Feature Article - September 2002
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Catching the Wave

What's making a splash in the world of wet

By Kelli Anderson

Aloha from Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park in Kapolei, Hawaii

One size seldom fits all, no matter what the tags try to tell you—but for the millions who visit our nation's waterparks and splash play facilities, that claim actually might hold water. From the inner-tube set enjoying the lazy river rides to the shrill-screaming thrill-seekers taking a wet, 80-foot plunge, waterparks in particular have managed to appeal to the young, the senior and everything in between. But make no mistake, splash play areas, although generally geared for the younger crowd, still appeal to a wide audience and are benefiting from some of the same current ideas in wet entertainment.

Recent trends in the industry show that these waterparks and splash play areas are continuing to round out their family appeal and bring in bigger revenues with longer seasons and larger, faster and more creative attractions.

Over the waterpark industry's 20-something-year existence, it has evolved from being primarily teen-oriented to an entertainment that includes something for everyone.

"The U.S. waterpark market has gone through a lot of changes in that time," says Dave Bruschi, executive vice president of the World Waterpark Association. "Waterslides were targeted at teenagers early on. Later the successful parks realized that they needed entertainment for the whole family. There were periods when children's play areas were added to every park with small waterslides and zero-depth pools with interactive play features. "

Now, coming again full circle, the thrill-seeking set (read: teenagers) are getting their turn as waterparks are racing to catch up to the teen market in an effort to keep all generations happy.

"There's a return back to drawing in the risk takers—teens," Bruschi says. "Parks had gotten away from a teen-focused market when a few years ago it was on families with kids. It was the lazy river sort of thing. Now it's coming back to more thrill rides."


Holding its "tallest in the world" title until just earlier this year (dethroned by a mere 12 inches), the Night Slider body slide of Paramount's Carowinds waterpark in Charlotte, N.C., is an 80-foot-tall tower that sends its riders plunging through its enclosed chute, back-side-down and feet-first, climaxing with a splash pool finale. For those who'd prefer company, there is the Turbo Twister, a two-person enclosed tube slide, currently the world's longest tube ride at 495 feet. Paramount's Carowinds is among the 125 major waterparks in the country vying to stay on the cutting edge of what's hot, wet and wild.

The Titan family slide at Camelbeach Waterpark in Tannersville, Pa.

If testing the ups and downs of gravity isn't adventurous enough, then maybe something centrifugal is more your style. Welcome to some of the latest attractions at Camelbeach Waterpark in the Poconos in Tannersville, Pa.: the tube ride Spin Cycle and its body-slide counterpart, Vortex. Both rides—two of only three in the world—operate on the same principle as the familiar coin drops, where the riders spin around and around the bowl-shaped interior and eventually reach the drop into a 6.5-foot pool below.

Making rides taller, longer, wilder, wetter—it's all about the thrill factor.

Ready, set, go!

But adrenaline rush isn't the only draw. Kids are also drawn to competition.

"We're learning that it's more thrilling to incorporate family with competition," says Jerry Pupillo, general manager of Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park in Kapolei, Hawaii. "Most rides are for enjoyment—a cliff hanger tube-slide sort of thing. But it doesn't last that long. But if you incorporate that with somebody in competition, it makes you want to ride more. You know—'You beat me this time but wait until next time.'"

Racing slides, such as the one enjoying such great success at Hawaiian Waters, have begun to pop up all over the national landscape.

"[In June] we opened The Volcano Express," Pupillo says. "It's a family-oriented competition ride with four lanes where you race head-to-head—literally head-first on mats. People are loving it."

In Joliet, Ill., a park-district waterpark, Splash Station, which opened in August, planners anticipate the draw of the Midwest's only six-person racing slide.

"It's a unique racing slide," says Mike Landers, aquatics coordinator for the Joliet park district. "It's a head-first matted ride."