Friday, July 8, 2011

Parasailing, or Why Never to Trust Someone Doing Business Out of a Hut

Two years ago on our trip to the beach, Matt and I and my sister-in-law Patty went parasailing. We loved it. I mean, loved it. We checked in at a dock in Destin, were ushered onto a swank boat, and zipped off into the ocean. Once there, we took turns pairing up and sitting down on the back of the boat, where we were harnessed to the parachute and lifted gently into the air to float along above the boat until we were brought back down again. Just before getting back to the boat, we were lowered until our feet dipped into the ocean and then zipped back up again. That's the only time we got remotely wet. It was relaxing and peaceful and really, really cool.

This year we thought it would be great to take Abby and Ethan. There's not really a minimum age, and I knew they would love the experience. Patty decided to take her oldest son Jake, too. Once we got situated at our house I set about making it happen.

Seacrest is a little bit closer to Panama City than Destin, so we decided to go there this time. I researched companies and narrowed it down to the one that seemed the nicest. I called ahead and made reservations. The lady directed us to show up at a beach, and when I asked her if there was a dock, she said we'd have to ride a smaller boat out to the main boat. Okay, sure.

On the designated day, we left Jake's little brothers and Aaron in the reliable care of Jacob, Michael and Siobhan and headed off to PC. We found a great parking spot and walked onto the beach. Here's a picture of Abby and Ethan, ready for the sail.


Over Abby's shoulder can you see the little brownish umbrella. Well. That was the parasailing company. It was sort of a little hut thing. The company representative, a middle aged woman in a sring bikini, was checking another family in. As we listened while we waited, I grew increasingly alarmed. First of all, she told them that they couldn't bring anything with them that they didn't want "completely soaked." Then when they asked how they were getting to the parasailing boat, she pointed at a giant yellow raft called a banana boat. I wasn't terribly worried about that, though, because the woman on the phone had assured me they had a much drier and safer option since we had children with us. Finally she told them to expect to wait at least an hour for their turn, but again I wasn't worried because unlike these other slacker customers, we had reservations.

Then I checked in.

While she was working on our paperwork, I said, "Boy, I sure am glad we don't have to ride that banana boat thing. That looks terrifying!" She looked up and said, "You DO have to ride it. That's the only way you're getting to the boat." Apparently the other, non-perilous option had broken down the day before.

Now let me just pause in my narrative a moment to explain to you what a banana boat is. You should Google it to see that I'm not exaggerating. It's a giant raft shaped like, well, a banana. 5 or 6 people straddle it and hang on to little handles. It is PULLED BY A JET SKI through the waves. And I don't mean over them, I mean through them. We watched a group go out, and at more than one point the banana was nearly vertical. People pay to go on these things as a thrill ride. I am not those people.

I expressed my concern at my children's ability to hang on adequately, and she peered at them and said, "Oh, kids usually only fall off if their parents hang on to them too tight." Super.

(A small side antecdote: when she looked at the kids, she noticed they'd taken their flip flops off and warned them to be careful of broken glass in the sand due to the recent tornado. WHAT? Do YOU remember hearing about a tornado in Florida ON the beach recently? Or EVER? Yeah, me either.)

At this point, I can see that if we survive the ride to the boat and back, we are going to be soaked and terrified. Everything within me is screaming at me to walk away, but I don't want to disappoint the kids, so I finish the paperwork. As she handed me the receipt she said, "Now we'll need you to be patient. It could be a while."

What? I had reservations.

Well, she explains, that apparently doesn't mean a whole lot of anything. They're running behind and there are people waiting in front of us. How long will it be, I ask. She confers with her assistant, the older shirtless hairy man sitting on a bar stool, and tells me to expect an hour. Over her shoulder, he mouths at me, "Closer to two hours."

That's it.

After a brief conference, we bribe the children with ice cream and get a refund while resisting the urge to tell them what to do with their banana boat. Once we got home I called the company in Destin that we sailed with before and booked us for our last day in town. Thank goodness, I thought. The drama is over.


We got to Just Chute Me's office in Destin (clever name, eh?) and were thrilled that all workers were fully dressed. Well, except this one:

One of the workers had her dog with her, and I think the dog was more well mannered than Ms. Bikini. We had a speedy and very professional check in and were escorted directly to our boat, which took off the moment we were seated. Aside from the 6 of us, there were 6 other passengers from Georgia and the two guys working on the boat.

