Many of Aotearoa New Zealand’s older hydroslides from the 1980s, 1990s, and even some installed after 2000, are showing their age and ideas around revitalisation have become topical.

This excerpt from a small 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 like a good idea… but is it?

Let’s look at what is possible, what’s safe, how proven it is, and if it stacks up cost-wise.

Firstly, let’s be clear about our objectives. Do we want to:

1. make our old hydroslide(s) look new again?
2. create a more exciting ride experience by adding light, sound or interactive special effects?
3. change the slide path geometry, perhaps in response to a safety issue, or just make the ride experience ‘new’ or ‘better’ in some way?

Starting at the top, making older slides look like new will usually involve cutting and polishing the fibreglass or, in some cases, resurfacing. It’s labour intensive but a relatively easy way to spruce things up and prolong lifespan. WhiteWater has a dedicated team that will undertake this work for you.

how we help maintain your water products

The revitalised slide may perform differently too, as the newly polished or resurfaced riding surfaces will exert less friction. Test and recommission it before letting the public back on and make sure that the flow rate is still safe, particularly if there are any long, straight sections transitioning into tight turns (unlikely on a WhiteWater slide but more common on some of the older New Zealand-manufactured slides).

Standard hydroslide maintenance should include regular polishing and waxing to protect the ride surface; it’s really an operating cost.

If the ride surface (or outside surface) does need recoating, this will still be a cheaper revitalisation strategy than replacing the slide and, unless there are existing safety concerns with the slide path design, should be investigated.

Moving down our list of objectives, let’s look at adding light, sound and interactive effects.

Most of the older hydroslides in New Zealand (pre-2005) were designed and built by either of 2 local manufacturers; Cresta Composites or Aeromarine Industries. These hydroslides typically start from a platform height of somewhere around 7m and are around 60-70m in length. There are some notable exceptions but most seem to follow this standard slidepath formula.

Unless a slide is particularly slow, riders will likely be travelling between 4m – 6m per second. Ride durations should therefore fall within a range of 11 – 17 seconds. So, what can we do to make these older hydroslides more exciting, particularly with a such short ride times to experience the new effects? Will a hi-spec - hi-tech enhancement or a blunt instrument approach work best?

Globally, hydroslide manufacturers have offered light and sound, including retrofitting these effects into older slides, for many years. New Zealand’s first serious attempt at retrofitting existing hydroslides with audio-visual effects was completed at QEII Park, in 2007, when light and sound were added to 2 body slides. Images back-projected onto water screens inside the flume were also added to a 3 rd slide (1 of the 1–2-person wide diameter innertube slides), but the operating environment proved too difficult and the water screens quickly failed.

Even back in 2007, the budget for this type of revitalisation was a hefty $180,000, which does support the argument that adding light and sound effects to a hydroslide is much cheaper than installing a new one, while equally demonstrating that the costs involved can be substantial.

The 2007 light and sound enhancements at QEII Park were moderately successful. Unfortunately, the quality was much less than expected due to the poor acoustics inside the slides, coupled with rider velocity and riding position (feet first and on their backs). The resulting rider experience was definitely more exciting than having no effects but was quick and blunt, with LED lighting along the slidepath heightening the perception of speed, and booming bass sound to get the adrenalin flowing.

Based on our experience at QEII Park and from WhiteWater’s learnings overseas, our advice is to respect the operating environment and make any audio-visual enhancement simple and durable. As already mentioned, the ride experience is short and the operating environment challenging. Be very clear about the standards and outcomes you expect the supplier to achieve, and have these clearly detailed in the supply and installation contract.

It is also worth noting that flashing lights have been known to trigger epileptic fits in a small percentage of the population. Operationally, it’s extremely important to make riders aware of this possible danger through clearly positioned signage.

Also, if the slide being revitalised was ‘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’.

Another retrofitting possibility is to add interactive play features. Nearly 10 years ago, WhiteWater introduced ‘Slideboarding’, where the speed and fun of hydroslides intersect with video gaming, as this video clip shows…


‘Slideboarders’ ride on a ‘Slideboard’ fitted with 4 push- buttons of different colours. Slideboarders push the corresponding-coloured button as they travel down the slide, passing through many bands of corresponding coloured light at speed (the yellow bands on the green slide house the slideboarding light effects) and earn points for timing and colour accuracy. This adds a measurable, exciting competitive element and is gaining traction at waterparks globally.

