Coeur d’Alene Parasail and Watersports rents paddle boats, aqua cycles and kayaks by the hour. But it’s the brightly colored parachutes coasting around the north shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene that bring in customers each summer.
“Our billboard is the chute, so when our chute’s up, that’s our key advertising,” said Jamin Rodriguez, who bought the operation with his family in 2003. He was just 18, but Rodriguez was confident he could run the businesses, with the help of his parents, brother and other family members.
With two boats running, they take thousands of people out for flights over the lake each summer. They range in age from young children to seniors pushing 100. Many are tourists, including the occasional celebrity.
Rodriguez, 27, is married with two children. He’s a volunteer firefighter for Kootenai County Fire & Rescue and owns a car lot in Hayden, Cruz Auto Sales.
He took a break on the Independence Point city dock recently to discuss the allure of parasailing.
S-R: How does parasailing work?
Rodriguez: The boat pulls the chute up and you sail through the air. You start in the boat harnessed up with a life jacket. We attach you to the parachute using the harness, and you sit down on the back deck of the boat. We winch you all the way out there and you’re flying anywhere from 400 to 700 feet off the water, depending on the boat and the wind and the weight. When your ride is over we reel you back in, just like a big fishing pole, and you land right back on the deck.
S-R: Who are your customers?
Rodriguez: We get our fair share of locals, but we do get a lot of people from all over the world. A lot of times the kids are the ones dragging the parents to do it. We’ve taken paraplegics, quadriplegics, blind people, deaf people. The oldest was 98, and the youngest, I think, was 3. If you can sit, going parasailing is a piece of cake.
S-R: Do you get any celebrities?
Rodriguez: A while back we had (singer) Kelly Clarkson. I didn’t even know who she was. A lot of times when we take a celebrity we don’t hear about it until afterwards. Everybody is just either a tourist or a local on the boat. (The late Evel Knievel also flew, not long after he had a double-union spine fusion.) He was actually kind of nervous about it, mainly because of the back fusion. Dennis Franz, we’ve taken him. Once they’re on the boat they just seem like anybody else.
S-R: How many people go out on a busy day?
Rodriguez: This year on July 4 we took out 68 people.
S-R: Are tandem flights popular?
Rodriguez: Tandems are the majority of what we do. Most people would rather go up with a friend or a family member than go up by themselves. I like going solo myself, just because you get a little bit higher. When you’re up there it’s pretty tranquil. You can barely hear the boat running. You’re so high that it’s pretty quiet up there.
S-R: Where do you go on the lake?
Rodriguez: We’ll stay in front of City Beach here and go to the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course. We don’t go farther south than Arrow Point.
S-R: What can you see from up there?
Rodriguez: You can see Post Falls, into Hayden, Avondale Lake, over Tubbs Hill, Fernan Lake. You can definitely see all of Coeur d’Alene.
S-R: How do your first-time customers react to the experience?
Rodriguez: Generally people will come being afraid of heights. But when a person is afraid of heights it’s because they’re standing on the edge of something looking over, and the sense of insecurity is really high. When you’re up in the harness, your sense of security is so great that the people who feel afraid of heights generally come back thinking it was a very good experience. We tend to fly around 2,000 to 2,500 people in a summer, and we generally get one or two who come back early. We get about one person every other year who gets sick and throws up. And generally it’s because they’ve had too much going on the night before.
S-R: What is the most important piece of safety equipment?
Rodriguez: The captain’s knowledge. We have had incidences when the boat has broken down. But you’re in a parachute, and everybody that we’ve ever dropped in the water hasn’t even gotten their hair wet, because you drop so slow.
S-R: How do you maneuver out there with float planes, cruise boats and all the watercraft?
Rodriguez: There’s definitely a lot to watch out for. You can’t stop, you can’t generally speed up, and you’re very limited on your turns. So we have more right of way than anybody else on the water. But you also have people who don’t realize that, who are going to try to cut you off, and jet skiers who are going to try to jump your wake.
S-R: What about the weather?
Rodriguez: If there is any inclement weather coming around we shut down. We shut down for rain because the chute can’t fly very well if it’s soaked. Wind is another really big issue. If we got more than about 12 to 15 mph worth of wind, we don’t go. And lightning, definitely. We don’t want to pull a Benjamin Franklin out there.
S-R: What’s your season?
Rodriguez: Generally from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The month of May around here can be really bad or really beautiful. September is the same way. August is the busiest month. Right now, this is prime time.
S-R: Why are you closed on Saturdays?
Rodriguez: We’re Seventh-day Adventists, so we take Saturday as our day of rest. It’s something we don’t bend on. If we were open seven days a week, Saturday would definitely be the busiest day of the week.