The Hopes And Hazards Of The 17-Story Water Slide
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Verruckt is the German word for insane. It's also the name of the world's tallest water slide, which is now open to the public. The Verruckt plunges 17 stories, which breaks the record held by a giant slide in Brazil. Design problems repeatedly pushed back the launch. We figured since no one in their right mind would be among the first to ride it, we'd send Frank Morris, of member station KCUR, down the slide today.
FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Just walking up from the parking lot, you see a pretty tall, pointy tower with a Loch Ness Monster-looking hump. The hump used to be shaped more like a tombstone. I'll get to that.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: (Yelling) Woohoo.
MORRIS: A little closer, inside the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City, Kansas, Verruckt looks more intimidating, even from the bar.
LAURA O'DELL: No. (Laughing) It looks huge and terrifying.
SERENA SMITH: No, I don't like straight drops. No.
O'DELL: It's like falling out of a building.
SMITH: Yeah, it kind of looks like you'll die.
MORRIS: Laura O'Dell, Serena Smith and Alley Durrant may not be going down the slide, but I am - I think. Layne Pitcher, with Schlitterbahn here, is going to be my guide. Hey, Lane.
LAYNE PITCHER: Hi, Frank, nice to meet you. Are there any questions?
PITCHER: OK, good to go.
MORRIS: OK, let's get up there. So, Layne, this thing was supposed to open almost two months ago. And what, was it three, four opening dates have come and gone - why all the delays?
PITCHER: You know, with an innovative ride like this, you almost have to expect delays.
MORRIS: Yeah. Marcus Gaines with the European Coaster Club says world-beater rides like this almost always open late.
MARCUS GAINES: So you've got to accept that when you're breaking a record, there's going to be technical difficulties along the way.
MORRIS: Given all the hassle and the expense, you wonder what makes the company build one.
DAVID COLLINS: One of the things in this industry is, my park's bigger than your park. My ride's bigger than your ride.
MORRIS: And David Collins, who's been engineering new waterslides for decades, says it's a safe bet competitors are already laying plans to top Verruckt.
COLLINS: And it's a battle for riders. It's a battle for attendance.
MORRIS: Because Tobias Niepel, a German thrill ride enthusiast, says these rides are too scary for most people by design.
TOBIAS NIEPEL: Yeah, they really build slides to look intimidating. They want to play with your fear, and I think they are doing a quite good job with Verruckt.
MORRIS: Oh, yeah. Just climbing step after step gives you ample time to think about the big, big fall - and many views of that nasty-looking, five-story bump that riders hit right afterwards.
COLLINS: It's a decelerator for the ride.
MORRIS: That's David Collins again.
COLLINS: You get what they call air time, which means that the vehicle stays connected to the water, but you aren't connected to the vehicle.
MORRIS: In tests a few weeks ago, even the rafts were sailing off this very ride. They have since tamed the geometry of the hill a little and put up a net just in case. Still, Marcus Gaines says Verruckt, here, is going to be a notch above a white-knuckle ride.
GAINES: (Laughing) Wow. When you're on a roller coaster, and you're on something solid and you're in a proper seat, you've got something you can really hold onto. But in a rubber raft, there's nothing you can really grip onto properly, other than clench your butts.
MORRIS: Oh, thanks. I'm just coming to the top of the tower now. It's like Niagara Falls, except a little bit taller. And there's no barrel to go in, just this actually fairly substantial rubber raft that I'm about to sit down on.
MORRIS: (Yelling) Holy cow. Here's comes the bump. Whoa. Holy - oh, man. It's wet. Ahhh - another bump. Holy cow. Wow. Whoa. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.
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