What I Learned About Life From Parasailing

I’m 52, both of my parents are deceased, and my kids have moved away to go to university.  This is, in fact, the Betty Crocker recipe for an existential crisis. In case you are having trouble finding it, it is also cross-referenced under ‘midlife crisis’ (which I believe is the vegan equivalent).

And so it was that I stood on the beach in Cancun, on a windy Tuesday afternoon after a couple of piña coladas, staring quizzically at the garishly coloured parachutes that advertised parasailing excursions and wondering what I dared to do in my remaining life. I was in an  ‘If not now, then when?’ frame of mind and decided to carpe the hell out of that diem before any more diems passed me by. I resolutely marched over to the rusty card table in the sand where the parasail purveyors perched.

I took a deep breath, handed over my sixty American dollars which I had obtained at an exhorbitant exchange rate from an ATM and blurted “Iwanttogoparasailingnowareyoustilltakingpeopleout?” before I lost my nerve entirely. I could still just barely see it, what was left of my nerve, skulking away in the late afternoon shadows towards Señor Froggy’s for a pitcher of margaritas.

The man behind the card table nodded. He made a resigned ‘what can you do in the face of nature’ gesture in the direction of the increasingly choppy waves, shrugged, and said, “We are still working.” This should have been my first clue. But, being a parasailing neophyte, it wasn’t.

In the almost-no-thought-at-all that I had given parasailing until that very moment, I had thought of it as a fundamentally airborne experience. It did not occur to me that there has to be a way to get from the beach to the parasailing boat. The method of transport to get from A to B is, I discovered to my horror, a Jet Ski.

I had never been on a Jet Ski. It was not part of my bucket list carpe diem moment to ride a Jet Ski. I had not mentally prepared to be on a Jet Ski. I had particularly not prepared for it on a windy day with waves well over a foot high that buffeted the machine, threatened to push us back up onto the beach with every swell and made Manuel have to drive it like a manta ray out of Davy Jones’ Locker.

As I bounced up and down on a waterborne skidoo, salt water spraying into my eyes and my mouth, I held on for dear life to Manuel, and prayed to deities both current (Oh God!) and extinct (Poseidon?! Neptune?! Proteus?!) to just let me live and I would spend the rest of my vacation knitting socks. I’m not sure, but I think I may have even offered my voice to Ursula the Sea Witch.

By the grace of various aquatic gods, whose efforts I appreciate equally so as not to offend and bring a tsunami down on my hometown, I finally made it to the boat that hoists the parasail up into the sky.

I wiped both internal and external salt water out of my eyes with shaky hands, and was eventually able to take in my surroundings.  I noticed that the sail was attached to a sort of chair, almost like a bench seat in a car, which in turn was attached to a rope and winch.  I sat down, revelling in the sturdiness of the plastic bench, and watched the process with interest: getting the parasail in the air is similar to when a kid gets lift-off for a kite from a running start in the playground and then gradually lets the string out.

Manuel had to ride along with me. (As a solo flyer, I would have put the chair off balance, like a bird with a clipped wing.) He slid into the seat next to me. I fear that he must have gotten the wrong idea from the fervour with which I had gripped his waist whilst trying not to drown. He seemed to think this was a tacit invitation for him to put his arm around me, in what I imagined was his best darkened movie theatre move. Then he asked if I was looking for a little, er…’Boom,boom’, I believe is what he said. I winced, while the winch worked the wind and the two of us set sail, just me and Boom Boom.

Conscious of the fact that I still had to get back from the boat the same way I got to it, which was by means of Miguel-powered Jet Ski, I feigned a language barrier and made as if to turn on my video camera (which sadly, having been jostled on the jet ski, was not working). I suppose he was at least self-conscious enough to worry about his smooth moves ending up in a Youtube video, so the ploy mostly worked and he behaved.

The rope attaching me to the boat was now fully let out and I was a tethered balloon, being towed through the sky like an inflatable Minion in a parade.I was able to enjoy a few serene moments sailing above the ocean, imagining I was a seagull, but without doing that thing that seagulls are famous for doing. You’re welcome.

I had a stunning view of the long white beach at Cancun that stretched out for miles, but the star of the show was the water. I realized how many striations of blues there were– from a sand-churned pale Lake Louise turquoise near the shore, to a stern and forbidding yet enticing Ultramarine, (your favourite pencil crayon, the one you always used until it was a stub), farther out to sea. In between, there was an achingly beautiful teal blue that made me wish I could just crawl inside it and stay there. It was the colour of longing, of unattainability–a cat following a laser pointer, an itch that can’t be scratched. You could make a horror movie out of that blue, it was that beautiful.

Boom Boom and I were eventually reeled back in on our string. The Jet Ski ride back was considerably less bouncy going in rather than out. Once more on shore, I waved a half-hearted farewell to Manuel the Handsy, and headed back to the resort to make a dent in their stock of tequila. Over a margarita, I pondered the experience and came up with these slightly fuzzy but possibly profound thoughts.

  1. The process of getting there was scarier than the experience itself.
  2.  Being able to say that I had parasailed was more fun than the actual parasailing.

So I had another margarita and realized parasailing was a metaphor for life.

The journey is bumpy. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed and like you’re going to drown. So you just have to hold on tight until the feeling passes. Sometimes you feel like you’re on top of the world, and then external forces pull you back down. Sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you expected. But in the end, to be able to say you did it is what makes the ride worthwhile.

Follow us on social media:

Leave a Reply