Sunday, July 29, 2001

Water parks all wet? You bet!

The intrepid Fun Squad conquers thrill rides at three water parks

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The directive sounded simple:

        Go to Cincinnati's three slip-sliding water parks and ride and rate every thrill slide.

        Oh, and do it in one day.


        Climb a zillion steps? Plunge downhill at speeds up to 55 mph? Try to exit at the bottom with some trace of dignity after rushing water drove your bathing suit up to your shoulder blades?

[photo] From left, Chad Baumer, Noah Mathers, Jim Knippenberg and Susan Conrad.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        Yeah, that's the idea.

        OK, fine. So it's 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, a time when responsible adults are at work juggling e-mails, voice mails and a report due yesterday.

        Not us. We're 66 feet in the air, at the top of a 500-foot flume, staring at 30,000 gallons of gushing water shot from a series of jets, wondering how we're going to survive 44 of these things.

Meet the Fun Squad

        “We” are the Summer Fun Squad, assembled in June to ride and rate every adult ride at Paramount's Kings Island. Now, with temperatures 2 degrees beyond unbearable and people looking to cool down, water slides at the Beach, PKI and Surf Cincinnati seemed like a story waiting to happen.

        As far as anyone in the industry knows, no one has ever ridden them all in a single day, just as no one had ever abused their equilibrium on every thrill ride at PKI in a single day, until we did. And lived.

How the Fun Squad rated the rides.
   The most popular slides/attractions at each of the three parks:
The Beach
   1. The Cliff
   2. Aztec Adventure
   3. The Pearl
WaterWorks at PKI
   1. Rushing River
   2. Fast Tracks
   3. Wipe Out Beach
Surf Cincinnati
   1. Runaway Rapids
   2. Challenger
   3. Super Surf Wave Pool

        The same team did the slides:

        • Susan Conrad, 31, a University of Cincinnati grad student, nanny and Coast Guard veteran.

        • Noah Mathers, 23, a Northern Kentucky University undergraduate and Navy veteran.

        • Chad Baumer, 14, soon to be freshman at Sycamore High School and future lacrosse star.

        • Me, 54, sometimes columnist, sometimes victim. Like when the Enquirer needs someone to ride and rate every roller coaster in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Or bungee jump out of a hot-air balloon. Or sky dive off a bridge.

        Overall, Cincinnati's three water parks (we eliminated Coney Island because it's more swimming pool than thrills, chills and spills) have 25 attractions. But many of them have two, three or four slides per ride, so it translates to 44 individual attractions. We divided them into two categories — Rip'roarin' and Easy does it.

The wedgie factor

        Our goal was to rate them 1 to 5 on the thrillometer, then rate the wedgie factor, or how far they drive your bathing suit into the, uh, nether regions. We used a quarter-, half- and full-moon scale for that.

        “At the Beach, we pride ourselves on the lack of wedgies,” marketing rep Carli Smith says. “The splash pools you land in cut down on them. It's the long troughs that cause wedgies.”

        We'll see.

        Heaven knows, we have plenty of time to find out. This soggy experiment started with our 10:06 a.m. Beach date and ended at 5:47 p.m. when we staggered out of Surf Cincinnati listening to Susan whine “I'm an old woman.”

        But that's the end of the story. What lies between is a saga of 40 pruney fingers, 10 chlorine-burned pink eyes, heavy-duty sun block and hair plastered at impossible angles.

        And seven hours and 41 minutes of climbing steps. We stopped counting at 1,000-something, but adding up slide heights listed in the parks' publicity material, we climbed an estimated 78 stories into the air.


        Oh, but at the top, always a reward. Like speeding down the Beach's Aztec Adventure, the Midwest's first watercoaster, lifeguard supervisor Drew Walter says. He's our guide, helping us cut through lines because, well, we'd never make it if we had to wait.

The Beach
    When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; until 7 p.m. starting Aug. 19.
    Where: Exit 25 off I-71.
    Tickets: $23.95; $7.95 seniors and children under 48 inches; $12.95 after 4 p.m.; $4.95 children and seniors.
    Information: 398-4356.
    There's more: Check out
WaterWorks at Paramount's Kings Island
    When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; until 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday.
    Where: Exit 24 off I-71.
    Tickets: Included in the price of PKI admission: $39.99, $19.99 seniors and kids 3-6 or under 48 inches.
    Information: 754-5800.
    There's more: Check out
Surf Cincinnati
    When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.
    Where: Exit 33 off I-275.
    Tickets: $15; $7.50, seniors and kids 6-12; $5 after 4 p.m.; Tuesdays are Mothers Day, all moms free with one paying child; Saturdays are Fathers Day, same deal; Fridays are College Day, free with college ID.
    Information: 742-0620
    There's more: No Web site.
        So what is a watercoaster? Configured like a roller coaster, with hills up as well as down, riders in two-person innertubes are propelled by streams of gushing water shot from jets.

