Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 16
Taking the plungeOnce a necessary form of transportation, zip lines are now the ultimate adventure for adrenaline junkies around the world
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
I had never looked death in the face before, but I think that’s what I did when I stood on a platform 190 feet in the air, serving as my launch-point into space.
With my heart racing and images of my imminent demise racing through my mind, I heard one of my sarcastic companions say, “Hey! If it breaks, remember to tuck and roll!”
That was totally reassuring.
The guide called my name, and I stepped onto the platform where I was soon strapped into my harness and ready to take off. My heart raced faster, from excitement or fear—probably both. The guide stepped over and asked if I was ready, and with false bravado I replied, “Yes, let’s do it!”
One of the last things he told me was not to scream, because the rhinos are legally blind and screaming could frighten them into stampeding.
“Oh great,” I thought. “I have to pretend not to be freaked out.”
On the count of three, he pulled the string, and I began my descent.
For as long as I can remember, I’d always wanted to zip line. I dreamed of where I would go and what the experience would be like. Even now, it’s hard to put into words what it felt like to glide freely over majestic rhinoceroses, giraffes, lions, and wildebeests; the wind in my face and the adrenaline racing through my veins making me feel invincible.
Before I knew it, the ride was over, and I made my landing onto the platform at the other end of the Safari Park. The rest of my companions agreed that the experience was not only fun, but exhilarating, and—in my words—“not as scary as I thought.”
The Flightline tour at the Safari Park in San Diego is just one of hundreds of zip line tours now available in the United States. Dropping from 900 feet to 400 feet in elevation, the Flightline glides zip liners more than two-thirds of a mile, offering unprecedented views of the park’s beautiful wild animals while traveling at a solid 55 miles per hour. From end to end, the ride itself takes less than a minute to complete, but the unforgettable experience makes it all worthwhile.
Riders begin with an orientation where they watch a safety video and are instructed by guides on the proper riding and landing techniques. After that, the brave zip liners are taken to the 470-foot-long cable that serves as a practice course where they can get comfortable with what they’re about to do.
After a short ride and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Safari Park, riders are taken to the 190-foot platform with four 1-inch-thick steel cables extending across the wide valley before them.
According to Hank Houton, who’s been a zip line guide at the park for three years, the cables are drilled 50 feet into the mountain behind it and are routinely tested for safety.
“If there is any seismic activity, we don’t run the zip line until the cables have been checked,” Houton said, adding that if the winds are too severe, the zip line closes down.
“Plus, we serve as the guinea pigs every day and test the zip line every morning before the park opens,” he said.
Unlike traditional zip lines that have to slow riders down before they reach the end of the line, this tour uses a spring-enabled brake system that absorbs the energy and allows riders to come in quickly while offering a gentle stop—just don’t mind the brief jolt and the shotgun blasts as you slam into the brake boxes.
“People that crave the rush and the excitement are typically the ones that ride the Flightline,” Houton said.
While the exact history of how zip lining came about is still not fully known, it’s understood that it originally served as a means of transportation. According to Professional Ropes Course Association Board President Steve Gustafson, the origins of zip lining lie in the jungles of Central America, where it was first used as a means of transporting supplies and people across vast mountain ranges, canyons, and valleys.
According to Gustafson, the activity’s popularity has steadily increased over the last few decades, with an estimated 225 zip line tours now in the United States alone. It’s become a popular and eco-friendly form of entertainment for people brave enough to ride the cables.
As more zip lines began popping up, Gustafson said his organization was born out of a need for guidelines, formed by rope course professionals to create a set of standards for zip line safety and procedure. Because there’s a certain amount of risk involved in zip lining, the association made it their goal to outline a set of operational practices and standards to abide by.
“In 2005, the PRCA became an accredited organization, and we are the only organization with this credential,” Gustafson said.
The association sees a number of vendors across the United States seeking out the organization’s guidance on safety practices and procedures when it comes to zip line tours.
Gustafson said if vendors are accredited members of the association, that means they’ve been inspected by the organization and have surpassed the minimum standards. Gustafson did note that non-accredited vendors are responsible for obtaining proper engineering.
He agreed that zip line tours in the United States are more heavily engineered than those outside the country; a majority of zip lines in Central America still use rope and manual braking, which can result in serious injury.
To ensure that you have a safe zip line experience, there are some rules to follow. First, riders must weigh between 75 and 250 pounds and fit comfortably in the harness. Secondly, experts advise prospective zip liners to wear close-toed shoes and research the zip line company before booking a tour.
Whether looking for an adrenaline rush or a bird’s eye view of magnificent scenery, zip lining is a one-of-a-kind experience that leaves you walking on air and craving the rush of gliding through space.
With zip line tours in scenic venues such as Yosemite and Lake Tahoe—just to name a couple—there are plenty of opportunities for thrill seekers to enjoy the extreme fun.
Staff Writer Kristina Sewell is always looking for the newest thrill. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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