Reflections at a waterpark

by Brian Clarey

Yesterday I saw something I had never seen before — and that’s saying something, for I am a man who has seen much.

What I saw was a barstool, a visual subject with which I am intimately familiar. But this one was different. It was made of bamboo — again, no big thing for me. I’ve been to Vegas.

What made this one different was that it had a warning sign taped to it: “250 lb. Limit.”

Only at the waterpark folks. I had seen signs like this all day, of course. Waterparks like this one, Greensboro’s Wet ‘N’ Wild at Emerald Pointe, like to play with the edge between safety and abject terror. And while it’s all fun and games when you’re hurtling down a five-story waterslide, there are certain laws of physics that must be honored. I saw a few large-boned folks doing some fast figuring before they got on the triple tube of the Runaway Raft ride, the combined weight of which could not exceed 600 pounds.

But a barstool… that was a new one on me. I spent a lot of time in bars, worked in them for years and drank in them for years more. We sometimes joked about putting seat belts on barstools, or ejector buttons, or electroshock coils. But that was just idle talk. This here was something else.

And I wondered: How long before they felt the need to put up the sign? Surely not after the first big ’un had flattened a barstool merely by shifting his weight on it. No, that could be written off as a one-time accident, an engineering flaw, a vagary of the bamboo. I believe at least three of these barstools must have been annihilated by human weight before someone brought it up at a meeting: “We really ought to put up a sign.” And so help me, I do wish I could have seen just one of these incidences go down.

I also wondered about the 250-pound limit. Was this just some arbitrary number, or was there some sort of process involved? And I asked myself, if I were right at the 250-pound limit, would I risk sitting in this rickety stool knowing the danger that might befall me in front of the whole waterpark?

Fat guys break chairs all the time, of course. I’ve seen it happen.

One of my college roommates earned the nickname “Porch Swing” after collapsing no less than two of them in a single week. It is as funny to me today as it was nearly 25 years ago.

While I was at the waterpark, I did a lot more than contemplate just how large Americans have gotten of late — though if you are looking for a sample of large Americans the waterpark is perhaps second only to a county fair for finding them.

I also considered the nature of the waterpark itself. They didn’t have them when I was a kid… well, they did — the nation’s first waterpark was the Wet ‘N’ Wild in Orlando, which opened in 1977. But when I was a kid we had to make do with the log flume at Six Flags great Adventure or, you know, just go Boogie boarding.

And I came up with a few tips for waterpark goers, right there on the spot.

For one, you will surely need sunscreeen. There’s not a lot of shade at the waterpark, and even if there was, you’re not going there to sit under a tree and read. Bring the heavy stuff, at least 30 SPF, and apply throughout the day unless. The place is full of people who do not heed this advice.

It’s also a good idea to go on a weekday, because the weekend crowds are ridiculous. Emerald Point attracts people from hundreds of miles around. On a weekday, the lines are shorter, more chairs are available and there is more room in the wave pool.

Another tip: If you’re on one of the more aggressive waterslides, there may be the temptation to scream. People do it all the time. But I learned the hard way that you should keep your mouth closed on ride like this, unless you want it filled with slide water.

I realized on my last visit to the waterpark that I can no longer tell the difference between 25-year-old women and 17-year-old girls from a distance of greater than 30 feet. If you’re like me, you should bring sunglasses to hide the embarrassed look on your face when you realize the girl you were looking at is probably still in high school.

One more thing: Go down the Daredevil Drop, a 76-foot waterslide that is basically a vertical drop, even if the thought of it scares the crap out of you. I go down it once just about every summer. Each time, just before I push off, I wonder why the hell I’m doing it. I’m reminded before I come to a stop at the bottom: It’s awesome, easily the best ride in Guilford County, in my opinion. If you go to the waterpark, you simply have to go on this slide.

Be sure to keep your mouth closed.