        Here's the Aztec secret: The two riders must have a combined weight of at least 130 pounds. If they're that light, they get all kinds of air time on the way down. And a quarter-moon wedgie at the bottom. If you want to go fast, share your tube with a heavy person. It's worth a half-moon wedgie at the bottom.

        “That's sort of a rule of thumb on most of our slides,” Mr. Walter says. “The heavier the rider, the faster they go.”

        Later in the day we test his theory on Bonzai, twin racing slides, and find it to be 50-50.

        Susan and Noah race down the vertical drop with Noah, the heavier, an easy winner. But Chad, at least 50 pounds lighter, is down, standing up and looking back by the time I splash down.

        So much for physics. And dignity. It's a half-moon wedgie guaranteed.

Casualties in action

        Next up, Mr. Walter is winding us along a wooded path and up the shady steps to Hidden Rapids, a 3-5 minute ride down a steep, twisted, heavily banked flume with three pools of standing water to slow you down.

    Yo, readers. Is there anything you're itching to see the Fun Squad tackle for an August project?
    We've already done rides and slides, the two biggies of summer. Now we're open to suggestions for the last project of 2001.
    A guide to Ohio roller coasters? Air-conditioned fun around town, say places like Dave & Busters and the like? You tell us.
    E-mail or fax suggestions to 768-8330.
        And lead to casualties No. 1 and 2: Chad is nursing the elbow he whacked on a particularly nasty curve. Noah got his tube-spinning and is totally disoriented.

        Me? I got caught in one of the standing pools and had to depend on the kindness of strangers for a shove out.

        We're about to get water — a lot of water — up the nose. First speeding 200 feet down an enclosed tube called Watusi: Water spraying off feet goes straight up the nose. Next: sliding 320 feet down the triple flume Typhoon and hitting the water so fast it shoots straight up noses barely recovered from the last ride — and now it's time to man the inner tubes for a swirl down the white water of Snake River Rapids.

        All you can do after that is go for something peaceful. The Pearl is spa/pool, heated to 80 degrees and lined with palm trees. On Thursday nights, it's adults only with music and bar service — “Corona's the big seller,” Ms. Smith says. But this is Tuesday, and it's a jungle of Nerf balls.

        Thunder Beach wave pool is equally peaceful if you do it the lazy way: Go way out, plop in an inner tube ($4.95 rental) and let the waves carry you in. Warning: Don't do it after cheeseburgers and fries.

        Twilight Zoom, a twisted, enclosed black tube, and Snake River, whitewater rapids in inner tubes, are an intermediate prelude to The Cliff, the monster drivers on I-71 see when passing by.

        It's the Beach's premier thriller — 5 stories high and straight down with 3 full seconds of air time right over the first hump. “No way you can keep your butt on the slide,” Noah says, adjusting a half-moon wedgie.

        Making this a good time to catch breath and take a waaaay lazy ride on the Lazy Miami River. The quarter-mile, 4-foot deep river winds through the park with an easy current. All the rider has to do is sit and let the river do the work.

        Which we do, because by now, we have Casualty No. 3: sore feet — hot concrete don't you see — and tired arms from holding hands behind the head on all those slides. (The alternative is to place hands straight down, but then your head bounces down the slide, so it's not a practical alternative.)

        It's also a good time to take a meeting and figure out the morning's favorite. Bonzai wins by a hair, nudging out The Cliff after a semi-heated debate. Actually, all debates are semi-heated on an 88-degree day in full sun.

The Water Park God

        By 1:25 we're meeting guide Kevin Eldridge, operations supervisor at PKI's WaterWorks. They call him the Water Park God because he's been there 11 seasons and pretty much knows every bubbling spring in the park.

        WaterWorks gets peak crowds between 1 and 3 p.m, as much as one-third of the park's total attendance on a really hot day. To avoid lines, Mr. Eldridge recommends arriving at the 11 a.m. opening bell.

        Susan, meanwhile, is on a sunscreen binge. Waving a bottle of SPF 35, it's “Chad, shoulders. Jim, face. Noah, thighs. Now.” Hell hath no fury like a nanny armed with sunscreen.

        By this time we must have been looking pretty ragged because the very diplomatic Mr. Eldridge told us we looked “like you could use a ride on Kings Mill Run,” the quarter mile river flowing through the heart of the park, through bubbling springs, spewing geysers, a waterfall and a mushroom that rains.

        It's kind of a vacation in itself.

        His concern is short-lived as he pushes us off Ultra Twister, two enclosed tubes that wrap around each other like giant DNA strands. You can't see where you're going, you swoop up the sides of the tube, you're almost upside down at one point, you're under water the last couple of feet (more water up the nose) and you have to exit the splash pool with a half-moon wedgie. Great ride.

