Who invented zip lines, anyway?

English: A zip-line over the rainforest canopy...

A zip-line over the rainforest canopy. Taken January 4, 2005 in Costa Rica at the Arenal Paraiso Hotel’s zip-line course. This course requires self-braking using a special purpose-built reinforced leather glove Photo taken by Ken Haufle. Category:Zip-line (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although zip lines go back in history to China and Australia, where they have been used traditionally as bridges in remote areas across rivers, and were even featured in an 1897 H.G. Wells book, The Invisible Man, it was biologists who were doing research in rainforest tree canopies in Costa Rica who inspired their popularity in modern times.

Zip lines are made up of a series of cables to slow or stop your progress along a steel rope and use gravity to propel you from one end to the other, often using a slight incline for the platform at the end to help slow your landing.

Then, someone got the great idea that tourists might like to do it for fun.

A couple of years ago, when my husband asked if I wanted to take a cruise from Chile to Los Angeles, I hesitated.

“There is a shore trip to take a zip line canopy tour in Costa Rica,” he told me.

Sold! I’d been talking about wanting to go on a zip line since our neighbors installed one for their kids behind our house 20 years ago. It just looked like so much fun!

My husband even bought me a kit for an adult zip line when we moved out to the woods 13 years ago.

But, when we found out that you have to build a platform so you don’t slam into a tree at the end of the line, the drop between the beginning and end of the lines has to be fairly modest and you have to install it in such a way that there’s a dip at the end, so gravity slows you before you slam into the tree, we abandoned the project.

The kids’ line at our neighbor’s house had been simpler. No platforms. It was low enough and short enough that the kids just hung on and stopped with their feet.

I loved the Costa Rica three-part zip line tour, ending over a deep gorge!

Eventually, I started to wonder how this all started. There were no zip lines around when I was growing up. Now, they seem to be everywhere.

Zip lines were originally used in military training, then introduced in the Outward Bound school in Colorado in 1963.

Project Adventure replaced the wire and pulley systems with cables in the 1970s for their leadership and self-confidence courses.

Darren Henriuk founded The Original Canopy Tour after he moved from Canada to Costa Rica in 1992 to explore turning zip lines into a tourist adventure.

He and his partner, Rick Graham, wanted to raise consciousness about the fragile ecosystem of the rainforest while exposing people to the fun of zipping through the trees like Tarzan.

More than one million people have taken zip line tours through The Original Canopy Tour’s courses alone.

You can now take zipline tours in Alaska, Austin, Catalina Island, Hawaii, Ohio, and Branson, Missouri.

 Can’t wait for your next vacation and have decided you want a kids’ zip line in the back yard for the grands? Just click on zip line to order your own from amazon – a 70-foot Eagle Series Seated Zip line Kit.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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