The countdown continues for the opening of Verrückt — the world's tallest water slide — in Kansas City, Kansas, at Schlitterbahn water park. After multiple delays and test runs, the ride is still undergoing refinements, and at this point there is no scheduled opening date.
Verrückt, which means "insane" in German, towers 17-stories above the ground at 168 feet, 7 inches, and is taller than both Niagara Falls and the Statue of Liberty from toes to torch. It promises to be a daredevil blockbuster.
"John and I were the first people down; I'm still recovering mentally," says Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts co-owner Jeff Henry, who created Verrückt with Schlitterbahn senior designer John Schooley. "It's like jumping off the Empire State Building. It's the scariest thing I've done."
The slide's specifications will thrill or terrify. Riders travel the equivalent of two football fields in 18 seconds, Henry says. It takes a spiral climb by foot of 264 steps to reach the top of the tower, which is built from recycled railroad tankers. Four riders are strapped into a wedgie-preventing rubber raft that is expected to reach speeds of 65 mph. The 607-foot-long fiberglass water slide starts as the "Drop," a 60-degree, 17-story near free-fall before swooping back up the 55-foot-tall "Hill" where riders go from 5 Gs to weightlessness before descending to a stop in a splash zone. It's expected to last all of 10 seconds. Velcro seat belts lash riders to the raft, and netting encloses the chute to retain the raft in the unlikely event it goes flying. During early testing, rafts did just that.
"We had many issues on the engineering side," says Henry, who owns 60 patents for innovations such as land-based water surfing and uphill water coasters. "Our correction coefficients were all off. Models didn't show air and water friction. A lot of our math was based on roller coasters at first, and that didn't translate to a water slide like this. No one had ever done anything like this before."
After the Guinness Book of World Records certified Verrückt as the world's tallest water slide on April 25, Henry torn down half of it to make corrections, delaying the planned Memorial Day opening and costing an additional $1 million. Testing was conducted after dark to avoid media helicopters that had been buzzing the park after hours.
The Hill was originally five stories, but early tests saw rafts and sandbag occupants launch off the slide at this point. To prevent this, the slope of the bottom of the Drop was mellowed from 45 degrees to 22 degrees to decrease speed, and an extra 5 feet was added to the height of the Hill. In order to ensure the raft makes it over the Hill now, a patented "Master Blaster" water cannon propels the raft over the top, which is the equivalent of jumping 21 semitrailers parked side by side, Henry says. Incidentally, the Hill is the tallest uphill water coaster in the world.
"It's dangerous, but it's a safe dangerous now," Henry says. "Schlitterbahn is a family water park, but this isn't a family ride. It's for the thrill seekers of the world, people into extreme adventure."
Henry, whose nicknames include the Wizard of Wet and Lord of the Slides, says that as a proud Texan, he wanted the world's tallest slide to be in the United States.
Verrückt joins a long list of industry accomplishments for Henry. He was named Inventor of the Year at the annual Austin Intellectual Property Law Association's 2012 Judges' Dinner, and his designs have revolutionized the water park industry. His inventions, such as lazy rivers for tubers and waves that allow the landlocked to surf, are seen in water parks and cruise ships worldwide.
Bob and Billye Henry opened their first water park in New Braunfels, Texas, in 1966. Son Jeff dropped out of school at 14 to help with his parents' business. Today the family operates an additional three parks in South Padre Island, Galveston and Kansas City; a fifth park is slated to open in Corpus Cristi later this year. While the four Texas locations will get scaled-down Verrückt rides as well, none will be as tall as the Kansas City record holder.
"The world's largest slide had been in Brazil, and we couldn't have that," Jeff says. "I'm from Texas, it was a matter of pride."
The Travel Channel's behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Verruckt airs this Sunday, June 29 at 8 p.m. EST on Xtreme Waterparks.
Tickets start at $36 and include access to all park attractions including theVerrückt. Information: 913-312-3110; schlitterbahn.com.