        Across a patch of concrete hot enough to fry feet, the triple slide Bonzai offers yet another twisted ride that looks tame, but don't let it fool you. The right and left slides are full of sharp turns and tummy-flopping dips; the center is a free-fall drop that lifts you 6 inches off the slide's surface and crashes you into the splash pool with enough force to levy a half-moon wedgie.

        “Did I mention really great air time,” Mr. Eldridge asks, trying not to notice four people fidgeting with bathing suits. By now, he's leading us up the steps to Sidewinder, a one-person inner tube ride (Hint: Ask the guard to give your tube a spin on takeoff, but not if you just ate a big gooey ice cream cone), then to Helix, four more twisted slides with sharper than average turns, more speed and a few dips that provide still more air time.

A true rush

        Rushing River is WaterWorks' most popular attraction. Riders sit in a four-person inner tube and face each other so they can chat and then scream as the thing nearly tips on any number of steeply banked curves.

        “It's a social ride that families love to do together,” says Jeffrey Siebert, PKI's marketing rep who's no doubt wishing he wasn't walking through a water park in long pants, shirt and tie.

        The Fun Squad agrees with his assessment: It gets PKI's highest rating.

        But Wipe Out Beach is a mighty close second. WaterWorks' newest attraction is three pools with progressively larger waves that never, ever, stop while riders try to stay on boogie boards for 30 seconds, no easy chore in the violent, churning water.

        Casualty No. 4: My pride. I stay on one second in the first two pools, three in the third. They aren't kidding about that Wipe Out stuff.

        Hint: Watch a while before trying it. Then, keep the bottom edge of the board at waist level and ignore the bleachers full of people giggling at you.

        Susan, Chad and Noah all hang in close to 30 seconds. My aggregate 5 seconds at least gives the bleachers something to laugh at.

        Surfside Bay is your basic wave pool, a nice rest after Wipe Out's fury and before the next round of madness.

Vertical drops

        That's the four slides of Fast Tracks. Two are vertical drops: White Lightning is 55 feet; The Plunge is 70 feet, tallest and fastest in town, with riders usually hitting 55 mph.

        The other two have dips on the way down to provide for better air time. The Streak is 55 feet, Thunder Run is 57.

        All four deliver full-moon wedgies.

        And a heck of a ride. The dipping slides nose out the vertical drops in popularity, with all four of us now suffering Casualty No. 5: At 50-something mph, the seams between panels can be murder on the back. Like a million little bee stings.

        It's now 4:18, and we're headed back to the parking lot. Chad's sleepy because the Blink 182 concert the night before at Riverbend ran late. Noah's whiney, wondering if the pain receptors had been burned off the bottom of his feet. Susan's worried she's going to expire before her 7 p.m. Extreme Frisbee match. And I'm singing the same line from Show Boat over and over: “Bodies are aching and wracked with pain.”

Slower Surf

        After the rigors of the first two parks, Surf Cincinnati is a walk in the park. It's smaller, there are no crowds and lots of shade.

        But not a lot of thrill rides. Surf is recovering from a few bad seasons, slowly adding and subtracting attractions. Right now, there are only five adult attractions.

        So it's a quick dip in the Super Surf Wave Pool and then off to the Blue Bullet, five-story red and yellow speed slides where riders lie on a mat and crash downhill. And, invariably, lose the mat — you're going that fast — thereby forcing a visit to Drifter Lazy River to soothe whatever body part got banged on the way down.

        Casualty No. 6: Noah's head. It bounced all the way down the Blue Bullet. A tired Susan has forbidden him to get a concussion because “we're not going to start over again.”

        More steps, these leading to Challenger, three racing slides with some surprising turns. Don't even think of doing it without a mat. Even with a mat, don't be surprised if you get beat up on the steeply banked sides.

        Same thing's going to happen once you plop in your inner tube on Runaway Rapids, the white water ride with three pools in the middle. And yeah, you will wipe out in pool No. 1 because you hit the water at such a speed that the inner tube stops. But you don't. Expect a nose full.

        But it's the last nose full of the day. Seven hours, 41 minutes, 44 attractions, 78 stories of step-climbing and several gallons of SPF 35 later, we're sprawled under an umbrella table at Surf, rubbing assorted body parts and making a date to go back to the Beach some Thursday night and behave like Normal People: Float around the Pearl, sip a Corona or two and let some other nut case run from slide to slide.

        But even with the tired, sore bodies and bad hair, we're feeling good.

        No, incredulous. Susan summed it up: “I know we look like hell, but we made it. Can anyone else say that?”

        Well, no one in their right mind.

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