A Human Kite: Parasailing in Wisconsin's Door County
Last Updated: 7/6/2016
By Cindy Ross
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
I don’t have time to think about getting freaked out as my harness gets hooked to the cable attached to the powerboat’s winch. A wind-fattened, rainbow-colored parachute soars above my head in the flawless blue sky. The boat bobs gently in the waters of Green Bay as the motor idles, waiting to open up and set me loose.
I feel like a human kite as the umbilical line that connects me to the planet lengthens and the wind pulls me higher into the sky. It’s cool today, so I’m wearing long pants, a fleece and windbreaker, but my feet are bare and the wind streams through my toes. I can’t stop smiling.
The owner of Wisconsin Water Wings, Doug Fitzgerald, and his assistant are in the 37-foot custom-built boat below, monitoring the wind and the cable slack. I’m going up to 500 feet—the highest ride this 21-year-old parasailing company offers. (It’s got a perfect safety record!)
Anyone can parasail; you don’t need to know how to swim, and you won’t get wet (unless you want to). The high-strength rope runs me out smoothly and in seconds I’m soaring above the gulls. Fitzgerald modified the harness with a padded seat, so I feel like I’m in a comfortable swing. I dip slightly and rock gently and gaze out over the lake. I wish time could slow down so I could just hang in the sky for hours. This ride is one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had.
From 500 feet up, I can see over the forested thumb of Door County and the village of Ephraim out into the waters of Lake Michigan. From here I get a good feel for how this patch of earth sits on the planet, surrounded in a cerulean-blue expanse of water.
When the wind is steady like today, launching and landing are extremely smooth. In a matter of seconds I land softly on the boat’s carpeted platform, already wondering when I can fly again.
Wisconsin Water Wings offers rides to three different heights—175, 350 and 500 feet. Rides last about 10, 12 or 15 minutes. You must be at least 50 pounds and less than 260 to fit in the harness. People who are scared of heights are often OK with parasailing, perhaps because from above, says Fitzgerald, the water appears flat and featureless.
It’s possible to fly when there is absolutely no wind, for the powerboat can create it. But when it’s too windy, Fitgerald can’t fly; his maximum wind speed—the speed of the wind plus the speed of the boat—is 25 mph.
The season lasts only about three months, from Memorial Day to mid-September. Approximately six sails are scheduled per day, seven days a week, weather permitting. The boat fits six; allow two hours per trip.
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