Feature Article - September 2008
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Schooled in Aquatics

Waterpark Trends from the College Campus to the Municipal Center

By Dawn Klingensmith

Extreme Measures

At Southeast, though the climbing wall and zip line get plenty of use, water volleyball and basketball have proven to be the most popular pastimes—so much so that the Student Aquatic Center has begun hosting formal tournaments, said Chad Sierman, assistant director of aquatics. Yet, when it comes to capturing the tween and teen demographic, the prevailing view is that water plus adrenaline equals success. This view has given rise to "extreme aquatics."

"The trend is toward bigger, faster, steeper, scarier," Hunsaker said.

Jeff Nodorft, studio director at Counsilman-Hunsaker, noted that a lot of "high-dollar, fun toys have come on the market."

One such "toy" is the stationary wave generator—or "surf machine," as Nodorft calls it—which allows novice or experienced surfers and body boarders to test their skills on a thin sheet of water. Like Dance Dance Revolution, the wildly popular video game that gauges participants' dance moves and rewards improvement, a surf machine is a skill-building device and as such has the ability to hold the interest of teens, who generally get bored easily. In addition, onlookers enjoy watching as much as participants enjoy riding.

"When one person is riding, 40 or 50 people will gather to watch the action," Nodorft said. "Because of that spectator element, it becomes a social activity, which appeals to teens."

Indeed, The Wave Waterpark, a municipally owned, outdoor aquatic facility in Vista, Calif., capitalizes on the surf simulator's appeal by hosting after-hours "ride the wave" parties just for teens.

Although only an inch or two deep, the sheet of water generated by a surf simulator approaches riders at about 30 mph, equaling about 36,000 gallons a minute. Single-rider models are available, as well as side-by-side double models that allow riders to pit their skills against each other.

Not all municipalities can afford such attractions and are opting for zip lines, mat racers and other rides that qualify as exciting but fall short of "extreme"—all in hopes of attracting thrill-seeking teens. According to Hunsaker, these efforts are part of a larger trend to offer a "more enhanced experience targeting specific age groups and users." For example, heated pools for water aerobics classes geared to seniors are now considered a staple for municipal aquatic facilities.