasails do not. Out of this need, the parasail we use today was born. The Waterbird was the name of the first parasail, and it was a 16 panel parachute that was designed to be more efficient when being used over the water.
So there you have it, more than you ever really needed to know about the history of parasailing. When you go parasailing in Punta Cana, you can take pride in knowing that your experience is among those of NASA astronauts and Air Force paratroopers.