Feature - From Wet to Dry - October 2018

WHITEWATER

WhiteWater’s No Boundaries features fully enclosed ropes courses, net bridges, slides, and more activities for guests of all ages and skill levels. (Credit: WhiteWater)

WhiteWater Transforms Its Business

by Michael Switow

At the Hot Go theme park, located some 450 miles from Beijing in a mountainous area called Fushun, a brightly colored structure rises 70 feet above the ground. A tower is in the middle, encircled by yellow steps and a single blue track (see top photo on p. 66). From the central observation deck, visitors have a clear view of a massive European-style castle hotel, as well as the children, youth, and adults tackling the challenges of the play structure itself.

Called No Boundaries and manufactured by WhiteWater, this US$4 million attraction opened during the summer, following a brief test run a year earlier. It’s one of two such installations to debut in China this year, the other being in Gui’an Wonderland Happy World, a park located near China’s eastern seaboard in Fujian province.

No Boundaries is part of a bid by the water slide manufacturer to diversify its product offerings and become known as a premium supplier for both dry and wet parks.

WHITEWATER

WhiteWater’s No Boundaries features fully enclosed ropes courses, net bridges, slides, and more activities for guests of all ages and skill levels. (Credit: WhiteWater)

A decade ago, dry land attractions accounted for less than 5 percent of WhiteWater’s revenue. Today, that figure is closer to 25 percent. The company’s founder and CEO Geoff Chutter aims to continue growing dry side sales until they fully comprise half of WhiteWater’s business. Dry sales jumped 400 percent in 2016 alone. 

While this diversification may surprise some, company officials say there’s really no other way to go.

“It gets harder and harder to gain more market share. Whereas if you look at the theme park and amusement side of the business, we really haven’t begun to scratch the surface,” says WhiteWater’s president for park attractions Nathan Jones, a 20-year industry veteran who is responsible for growing the company’s dry park portfolio.

Add to this, the fact that theme parks are traditionally more expensive to build than water parks.

“If you look at the overall budgets—the footprint and capital—amusement parks and theme parks certainly are, in some cases, exponentially larger than water parks,” Jones adds. 

While WhiteWater’s Adventure Play dry catalogue is new, the company’s move into this space—as well as Jones’ own dry park trajectory—has been years in the making.

WhiteWater was founded in 1980, with the launch of its own water park in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. Less than three years after opening the park, Chutter sold the water park to focus on water slide design, engineering, manufacturing, and delivery. 

The company’s growth has been fueled by more than half a dozen mergers and acquisitions, starting with a fiberglass manufacturer, an engineering design firm, and a wave equipment specialist. 

Perhaps the most important additions—at least as far as diversification is concerned—were of SCS Interactive in 2005 and Hopkins Rides six years later. The former specialized in play structures, while the latter added a catalog of log flumes and “Shoot the Chute” rides.

“The commonality (of these two acquisitions) was that you wear street clothes, as opposed to the water park side where, of course, people are in bathing suits,” explains Chutter. “It opened up a whole new target market for us, the theme park and the amusement park, which we weren’t focusing on at all.”

WHITEWATER

Adventurous guests can take part in No Boundaries’ harnessed activities, which include a zip coaster, ropes challenge courses, or vertical climbing sections. (Credit: WhiteWater)

Nearly 21 years ago, about the same time that WhiteWater signed a licensing agreement to manufacture FlowRiders for water parks, Nathan Jones answered an ad for a supervisory role with a company called PrimePlay, which developed custom playgrounds. This would be his first foray into dry attractions. 

While most of his career has been with WhiteWater, Jones also spent five years with Dutch Wheels and Vekoma Rides, experience that has primed him for his current role. 

And if you follow the corporate trail, PrimePlay would eventually become part of WhiteWater, along with the SCS Interactive acquisition.

The bulk of WhiteWater’s products—rides like the MasterBlaster, Anaconda, FusionFortress, and mat racers—are still targeted at water parks. In addition to No Boundaries, which comes in two sizes—WhiteWater also sells a crisscrossing unharnessed ropes course called Adventure Trail.

“That was really our start and foray into the No Boundaries product. Adventure Trail is free play. You walk up, there’s no queue line. Mom and dad can have a break, or they can join in,” Jones explains. “There’s no mandate to go left or right. There’s no cyclical nature to it in that you have to go from A to B. You can go from A to F if you want, and jump over to L. It’s meant for children to lead that exploration or just have families explore together.”