Find out more about Slideboarding on the WhiteWater website.
Slideboarding can be retrofitted into an existing slide, provided it’s a wide-diameter slide and long enough to give riders enough ride time to enjoy a worthwhile interactive experience. Currently, New Zealand has no wide-diameter slides long enough for a slideboarding retrofit… but give it time!

We could also look at retrofitting virtual reality enhancements but, given the standard of Aotearoa New Zealand’s older slides, this is unlikely to be feasible. We are more than happy to discuss the VR possibilities for any new WhiteWater slides.

Now let’s look at the idea of reconfiguring an existing slide path, perhaps by increasing the radius of a corner to create a smoother transition and reduce oscillation risk, 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.

In North America, for example, where large-scale outdoor waterparks dominate the highly competitive aquatic leisure market, and people who sustain injuries on a ride or slide have the right to sue for substantial damages, the risk factor associated with reconfiguration simply doesn’t stack up.

As noted previously, Aotearoa New Zealand’s stock of aging hydroslides tend to be fairly short slides that start from low tower platforms. They were designed before the development of modern proprietary ride simulation software. Therefore, even if the slide’s geometry could be reconfigured, the existing slidepath may be a less than ideal starting point.

The key parameters that slide path designers work with for any hydroslide project are the relative elevations and positions of the starting platform (‘Point A’) and where the slide ends (‘Point B’), along with any constraints to the footprint and space between these 2 points, e.g., is it close to a site boundary?

Over the decades, WhiteWater has invested heavily in R & D to develop very sophisticated predictive design software. This proprietary software factors in rider displacement, velocity, acceleration and ‘jerk’ to accurately predict how riders of all shapes and sizes will travel down each slide. Some suppliers, particularly those who lack any real in- house R & D capability, may focus on rider acceleration, but acceleration does not cause injuries; acceleration defines the force on a body and that’s all it does.

Velocity and ‘jerk’ have to be factored in. ‘Jerk’ (the rate of change of acceleration) is what causes injuries such as whiplash. For example, if a rider ‘catches air’ and hits the outside wall of a turn, that’s because of ‘jerk’… not acceleration. Our simulation design software takes these and more motion variables into account… but that’s only the starting point of our design process.

During every commissioning, WhiteWater collects actual ride data and compares this against the simulation software’s predictions. Using this information, we continue to refine and improve predictive accuracy with each completed installation. Drones are also used for open- flume slides. After nearly 3 decades of testing and validating every WhiteWater hydroslide installation, WhiteWater has an extremely accurate and continually updated algorithm that allows WhiteWater to design with complete confidence.

Even with this level of simulation accuracy and validation, we approach even the smallest changes to existing slide paths with extreme caution, and have never attempted reconfiguration of older hydroslides.

Very simple modifications to increase the radius of a tight corner may be feasible and within the capabilities of less sophisticated competitors, but that level of alteration is about all we believe they should attempt and, even at this most basic level, there will be an element of risk.

In summary, polishing and resurfacing older slides definitely has merit. Polishing is actually part of regular operational maintenance.

When deciding whether to revitalise or replace your hydroslides, the first steps are to assess current condition and obtain a price to do the work. Then you can determine if the improved ride experience and lifespan will justify the cost.

Retrofitting light and sound or interactive features is also possible, but bear in mind the operating environment inside the slides. Make sure your supplier has a proven track record of delivering effects that work in the hydroslide operating environment. We doubt that any local suppliers will meet this criterion, because it’s new technology here and our hydroslide market is too small to support the required level of hydroslide-specific retrofitting experience.

Virtual reality or ‘VR’, is a growing field in enhancing rider experience globally, and the technology in this area is developing rapidly. WhiteWater has been involved in some ground breaking installations and recommends that you on consider suppliers with a proven track record when considering ‘VR’, particularly in New Zealand. Don’t be fooled by misleading photo-shopped images on websites that promise much more than will be ultimately delivered. 

Changing the slide path geometry of an older hydroslide is simply not recommended, rarely attempted, and should only be undertaken with extreme care. Any aquatic centre or hydroslide attraction operator contemplating this type of revitalisation should satisfy itself completely, that the contracted company has both the design and manufacturing capability and actual experience, from previous successfully completed reconfigurations, to complete the work. We recommend you agree a fixed price contract, with clear expectations and quantified objectives, that compels the supplier to make good if the structural work proves unsafe or doesn’t reach expectations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2024 WhiteWater NZ | Terms and Conditions | Policy Privacy |Powered By Cosmoweb

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram