World’s tallest waterslide opens in the US

Fast, wet and out of control: The Verrückt slide is taller than the Statue of Liberty © PA

Higher than both Niagara Falls and the Statue of Liberty, the Verrückt slide opens in Kansas this week. Should we celebrate these terrifying feats of engineering or be alarmed by them?

There are ‘very few, if any, rules in the state of Kansas’ governing the safety of theme park rides, a local government official told one of the city’s radio stations this week. So that may be the reason that one theme park in the US state has built the world’s tallest water slide, which opened yesterday.

At 168 feet high, (51.2 metres) the Verrückt slide — which aptly translates as ‘insane’ in German — is taller than the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls. Thrill-seekers at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark have to climb 264 steps just to reach the top. From there, they climb into a three-seater inflatable raft and are strapped in with velcro for what is promised to be the ‘ride of their life’.

The experience has variously been described as being shot from a cannon or being hurled off the Empire State Building. First comes the near-vertical plunge, the equivalent of plummeting down a 17-storey building at a 60-degree angle, reaching speeds of between 50-65 mph.

Next comes the ostensibly pleasant sounding ‘Hill’ — a climb and drop equivalent to five storeys, spanning the width of 10 trucks. A feeling of weightlessness follows, say those who have tested it, before a splash-landing in a pool of water. The entire journey lasts just 11 seconds.

Predictably, preparing the slide has not been without pitfalls. Technical glitches delayed its opening date three times. When engineers sent sandbags down the ride to mimic the experience of human riders, they were launched off into the air before crashing into the ground. ‘Nobody’s really done this before’, said a park spokesperson, ‘so we’ve got to expect the unexpected.’

Most water slides do not have seatbelts or brakes, and rely on simple physics to create the drama. Psychologists say that thrilling rides can also release high levels of hormones in us, such as dopamine, which makes us feel good and boosts confidence levels. And oxytocin produces strong emotional bonds between people who share the experience.

Thrills and spills

Experiencing such a sudden exhilaration while feeling we are safe is a true marvel of the modern world, some say. Thrilling rides invoke feelings of childhood nostalgia in adults and encourage us to seize the moment. As one writer puts it; ‘the particular preciousness of time spent at amusement parks derives from an awareness that the moment is fleeting.’

But others argue that theme parks offer only a passive experience which requires no skill and offers no sense of real accomplishment or fulfilment. They can be traumatic and dangerous. People have been killed on rides, and the increasing extremity of the latest ones can result in injuries even on those which don’t fail catastrophically.

You Decide

  1. Would you take a ride on the Verrückt slide? Why? Why not?
  2. Why do some of us like to experience fear more than others?

Activities

  1. In groups, draw a poster with illustrated examples of how humans have purposefully scared themselves over time.
  2. Draw a diagram of the water slide, labelling it with the correct measurements, and explain the physics of how it works.

Some People Say...

“There can be no courage unless you are scared.’Eddie Rickenbacker”

What do you think?

Q & A

This ride sounds great — what did people do for fun before amusement parks were invented?
Humans have been scaring themselves on purpose for thousands of years, initially to foster group unity and to prove our worth. ‘Freak Shows’ and houses of ‘oddities’ have existed since the mid-1800s, and telling ghost stories has long been a popular pastime. One of the earliest versions of the modern rollercoaster was the 17th-century Russian Ice Slide — even Catherine the Great is said to have enjoyed zipping down the snowy peaks.
Are rides really dangerous?
Rigorous checks are carried out on rides and there are many laws that govern the engineering behind thrilling rides, so the vast majority are safe. But US researchers do believe that as the demand for faster, higher rides increases, so too will injuries.

Word Watch

Tallest
The slide was certified as the world’s tallest water slide in April by Guinness World Records.
Statue of liberty
The Statue of Liberty in New York was a present from the French to the Americans in 1886. It has become an icon of freedom and measures 151 ft from the base to the torch.
Niagara falls
The Falls consists of three waterfalls that straddle the border between Canada and the US. Incredibly, high wire tightrope acts used to be performed across the water.
Physics
The slide is driven by gravity, which converts potential energy into kinetic energy. A constant stream of water flowing from the top to the bottom lubricates the slide to reduce the friction and increase the acceleration.
Dopamine
Dopamine helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. People with low dopamine activity may be more prone to addiction.
Oxytocin
When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels rise. The hormone is also released during childbirth. The word comes from Greek — oksys means ‘swift’ and tokos means ‘birth’.

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