We quickly discovered why everything was so quick--there was a megastorm headed straight for us and they wanted to do their best to let us all sail before it got too close. To speed the process up, they wanted us to go up in threes instead of twos. After a quick conference, we decided to send Abby with Patty and Jake (she loved the idea) and Matt and I would go up with Ethan.

The Atlanta group went first while we enjoyed the boat ride and waited our turn.


And before we knew it, our little girl was being strapped into a harness that was being attached to a parachute. I started to have a little mama-panic, but then I looked at her beaming face and realized she would be just fine.


And sure enough, she lapped up every moment. She's like me--any time I am enjoying something thrilling, I have a huge goofy grin on my face the entire time. I look like an idiot on roller coasters, but I'm laughing so hard I don't care.

2011Florida-Parasail 002

Look how HIGH she was! How far away! She was startled to see this picture and realize how high up she had been.


Their dip:

2011Florida-Parasail 023

As they started being pulled in, we noticed that the two guys who were working the boat were moving much faster than before. When they landed Abby, Jake and Patty, they had them unharnassed and back in their seats in seconds. While they were up, we had been hearing very unsettling phrases on the boat's radio, like "serious winds" and "dangerous waves." The captain looked at me, visibly upset, and said, "I'm SO sorry, but it's just not safe to let you guys go up." We could see the storm bearing down on us, so not only did we not fault him for that decision, we were kind of glad he wasn't willing to risk our lives to make a little money. Ethan is a 5 year old who has no concept of wind velocity dangers or credit card refunds, so we were worried he would melt down, especially after seeing how much his sister had loved it. I explained the situation to him, and here was his reaction:


Bless his heart, I don't think I've ever loved that boy more than I did in the moment when he said, "It's okay mom! Maybe I can just go first the next time we come to the beach." I was astounded. The captain (who, it should be mentioned, was also on our boat the first time we went two years ago and so, even though he didn't remember us at ALL, we thought of as our old pal)(and who, despite the stuffy title of "captain" is young, laid back, and rather freakishly cute in that I-spend-all-day-every-day-on-a-boat-in-Florida way) was really bothered that he couldn't let us go up and decided to go into the harbor to see if the weather might let up enough to let us go there.

Once we got to the harbor, Cameron (that's the captain) pointed at Ethan and asked his name. E answered and Cameron said, "Well Ethan, while I see if I can get you in the air, how about you come drive this boat for me?"

Right then it turned into the best day of Ethan's life.


Everyone cheered while Cameron showed Ethan how to handle the steering wheel. Then Cameron jumped on the back deck to work on the equipment. He stayed there. Out of reach of my son, who was in reach of the steering wheel and the throttle of the boat holding 14 people. Ummm. We know our son and so we were a little worried, but E handled it beautifully and was in heaven.


Finally it was determined that parasailing was just not to be for us. Ethan barely noticed, because after Cameron came back to the wheel he kept Ethan there with him and opened up the boat to about 40 miles an hour. We all clung to our seats and prayed while E and Cameron had a grand time zipping through the water. When we got back to the dock, we thanked Cameron profusely for giving Ethan such a great experience and told Ethan he could tell his Kindergarten class this fall that he had driven a boat in the ocean. Everybody left happy.

I like to let the public benefit from the knowledge gained from my experiences, so if you are considering going parasailing on the Florida panhandle (and you should DEFINITELY consider it) here's my advice: Stay away from Panama City, banana boats, and women in string bikinis. Go directly to Just Chute Me in Destin Harbor and ask to get on Cameron's boat. Who knows, if you're nice maybe he'll even let you drive.


Jennifer said...

That looks like so much fun, but I'm terrified of heights AND water, so I'm not so sure I could do it.

Autumn said...

I LOVE that kid. Always full of surprises! So glad everyone got to have fun.

Katrenia said...

Umm, yeah. I can't believe you didn't hear our story of the banana boat and parasailing from two years ago. We had heard of your wonderful experience, and went there with that expectation. And that's not the way it happened. Parasailing = fun. Banana boat = horrific. Good choice to run, not walk, away from this.