By Catherine Breese
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think parachuting is an exciting, adventurous feat of human achievement and those who think parachuting is stupid. I side with the latter. Google put up an adorable little doodle on October 22, 2013, on the 216th anniversary of the first parachute jump. A 28 year old Frenchman jumped out of a hot air balloon in 1797. A couple things about this strike me as interesting. One, he was 28, so it was not his mid-life crisis parachute jump. Two, he jumped out of a balloon. Since the airplane was not invented until the early 20th century this means that Man’s desire to fly like a bird through the sky was superseded by his desire to jump out of something really high in the air and fall towards the earth, accelerating at 9.8 m/s/s and slowing himself with a piece of fabric. Um, this concerns me a little because it makes us, as a species, seem sort of insane. At least the airplane had a few utilitarian purposes.
Each year about 30 people die in parachuting accidents in the United States. One jumper bites the big one for every 100,000 jumps. A variety of Internet websites say that it is mathematically safer to parachute than to drive a car. Personally, I think 30 is kind of a high number. Remember, each of those people woke up that morning seeking enjoyment. Each willingly decided that testing a hunk of nylon and line against the irascible and irresistible force of gravity seemed like a good way to catch an adrenaline rush. As a biology experiment, man does not strike me as a lot smarter than a tuna fish. I am just thinking that perhaps there are other ways of bringing adventure into our lives, ones that don’t involve accelerating to terminal velocity.
Lately, Bryan and I have seen a lot of people kiteboarding, a sport that doesn’t have quite the death risk of parachuting. We watched kiteboarders in Oliphant, Ontario, and in Salvo, North Carolina. It is considered an extreme sport that combines a bunch of other sports like wakeboarding, surfing, and paragliding into one. From our viewpoint on the shore with a camera, it is beautiful to watch. The kites are dazzling and colorful against blue water and sky, and the people doing it, mostly men, are highly skilled. But if you were looking for a sport more expensive than downhill skiing, this is your best bet. The equipment for this extreme sport is pretty outrageous, requiring multiple kites, boards, harnesses, and a vehicle to carry all that stuff around in. Nonetheless, it is attracting growing numbers of participants. There is even a movement to make kiteboarding (a word that Microsoft Word does not even recognize yet) an Olympic sport. I think it would make a great addition to the Olympics because it is quite enjoyable to watch; and unlike, say, the luge, which is hard to make very picture-worthy for TV, kiteboarding is gorgeous.
Just for the record, we are not thinking of trying this sport. We are too old. We got stiff necks shooting pictures from the shore. Besides, it combines too many skills that the kiteboarder has to do simultaneously that we can’t execute individually, even on a good day. But one of us is thinking about surfing. More on that later.