Bringing Competition to the Water
Graydon Pool in Ridgewood, N.J.
By Dawn Klingensmith
An addition to Graydon Pool in Ridgewood, N.J., made it possible last summer to host the 2012 Wibit 50-Meter Splash, featuring teams of five competing in relay races on an inflatable, floating obstacle course. Offering musical entertainment, a cookout and prizes, the city hosted the event in hopes of enticing people of all ages to rediscover the local swimming pond.
Sometimes called a "plake" because it's like a combination pool and lake, Graydon Pool is sandy-bottomed and "reminds people of days gone by," said Timothy Cronin, director of parks and recreation for the Village of Ridgewood.
Set in a 7-acre park, Graydon Pool was created in 1929 by damming a brook. In 1936, it was enlarged as part of the Works Progress Administration program. Four generations have swum there. Due to Graydon Pool's history and charm, plans to replace it with four chlorinated concrete pools met with opposition, so improvements were undertaken instead. The water is clearer now that an aeration system is in place, used in conjunction with natural chemical treatments. The inflatable obstacle course was added in 2011. Other amenities include sand volleyball, basketball, table tennis, shuffleboard, four-squares, hop-scotch, backgammon, a lending library of books, a shaded playground, water features, a picnic area, a sheltered pavilion, charcoal grills and a café.
The Wibit product line consists of interlocking and stand-alone modules made of PVC material and stainless steel parts designed to withstand all climates and bodies of water, according to the German manufacturer. In Ridgewood, the Wibit also withstood scrutiny prior to its purchase and installation. The city council and general public voiced concerns about the Wibit's suitability, ranging from aesthetics to safety and maintenance issues. After all, Graydon Pool is essentially a rustic swimming hole in a bucolic setting right in the center of town.
Because of the pool's visibility from the street, no one wanted to plop something in the water that would be "too distracting or carnival-like," said Rich Wills, vice president of Commercial Recreation Specialists (CRS), the Verona, Wis.-based company that supplied the Wibit. CRS addressed the concerns in a series of meetings over six months.
It hasn't been bad for business at Graydon Pool. "The colors alone on the Wibit attract the younger kids," Cronin said.
Prior to the Wibit's unveiling, the parks and recreation department stoked curiosity with a "teaser" marketing campaign, deploying neon-green posters and T-shirts that simply said "Wibit." Of course, people wondered what the heck a Wibit was, and before long, they found out.
The line consists of 24 linkable products. Graydon Pool features the Aquatrack, a preconfigured obstacle course measuring 54 feet long. Swimmers of all ages use different muscle groups, balance and agility to negotiate each element.
"One of the benefits of this product is most kids are doing a lot of passive recreation—sitting in front of laptops and tablets. With the Wibit, kids are getting exercise and don't recognize it," Wills said. "It's like a playground on water."
The floating device is anchored, but there's some play in the anchor lines, "so you have to maintain your balance as you stand," he added. "Your core strength is being utilized the whole time you're on the product."
It's possible to lose your grip or balance and fall into the water, a thrill that kids compare to the TV show "Wipe Out," though there are no high-impact falls, Wills said.
Choosing the right inflatable pool products depends on pool dimension, water depth and available staffing. Maintenance is not a huge chore, but at the end of the season, the products must be deflated, treated with UV protectant and stored indoors in containers. Failure to follow these instructions could lead to an unpleasant surprise come the following season, as rodents like to chew on the material. "If you just take it and put it in a shed, you'll end up with a Swiss cheese-looking product," Wills warned. "It's important to protect the investment by packing it up and putting it away properly."
The Aquatrack cost $13,000 and is expected to last 10 years, yielding a return on investment after two or three years of ownership through increased membership, day pass and concessions sales.
"When facilities put something like this in, one of the objectives is to keep guests on the premises. If people are having a good time, they'll stay longer and hopefully spend a few more dollars," Wills said.
Wibit products lend themselves to creative programming, from birthday parties to planned or spontaneous competitions. "Each facility has the ability to pull together almost a water Olympics," Wills said.
Graydon Pool's Wibit is available for free play (users must pass a deep water swim test), but at certain times, patrons are required to sign up, and sign-up sheets fill quickly.
The Wibit 50-Meter Splash generated a lot of community interest and a satisfying turnout. It will be the first of many annual relay and community Wibit events at throughout the coming seasons.