Parasailing For Locals

Tourists don’t always have all the fun, as MidWeek’s intrepid reporter discovers while flying 300 feet above the ocean at Waikiki

Yu Shing Ting
Friday - April 16, 2005
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Quang Huynh and
Charlene Katayama

Three, two, one — and take-off into the Hawaiian skies, not in an airplane or helicopter, but on a parasail to get a bird’s eye view of Honolulu’s scenic coastline from 300 feet above the water.

Parasailing is an activity you’ll find in almost every tourist magazine on Oahu. But why should tourists have all the fun?

Yes, most activities and attractions cost money, even for locals. But many places offer kamaaina discounts. And more importantly, you’ll never know what you may be missing out on unless you give it a try.

“It’s awesome,” says Quang Huynh of Kaimuki about his recent parasail adventure off Waikiki with X-Treme Parasail. “It feels like you’re flying, and it’s beautiful up there. And I liked how the captain kept dipping us in the water and dragging us.”

“This is our second time parasailing and it was still fun,” says Charlene Katayama of Moanalua, who booked the parasailing trip as a birthday present for Huynh. “It’s just scary at first, but that’s the fun of it. It’s fun to be dipped in the water and it’s fun to just hover too. We would definitely go again.”

X-treme Parasail takes out about 250 parasailers a day during the summer and about 80 to 90 a day throughout the rest of the year. Most local parasailing companies take their parasailers up at least 300 feet above water depending on wind conditions and the person’s weight.

“The first thing we do in the morning is go out and check the wind conditions,” says Nathaniel Hasegawa of X-Treme Parasail. “We have six or seven different chutes we can use to accommodate for the different wind conditions. We use a bigger chute for days when the winds aren’t as strong, and a smaller chute for windier days. Also, the amount of weight we can take up also depends on the conditions. The maximum is about 400 pounds, depending on the wind.

“The best condition for us is a sunny day. Parasailing is all about the view. You’re so high up there and with nothing to obstruct your view. It’s like you’re flying but with no engine noise.”

My first parasailing journey started with a boat ride from Kewalo Basin to Waikiki. As we reached our destination for takeoff, I was given a life vest and harness to strap on.

Tsukasa Yamamoto and
the author

Paired with Tsukasa Yamamoto, a visitor from Japan, we were directed to the platform at the back of the boat, and hooked up to the parachute.

Then, starting in the sitting position, we gradually take off with the help of a rope-controlled winch system.

In what felt like seconds, we were up in the sky, with an amazing panoramic view of Diamond Head,Waikiki and the ocean below. From takeoff to landing, the captain has control of how fast and how far we go. You can even ask to not be dipped in the water, staying completely dry the entire time.

The ride up and down was very smooth, and the surroundings extremely peaceful and quiet. You almost forget how high up you are — that is, until you take a downward glimpse of the ocean below or at the boat that is now just a red speck in the water. But you kind of just get used to it. And besides, there needs to be some thrill to the experience.

Then, with a few dips in the water, you’re pulled back in and before you know it, you’re landing on the same platform at the back of the boat.

“It was better than what I expected,” says Felicia Gonzalez, a visitor from Washington. “I thought it was going to be more scary and rough, but it was very smooth.”

“It was excellent, and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” adds Jeff Taylor, also from Washington. “Being up there, it was like being free.”

As for the history of parasailing, it depends on who you talk to. One story is that it started in the 1960s, when a parachute was attached to a car as a way to teach parachuters. The parachuters would be raised to a certain height and then set free.

Then in the early 1970s, Mark McCulloh, an inventor from Miami,, started using parachutes at sea. Considered the pioneer of commercialized parasailing, McCulloh designed many of the products, manufacturing applications and operational safety guidelines and procedures which have set the standards which all
parasail operators use today, including the tandem bar, offshore platforms,Winchboat and the Skyrider chair.

“Another story is that during World War II, the military used parasailing off their aircraft carriers to spot submarines in the water,” explains John Gonda, a captain with X-Treme Parasail.

John Gonda pilots the boat carrying two riders behind it

“Also, in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Vietnam, it was used for recreation,” adds Tasson Young, also a captain with XTreme Parasail.

“A group of guys started pulling each other with jeeps and using a jump parachute. But they were getting hurt and breaking their bones from landing in trees and on buildings. So they decided to try it with boats, using patrol boats.”

In Hawaii, meanwhile, “Parasailing is something locals can do and enjoy in the water other than surfing,” says Huynh.

“And I think it’s fun for local people to come out and do touristy things,” adds Katayama. “You don’t know what you’re missing out on unless you try it.”


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