SLIDE REFURBISHMENT AND UPGRADES

28/07/2020
With many of New Zealand’s hydroslides from the 1980s, 1990s and even some installed after 2000 showing their age, ideas around revitalisation possibilities have become topical.

This excerpt from a local supplier’s website typifies what is being promoted:

‘Retrofit theming or interactive elements to:

  • revitalize older body slides

  • create new appeal for your facility

  • involve your riders in the design process’

In principle, the idea of injecting new life and excitement into old slides sounds worthwhile and promising. Questions to be answered include; what is possible, what is safe, how proven is it, does it really stack up cost-wise and what will it achieve?

Let’s start by being clear about our objectives. Do we just want to make our hydroslide look new or do we want to create a more exciting ride experience by adding light, sound or interactive special effects? Do we want to go further and change the ride path structurally, perhaps to make it smoother, faster, slower or just different in some way? And, once we’re clear about what we want to achieve, what determines if the improvements would be worthwhile?

Without going into the science and proprietary software behind modern hydroslide design, the key parameters that slide designers work with for any hydroslide project are the height of the platform that the hydroslide starts from (‘Point A’), where the slide ends (‘Point B’) and its elevation relative to the starting platform, coupled to any constraints to the footprint and space between these 2 points, e.g., is it close to a site boundary? Modern professional slide design takes these and many more variables into account, while considering the design brief and operational requirements (e.g., where to queue, store tubes or mats, etc.) to deliver riders from Point A to Point B with maximum safety and fun. Retrospective changes to existing slide paths should therefore be approached with extreme caution, particularly if the hydroslides are older and were designed and built before modern design tools were available.

Most of the older hydroslides in New Zealand (say pre 2005) were designed and built by either of 2 local manufacturers; Cresta Composites and Aeromarine Industries. These hydroslides typically operate from a platform height of somewhere around 7m and are around 60-70m in length. There are some notable exceptions but most sit somewhere close to those numbers and, unless the slide is particularly slow, riders will likely be travelling between 4m – 6m per second, depending on gradient, slide path configuration, water flow rate and riding surface condition. Ride durations should, therefore, typically fall within a range of 11 – 17 seconds. So, what can we do to revitalise these hydroslides, particularly with a such short ride time? Are we talking hi-spec, hi-tech or a blunt instrument approach?

Also, before adding lighting, sound and interactive special effects, or taking the more drastic step of changing out any sections to modify the slide path, perhaps we should first look at the slide’s current condition and maintenance requirements to see how much life is left in it. Would there be enough life to justify the revitalisation cost?

Let’s assume that in many cases there will be sufficient life, but there is little point in adding technology or making structural changes to a slide that looks old, faded and tired.  Given New Zealand’s harsh UV exposure, the starting point for any revitalisation is an evaluation of the slide’s most basic refurbishment requirements.   WhiteWater’s experts in hydroslide refurbishment can breathe life back into your hydroslide quickly and cost efficiently with a thorough cleaning process, fresh coat of gelcoat paint and safety checks. We can also resurface worn riding surfaces and realign joins to create a smoother ride. This should be the universal starting point before anything else is considered.

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Once the slide is looking brand new again, the easiest and cheapest enhancement is to add light and sound. Globally, hydroslide manufacturers have offered this product, including retrofitting, for many years. As an aside, one of the first New Zealand examples of audio-visual effects inside a hydroslide was completed at QEII Park, Christchurch, in 2007, when lighting effects and sound were added to 2 of the 5 WhiteWater hydroslides. Images projected onto water screens inside the flume were added to a 3rd slide but the operating environment proved too difficult. Even back in 2007, the budget for this particular revitalisation was about $180,000, which supports the argument that adding SFX to a hydroslide is certainly much cheaper than buying a new one, but the costs involved are still substantial.

