Well, now

Photo courtesy Schlitterbahn Kansas City Waterpark

Photo courtesy Schlitterbahn Kansas City Waterpark

What you’re seeing here is the view from the top of the world’s tallest waterslide, dubbed Verrückt, now under construction in Kansas City, KS. With nothing in there for scale or comparison, it’s hard to get a decent grasp of the size – a wide-angle lens will automatically make everything look more distant, and drops more precipitous – but according to the maker, it’s supposed to be in excess of 50 meters (164 feet) tall, and the slide is not intended for single victims sacrifices riders, but to accommodate a four-person raft instead. As they said, this makes it wedgie-free, which is a good thing, because I’ve ridden the The Bomb Bay and Der Stuka in Wet ‘n Wild in Orlando, and at 23 meters that’s the outcome with the standard US guy’s waterwear – riders sit in the deceleration trough at the bottom and try to extract their swimsuit from their cheeks before standing up.

[By the way, companies need to stop using the retarded ‘n conjunction in product names – the apostrophe represents a missing letter, of which there’s two (and I can never remember where it’s supposed to go,) not to mention it looks incredibly ignorant.]

Now, here’s my dilemma. I like thrill rides – roller coasters, water parks, alpine slides, I-285 around Atlanta (okay, maybe not that last one) – but I almost never get to go. Because I have one friend that also likes them, and that person lives in Ohio. I have a friend that lives near Kansas City, but there’s no way in hell I could talk them into going, so even if I visited, I’d be attending on my own.

The Girlfriend doesn’t like waterparks or thrill rides. The Girlfriend’s Younger Sprog doesn’t like them either, and cannot swim (I tried pointing out that waterparks don’t actually require swimming ability, but no dice.) On this last trip to Savannah, I broached the subject anyway, seeing a waterpark on Jekyll Island – Our Female Host could probably be talked into going. But that would have left three people in our party of five just sitting around, since Our Male Host had no interest either, so it didn’t happen.

So, the last trip to an amusement park was six years ago I think, and I was robbed – Cedar Point in Ohio had recently introduced weight restrictions on many of their rides, and I was just past their limit apparently, so roughly half of the rides I wanted to go on were ruled out. This didn’t mean I got a break on the horrendous entrance fees though.

And the last time I was at a waterpark was ten years ago, when I was in my late thirties. Too old for that? Yeah, fuck off. My then-brother-in-law and I had time to spare, and because the weather was grey that day, attendance was thin and waiting almost nonexistent. Now, this actually presents a problem with waterparks, in that they run on gravity, which means you have to start up high – the better the ride, the higher the climb. When it’s crowded, you go up several stories in stairs slowly, a few steps at a time – but when it’s empty, you can go straight on up and jump into the water, to be back at the bottom in thirty seconds and ready to climb again. After a few rides you realize you’re getting exhausted.

This was at Wet AND Wild, and then-brother-in-law wouldn’t try either of the super slides mentioned above, the wussy bastard. So it was just me flossing the butt on the way down. These slides really are pretty cool, because they’re fairly steep and you achieve a nice velocity. Here’s the experience: you go over the top and accelerate quickly, told by the ride attendants to assume the mummy position (no, not walking around stiffly with your arms held straight out in front of you, but ankles crossed and arms folded over chest.) In moments, your feet are kicking up spray that’s preventing you from keeping your eyes open too far and you feel like you’re barely staying in the trough because you’re skipping off the water. Brief physics lesson here, because as I started typing this I realized it sounded wrong – both you and the water should be falling at the same rate, right? But no, because water tends to stick to surfaces a bit, and it tries to adhere to the stationary slide, so it goes down at a relatively leisurely rate, while you rocket past on your date with gravity. The slide gradually levels out, and then you hit the deeper deceleration trough at the bottom. Hit it just right, as I’ve done, and you really do skip off the water into the air, not by much, but enough to make you unlock your limbs in a reflexive attempt to brace for impact, which likely looks quite graceless. Then you hit the deeper water and plow to a stop, and if you’re big, you kick up a bow wave worthy of a log flume ride – this is, of course, when wedgie occurs. Once stopped, you try to figure out how to extract this without anyone knowing what you’re doing, even though it’s a lost cause.

Now, what the then-brother-in-law did try is a ride now gone, unfortunately, so I cannot provide the name. Take two chairs and connect them back to back, and suspend them with cables from an arm five or so meters overhead. In front of each chair affix a fire hose facing out, so they’re pointing in opposite directions. The goal is for both riders to alternate triggering their hose (leave it alone) and start the chairs swinging back and forth, timing it just right to drive the swing a bit further each time. Done correctly, you can get the thing pretty much vertical, pulling a full 180° arc – and I know this because at the top of each swing we were actually going weightless, the chair starting to pitch forward unsuspended from the chains for a moment. Since neither of us was particularly light we were quite proud of this accomplishment, and were also the last ones off the ride each time because we kept swinging long after the water was shut off. They never should have taken this ride out.

Weightlessness is one of those key things for many thrill rides, often called hang time. Rides that combine this with higher-G turns or spinning are the ones that induce the most sickness, because neither of these is something that we ever experience in our normal lives. And those are what people like me actually seek. I couldn’t tell you why this is such a rush – I can only speculate that it triggers a moment of panic in the system, the adrenaline surge of falling, and the after-effect of this, whatever it is, is pretty wild. For some, anyway – other people are mutations who find this disturbing. And if you go back up to that pic at the top and look, or check the linked article, you’ll see that the waterslide actually has a hill in the middle, meaning it induces some degree of hang time. That’s intriguing.

One ride in recent memory actually startled me, which of course made it rate highly in my book. The Power Tower at Cedar Point consists of a ring of chairs around the outside of a big column, and you can choose to get hurled into the air from a start at ground level, or you can slowly get drawn up to the top and then dropped. Or so I thought. You see, they don’t simply release the chairs and let them free fall – they propel the chairs downwards at a greater velocity than gravity. So abruptly the chair is attempting to leave you all alone at the top of the tower, having departed from under your ass rather callously. True enough, there’s a safety harness that pulls you down with the chair, so the sensation is for the barest fraction of a second, but that’s enough to trigger the panic response. In the next millisecond you feel stupid for it, and that’s the whole point.

By the way, hearing someone’s scream rapidly dwindle as they accelerate away from you really is hilarious, especially if they’re a big black guy. Call it racist if you’re stupid, but black men tend to have a certain timbre to their voices which makes the scream very rich, like hitting the high notes on an electric bass. Once you hear it you’ll lose the skepticism.

Anyway, it doesn’t look good for me checking out this new slide, but I’ll keep it in mind anyway. If you see a guy hitching in North Carolina next summer with a sign that says, “Verrückt,” that’ll be me. Though considering what that word means, it might be best not to assume anything.

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