The world’s tallest water slide is located at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City, and also in my nightmares. It’s called Verrückt — which means “insane” in German — with good reason: At 52m, it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls and 23 Shaquille O’Neals stacked on top of each other. We recently gave one of the madmen who designed it a chance to explain himself.
You may remember the Verrückt from that time they tested it with sandbags and the sandbags flew off and got smashed up, or the time that the ride’s two engineers took its first human-tested ride, resulting in this terrifying video.
The Verrückt opens to the public soon (good luck, public!). To get a full sense of just how much of your life you’re taking in your hands going down it, Gizmodo talked to John Schooley, the ride’s engineer and one of the first men to test it.
While the Verrückt was plagued with delays as the team pushed for safety reassurances, Schooley and park founder Jeff Henry didn’t mind; they’d already been waiting for a few years to build their dream slide, so a few more weeks couldn’t hurt them.
“We conceived of it around 2012, in October, at a water park show,” Schooley told Gizmodo. He and Henry were walking around with people from the Travel Channel, and when they asked Jeff what his next project was, he said he wanted to build the world’s tallest and scariest water slide. Henry wasn’t joking. He started seriously planning with Schooley almost immediately. The two men have worked together building water parks since the ’90s, but this is their most ambitious project to date. They specialize in a park design they call “transportainment,” where they design everything in the hopes that park patrons will spend most of their time on communal rides, not in line. That’s why making the tallest water slide a group experience was so important to the duo.
“Basically, we were crazy enough to try anything,” Schooley said. “We decided to design something entirely new, because we decided to put a three or four man boat down it, and we wanted not only the fastest and steepest water slide going downhill, but we wanted to take it uphill over a hump, to give people a weightless experience going down the other side.” What’s fear without a side order of astronaut nausea to go with it?
Henry and Schooley first built a half-scale slide (which was still scary-big at around 84 feet) and tested it out using sandbags and themselves. Many of the sandbags flew out, though the men thankfully did not. They spent the next months making a full-scale version and working out the kinks, and by the beginning of this summer, they thought they were in the clear.
But building the world’s tallest, scariest water slide is not easy, and there were still issues to address. “We got it finished to the point where we could test it again, but we found out that with the higher weight limits, we would fly the rafts off the top of the hump,” Schooley said. To the aim of making their ride rafts less death-trap-esque, the team went back to testing and decided on a major overhaul.
“We decided to have a completely different shape of the hump, and we had to shorten up the bottom radiant turn because of the G forces involved. In two or three weeks, we took down two thirds of the slide, reconfigured it, and got it back up,” he said. After determining that their new design was probably non-lethal, Schooley and Henry gave it another spin. By July 2, the team had completed their 100th consecutive successful sandbag test, plus the two men’s tests as human guinea pigs. And now, finally, they’re just about ready to open for business.
Wondering what the ride experience feels like? Schooley’s enthusiasm for the project is so palpable it might make you want to risk a few grey hairs for the thrill: “You’re gonna have the experience of almost a free-for-all drop within the first section of the slide, with a brief period of G-force deceleration during the invert of the slide. Then you’ll go kinda weightless but you’ll be slowing down and going up the hill. Then all of a sudden these water nozzles come on and blast you over the slope and over the last hump, then you’ll go on another almost free-for-all,” he said.
“It was a pretty exciting ride. I was terrified, especially being the first to go down it,” Schooley concluded. A natural reaction for someone hurdling themselves down an untested man-made nightmare waterfall. That said, who’s coming with me to Kansas City this summer?