Building World’s Tallest Water Slide is Tricky Business
17 stories, 5 gs of acceleration, and years of planning make for a unique ride
Guinness has officially confirmed it: the world’s tallest water slide is in Kansas City, Kansas, and is open for business. Higher than Niagara Falls, the plunge was created with the help of countless tests, several models, and some revolutionary, patented water slide technologies.
Verrückt (German: “insane”) towers over Kansas City’s Schlitterbahn Waterpark, its 168-foot height having earned it the title of World’s Tallest Water slide (deliberately displacing the previous titleholder, Brazil’s Insano Water slide, with its diminutive 134 feet). When they set out out to construct the world’s highest, fastest water slide, Schlitterbahn owner Jeff Henry and former yacht-builder John Schooley knew that they would be breaking new ground in the field of water-based entertainment; in the end, they “pretty much built the ride in house, from start to finish, with some outside consulting from safety experts and engineers,” Schooley tells Smithsonian Magazine. “A project like this is really a group effort.”
Among other things, Henry has contributed to water parks the world over the with his patented Master Blaster, a pumping and control system for “ensuring continuous and non-disruptive supply of water” and injecting water onto a ride’s surface. Having calculated that, in order to steal the Insano’s title and provide a feeling of weightlessness for the rider, the slide would need an angle of 60 degrees (creating a drop speed of 65 miles per hour), the park owner realized he’d have to harness his own technology in creating an unprecedented ride. As co-designer Schooley explains:
[T]he Verrückt water slide was to be a crossover fusion design between water slides and roller coasters. In some ways it was evolutionary in that we already had experience with steep speed slide geometry, rafts and uphill water coaster technology. In others it was revolutionary in that we had to invent and develop several new systems to operate this very large jump from existing technology.
After deciding upon the height and slope of the water slide, Henry and Schooley began the long process of building and testing models. Despite Henry’s family’s decades of experience with water slides and his own boat-building background, Schooley acknowledges that accounting for gravity, resistance, and other factors can only do so much: “when you start adding water into the equation, there’s actually no way to really know what’s going to happen in terms of hydraulic friction forces on it other than testing it.” The pair pushed through trial and error, building 90-foot, half-scale and full-scale models which seemed successfully until they discovered that sandbags sent down the ride were flying off the ride and landing 150 feet away. “We were sailing rafts out into space, basically,” Schooley noted.
After pushing back the ride’s opening date an extra month this summer to work out the kinks, the pair have finally unveiled Verrückt, which is not only safe but also extremely popular. Would-be riders are advised to show up to the ticket line at the Kansas City park to schedule a ride for later the same day; however, as the ride’s website notes, demand for rides currently exceeds availability.
[h/t] Smithsonian Magazine
Images: Schlitterbahn Waterparks, USA Today