Water In Motion

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Photo courtesy of Flickr | Gary Hunt

Last month, I used this space to discuss a variety of ways that aquatic systems considered tangential to the traditional pool and spa industry – ponds, fountains and interactive features – have influenced the design and construction of swimming pools. I’d like to pick up that theme again this month with a closer look at the way the ever-expanding waterpark industry is impacting expectations for our industry’s products.

First off, I’ve always found it somewhat strange that waterparks and swimming pools are rarely considered part of the same industry. Despite the fact that both focus on recreational experiences in water, share many of the same manufacturers, use similar filtration and treatment technologies (albeit on vastly different scales), and that water theme park elements are now more commonly found in conjunction with swimming pools, the two industries have traditionally been first cousins at best. They have different trade associations, separate trade shows and in general there is very little evidence of any kind of shared effort or information.

As one who has been fascinated by water in all its forms and applications for years now, I’ve become deeply interested in waterparks in general and specifically their impact on swimming pools. As I mentioned last month, we now see many community aquatic centers with waterpark slides, play structures and even in some cases wave pools and lazy rivers — and we’re now seeing those elements finding their way into residential settings.

Waterparks are “cool” for a number of reasons, including the inventiveness of the attractions, the way that they appeal to kids of all ages (including those of the grown-up variety), their sheer scale and especially how they provide places for families to share positive and memorable experiences.

When my kids were growing up, we spent many a summer’s day at Southern California waterparks. Our favorite was Raging Waters in San Dimas, Calif., a massive facility that was at the time considered the largest waterpark in the U.S. west of the Mississippi. Later on, my son, Brett, worked as a lifeguard there and even rose to become the facility’s director of aquatic services, a job that put him in charge of more than 500 teenaged lifeguards, quite a high level of responsibility for a 19 year old.

Indeed, waterparks provide countless teens with employment opportunities and serve as powerful economic draws for communities in all corners of the U.S. At waterparks, you can surf in land-locked states and go river-rafting the heart of the city. In our case, even though we lived in a region chalk full of swimming pool and had ready access to the beach as well as numerous lakes and rivers, the waterparks offered a different type of aquatic experience, one that prompted our family and millions of others to click the turnstiles on a regular basis.

One of the fascinating things about waterparks is that for all their ubiquitous presence, they more or less kind of crept into our world in the ‘80s and ‘90s without much fanfare. In fact, the early history of waterparks is tough to pin down. Many people consider Orlando, Florida’s Wet ‘N Wild, which opened in 1977, as the first. Others argue, however, that they first appeared in 1940s in various aquatic centers that included slides and trapeze swings.

Nowadays there are upwards of 1,000 waterparks in the U.S., by far the world’s largest concentration with only an estimated 600 in the rest of the entire world. The interactive features are precisely designed with both fun and safety in mind and can be remarkably creative and ingenious. The parks themselves include concessions and theme elements typical of traditional amusement parks, and it’s worth noting that waterparks in general have good to outstanding safety records.

And they are popular by any measure: According to the World Waterpark Association, in 2006, 78 million people attended waterparks in North America.

With all that in mind, there can be no doubt that the advent of waterparks has forever altered consumer expectations when it comes to swimming pools. Not only do we see slides, swings, play structures, water cannons and splash pads associated with both commercial and residential pools, nowadays, the lazy river has come to the backyard.

A growing roster of builders has taken on lazy river projects in residential settings and consistently report they are among the most challenging swimming pools to design and construct.

There’s a great example of one in this edition of AQUA Architecture by design/builder Mike Farley. In “A River Runs Through It,” Mike describes an amazingly complex backyard paradise all centered on a lazy river, and in this case one built in an extremely small space in an upper middleclass home in the Dallas area.

I’ll leave it Mike to fill in the extensive details. Suffice to say this project is one compelling piece of evidence that waterparks and swimming pools increasingly have more and more in common.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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