After much ado, the world’s tallest water slide is now open to the public. Verrückt — which is German for insane, by the way — plunges 17 stories to take the record, previously held for more than a decade by a giant slide in Brazil.
Design problems repeatedly pushed back the launch. We figured, since no one in their right mind would be one of the first to ride it, we’d send Frank Morris down it.
The approach to the slide
Walking up from the parking lot, you see a tall pointy tower, with a Loch Ness Monster-looking hump. The hump used to be shaped more like a tombstone.
A little closer, inside the Schlitterbahn waterpark in Kansas City, Kan., Verrückt looks more intimidating, even from the bar.
Laura O’Dell, Serena Smith and Ally Durant have no plans to ride on this water slide:
"No, it looks huge! Terrifying!"
"No, I don’t like straight drops. Like falling out of a building."
"It kind of looks like you will die."
They may not be going down the slide, but I am - I think. Layne Pitcher with Schlitterbahn is going to be my guide.
"Layne, this thing was supposed to open almost two months ago. What is it three or four opening dates have come and gone, why all the delays?" I ask.
"You know, with an innovative ride like this, you have to expect delays," says Pitcher.
According to Marcus Gaines with the European Coaster Club, these world-beater rides almost always open late.
"So, you’ve got to accept that when you’re breaking a record, and you’re going to be something that’s that terrifying, you’ve got to make sure it’s safe," says Gaines. "And there’s going to be technical difficulties along the way."
Scary by design
Given all the hassle and expense, you wonder what makes a company want to build one.
"One of the things in this industry is: my park’s bigger than your park, my ride’s bigger than your ride," says David Collins, who's been engineering new water slides for decades. Collins says it’s a safe bet competitors are already laying plans to top Verrückt.
"It’s a battle for riders, it’s a battle for attendance," says Collins.
Because, as Tobias Niepel, a German thrill ride enthusiast says, these rides are too scary for most people by design.
"Yeah, they really build slides to look intimidating," says Niepel. "They want to play with your fear, and I think they are doing quite good job with Verrückt."
But there have been times, in the past, when leading edge slides have gotten out of hand.
"Action Park was also known as Accident Park, Traction Park, Class Action Park," says Seth Porges, who made a short documentary about it.
Action Park was reportedly notorious in New Jersey through the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
"Perhaps the most famous of these lunatic slides was something called the Cannonball Loop, or looping waterslide," says Porges.
This slide looked like a kid’s straw, a long blue tube with a loop at the end. But it turned out to be hard to make water, let alone people, go all the way around the loop.
"Park employees were actually given $100 bills to serve as human guinea pigs to go down this ride," Porges says. "They spent years trying to perfect it, and they never quite did."
A notch above a white-knuckle ride
Verrückt doesn't have a loop, but it does have that big hill.
"It’s a decelerator for the ride," says David Collins.
He adds that visitors get what they call "air time," which means that the vehicle stays connected to the water, but you aren’t connected to the vehicle.
In fact, during tests a few weeks ago even the rafts were sailing off this very ride. They’ve since tamed the geometry a little and put up a net, just in case.
Still, Marcus Gaines says Verrückt is going to be a notch above a white-knuckle ride.
"In a rubber raft, there’s nothing you can really hold onto properly, other than clench your butt," says Gaines with a laugh.
At the top of the tower, it's like Niagara Falls, except a little taller, and there’s no barrel to go over in. Just this thin rubber raft I’m sitting down on. Here goes.
"WAHHHHHHHHHooo!," I yell. "Here comes the bump. Man, that's wet...holy cow. Wow. Whoa...."