There are commercial parasailing operations all over the world. Land-based parasailing has also been transformed into a competition sport in Europe. In land-based competition parasailing, the parasail is towed to maximum height behind a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The driver then releases the tow line; the parasailer flies down to a target area in an accuracy competition. The sport was developed in the early 1980s and has been very popular ever since. The first international competitions were held in the mid 1980s and continue to this day.
Both the parachute and parasail can ascend and glide. The primary difference between the two is that the parasail is more stable and efficient during the ascent mode when being towed aloft with minimum or zero steering control by the parasailor. The parachute is not efficient when towed and is primarily used for skydiving where the parachutist can fully control the direction. In the descent mode, both are designed to slow the fall of a person during said descent at any given altitude.
The parachute/kite part is normally brightly colored to match to beach area in which it is used. Some people have kites with colors matching their favorite sports team or alma mater. Many parasail canopies that are designed for commercial use offering rides to tourists on vacation are bright in color and have designs ranging from flags, logos, smiley faces, and multiple color patterns.
The first ascending-gliding parachute was developed by Pierre-Marcel Lemoigne in 1962. The same year, Lemoigne established an Aeronautical Training Center to introduce his new ascending-gliding parachute as a training tool for parachutists. The technique allows parachutists to train more efficiently by towing the parachutist to a suitable altitude, then releasing them to practice landings. This training method proved cheaper than—and just as effective as—an airplane. In 1963 Jacques-André Istel from Pioneer Parachute Company bought a license from Lemoigne to manufacture and sell the 24-gore ascending-gliding parachute which was trade-named "parasail."
In 1974, Mark McCulloh invented the first self-contained parasail launch and recovery vessel that incorporated a hydraulic winch and canopy assist mast that collectively launched and retrieved the parasail canopy and parasailors to and from the vessel flight deck. McCulloh's invention was patented in 1976 and later referred to as a "WINCHBOAT" which the set the first parasail equipment industry standard that is utilized by all commercial parasail operations around the world.