The 2007 QEII light and sound enhancements were moderately successful but poor acoustics inside the slide, coupled with riders’ velocity and riding position, feet first and on their backs, resulted in an experience that, while more exciting, was quick and blunt. Riders experienced lots of flashing lights and bass sound but it was hard to tell if the music was by Deep Purple or Bachmann Turner Overdrive…a quick rush of pulsating excitement none the less!

It is also worth pointing out that flashing lights can trigger epileptic fits, so its extremely important to be make riders aware of this through clear, appropriately positioned signage.

This is not to downplay standard SFX as a reinvigoration tool, rather we’re simply adding a small dose of caution and common sense, based on actual experience both here and overseas, something the newer and reinvented New Zealand-based suppliers won’t have much chance to gain as yet. Our advice is to make any SFX enhancement simple and durable, because the ride experience is short and the operating environment is challenging. Be very clear about the standards you expect the supplier to achieve and have these clearly detailed in the contract.

Also, if the slide being revitalised was what is sometimes referred to as ‘a bit of a snoozer’ to begin with, the addition of light and sound won’t change the fundamental ride experience; it will still be a ‘snoozer’.

The next excitement level up for consideration would be retrofitting interactive play features. Approximately 4 years ago, WhiteWater introduced Slideboarding, which has set the global standard for interactive hydroslide fun.

As you will see from these pictures, hydrosliders ride a ‘slideboard’, which has simple push-button controls, allowing them to respond to changing light colours and earn points for accuracy, as they slideboard down the hydroslide. This adds a measurable and exciting competitive element to hydrosliding, and is gaining traction at waterparks around the world.

Find out more about Slideboarding on the WhiteWater website.
Slideboarding can be installed retrospectively, provided it’s into a wide-diameter flume and the slide is long enough to give riders sufficient time for a worthwhile interactive experience. Currently, we have no wide-diameter slides in New Zealand that are long enough to retrofit slideboarding into, but give it time!

Now we move up yet another level to the interesting idea of reconfiguring an existing slide path, perhaps by elongating a corner to create a smoother transition or adding a sharper drop, for a short burst of acceleration, somewhere in the existing slide path. This approach is not common overseas, in fact it is extremely rare as the risks are great.

In North America, in particular, where large outdoor waterparks dominate the highly competitive hydroslide scene, and injured people have the right to sue for substantial damages, the risk factor associated with reconfiguration simply doesn’t stack up. Indeed, the only reconfiguration WhiteWater West has ever done was completed quite recently, and involved lengthening the shutdown lane of a competitor-manufactured slide, to make it safe.

Now let’s look at the New Zealand stock of aging hydroslides, most designed and built, either by Cresta or Aeromarine, well before the advent of modern proprietary design software. They tend to be fairly short slides, that start from low tower platforms and exit into short pools or short shutdown lanes.

In simple terms, reconfiguring a slide path structurally, would most likely either lengthen or shorten it. If lengthened, overall gradient reduces, which in turn reduces rider speed. So where is the increased excitement? If we shorten it, we theoretically increase gradient and therefore speed and, hopefully, excitement. The ‘but’ for many of these older New Zealand hydroslides, is their shutdown pools and lanes, already very short by international standards. These would likely have to lengthened and that may not be practical or cost effective. It might also be necessary to reposition or modify some of the steel support columns and arms to reach and support the altered sections, which could prove difficult and costly.

So, in summary, there can be merit in revitalising older slides. The first step is to assess current condition, obtain a price to refurbish and then assess if this is cost effective. This should be the universal starting point before anything else is considered.

It is also possible to add lighting, sound and interactive features and this can be a great option, once the slide has first been refurbished.

Changing a hydroslide structurally is certainly possible but is not generally recommended and should only be undertaken with extreme care. An aquatic centre or hydroslide attraction contemplating this should make sure they have a fixed price contract, with clear expectations and quantified objectives, compelling the supplier to make good if the structural work proves either unsafe or doesn’t reach expectations.

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