I look around, surveying the scene: the oddly insignificant-looking army of Jumeirah Beach Residence towers; the cobalt-coloured Arabian Gulf glinting peacefully; the Palm splaying out majestically; and miles and miles of clear blue sky. Never has Dubai looked so calm.
The same cannot be said for me. Instead of beatifically drinking up the view, my eyes are darting anxiously from skyscraper to earth to sea and back again. I am consumed by one thought, playing over and over like a Crazy Frog song: ‘I don’t want to die today!’ With every jerk and creak of the parachute’s ropes – did I mention I’m parasailing? – I grow increasingly panicked, convinced that my far-from-negligible body weight is about to rip the harness I’m inelegantly strapped into away from the billowing piece of silk, sending my bulk hurtling towards the water below, culminating in a splash of tidal-wave proportions. Forget the pain; I would be mortified.
The weird thing is, I’m not scared of heights – I live on the 22nd floor for goodness’ sake. But being up here with just cowardly me, terrified myself and quivering I, it’s not so much a different ball game as an unheard of sport from the planet Mars.
It had all started out so nicely. Matt, my 10-year-old nephew, and I had ambled down the blissfully quiet midweek sands, before wading out into the shallows that, unlike in summer when they’re so warm you can’t help but look suspiciously at the person next to you, are pleasantly mild at this time of year. We were helped aboard the speedboat by a smiling, and enigmatically silent, long-haired man, and the boat chugged us slowly out to deeper waters. Then our supervisor finally spoke: ‘Which of you wants to start?’
His face turning slightly green, Matt hastily mumbled, ‘Ladies first’ – though don’t let this fool you; manners were as far from his mind as fear was in it. Yet, even while donning my lifejacket, I remained serene and excited, inwardly chuckling at Matt’s cowardice – not least because it was he who had wanted to do this in the first place, and my suggestion of a tandem flight had been met with bravado-fuelled derision. After being strapped into the harness, the boatman attached my parachute and off I drifted. I was just about able to cope with being winched up, metre by metre, into the expansive sky – but once I was at full height, The Fear set in.
Which brings me to now, when I’m flying at around 250ft above where any human being should ever naturally be. I finally understand the boatman’s permanent grin: he gets to watch normally composed adults dissolve to jelly on a daily basis. I’m just about getting used to the thought that, should anything go wrong, the fall would almost certainly kill me – then I feel a jerk. My insides go cold. What was that? Panic-stricken, I glance from side to side, searching for signs that the ropes are about to snap. Everything looks to be in order, and I’m just starting to relax and appreciate the glow of the sunset, when there’s another sharp movement. The wind’s beginning to pick up now, and I can feel the pressure on my harness-encased thighs as the parachute begins to tug against the force of the boat. The words that escape my mouth are not suitable for publication.
Down below, my formerly beloved nephew waves cheerily, and I decide that if I ever make it down alive, we’re going to have to have a serious talk about what constitutes gentlemanly behaviour. But, eventually, I get used to the tugs. ‘Hey,’ I merrily tell myself, ‘when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.’ And then I’m on the descent, the sea becoming less threatening with every turn of the winch, and before I know it I’m back on board.
As I ease myself back onto the bench I feel another jerk – and realise too late how much of an absolute, unutterably stupid buffoon I’ve been. The only thing causing the bumps up above was the boat bouncing on the waves. The mortification is palpable.
‘So, how was it?’ Matt enquires, worry clouding his eyes. ‘Oh, it was great,’ I grin, taking his proffered camera so I can capture the comedy moment of terror that I know will come as soon as he realises it’s too late for him to get down. Of course, it doesn’t come: because he’s already spent 15 minutes on the boat, he’s used to the sensation of it hitting the waves, and another quarter of an hour later he lands, euphoric smile practically splitting his face in half. ‘Have you ever experienced anything like it?’ he enthuses, before chattering nonstop all the way back to the car about what a thrill it was.
The moral of the story is, I feel, threefold: firstly, remember what the source of any unnerving jerky movements is. Everything is fine. Second, while it’s far from white-knuckle in terms of an adrenaline rush, this experience is not for scaredy cats. Let’s face it, even if you know what the source of the unnerving jerky movements is, worry warts like me will still think it’s something else. And last, but certainly not least: never think you can get one over a 10-year-old nephew – it just ain’t gonna happen.
Parasailing is available at the Habtoor Grand beach, next to Jumeirah Beach Residence. Dhs250 for a single flight (ages 10+ only), Dhs400 for tandem (115kg total weight limit). Runs daily 11am-5pm, weather permitting – call ahead on 050 426 2415