Adventure Trail has been been sold to attractions in Australia, Dubai, Taiwan, Ukraine, the U.S., and even for use on board a cruise liner. Its success, along with positive feedback from families using it, led WhiteWater officials to realize that the time was ripe to further expand its product offering.

No Boundaries is the linchpin of WhiteWater’s foray into the dry park space. Five installations have been sold to date. In addition to the two in China, a smaller version for indoor parks, the 46-foot-high NB 100, debuted earlier this year in Abu Dhabi and in a brand-new resort in southeast Asia. Jones’ team also sold the 70-foot-high NB 200 to Amikoo in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera.

It’s no coincidence that three of the five installations are in Asian parks, as the region continues to experience rapid growth. Asia is WhiteWater’s largest market, accounting for half of the company’s business.

WHITEWATER

No Boundaries’ designers created several unique climbing challenges for guests, including a wall with colorful circle-shaped footholds (above) and a combination of stacked purple and green spheres called Astroballs (below). (Credit: WhiteWater)

Building on “play principles” developed by WhiteWater psychologists, No Boundaries is a compact structure—just 150 feet wide—that requires few operators, has a high throughput and capacity, and offers activities for all age groups.

“Kids love to climb and to challenge themselves with zip lines, climbing walls, and net walks,” WhiteWater explains on its website. “By using your vertical space, we are able to provide different types of attractions which keep families occupied and content.” 

“The whole notion of it was to create some huge capacity with a critical mass of entertainment value,” says Chutter. “We think it’s an industry game changer. Sitting on a concrete slab, there’s virtually no mechanical or electrical. Just give us a pad, we’ll build it, come back six weeks later and let’s go!” 

“The mandate was to make this a commercially viable option for adventure play under one roof,” adds Jones. “The psychology of it is to have something that’s big and iconic, which you can see across the park, and which is welcoming. It’s predicated on the family being involved. We didn’t want something that had a big long lineup, but had mom and dad sitting on benches, not participating.”

Viewing platforms at every level encourage parents to accompany their kids through each challenge. “Instead of taking photos from the ground and trying to zoom in on your kids or grandkids at the very top, you can in fact literally follow them along. This gives kids a sense that parents are interacting with them, and that sense of accomplishment is shared right there, literally within feet of each other,” he says.

No Boundaries offers 40 activities—some harnessed, others not—including vertical climbs and rope challenges, all revolving around a central observation deck where parents and grand­parents can encourage their kids. There are tandem discovery paths where harnessed and unharnessed visitors can play together, as well as slides, a trapeze ropeway, and wavy, crawling, spiral staircase. In each case, attention is given to the design, to make the activity stand out.

WHITEWATER“We’ve used a number of different climbing challenges, not just your straight mom and dad’s climbing wall,” says Jones. On one wall, the footholds are bright, colorful cartoon circles; another is a multicolored helix, while a third climbing structure is not a wall at all, but oversized, purple, and green spheres called Astroballs, placed one on top of another.

The NB 200 can accommodate up to 800 guests per hour; the NB 100 half that number. The average playtime is estimated to be between 25 and 45 minutes, though Jones adds that No Boundaries is not a “one-and-done” type of attraction.

The payoff for reaching the top of the structure is the 195-meter zip coaster, which is the world’s first zipline designed to go around corners. It’s also fully automated and does not require an operator. Riders are harnessed in at the bottom. Two patent-pending technologies—an automated continuous belay system and another involving adaptive braking—allow guests to explore without unhooking between features. Once at the top, riders simply clip on to begin their descent. 

The thrill of the zip coaster tops off No Boundaries’ challenges. The transformation of WhiteWater isn’t just within the product lines—a new look for WhiteWater makes a sneak appearance in this edition of Funworld (p. 7 and 9). “It’s about communicating more clearly who we are, about exciting our industry to ‘entertain the possibilities,’” hints Una de Boer, WhiteWater’s marketing director. “If you can imagine it, we can probably make it a safe, entertaining reality.”

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WhiteWater Debuts Interactive Raft Battle River Ride

Take a ride on WhiteWater’s latest attraction, Raft Battle, and you could be hit from any direction: from a passing boat, from a spectator along the shoreline, from a soaring geyser or a cascading waterfall. 

“The whole concept is taking a river raft ride and making it more interactive, not just on the ride, but also for people in the queue line and along the perimeter itself,” explains Nathan Jones, WhiteWater’s president of park attractions. 

Rafts are armed with water cannons, and water guns are positioned on land. There are bridges with tipping cones and other interactives triggered by onlookers. The $2 million ride is not track-based or chain-driven. The fiberglass vehicles bob and weave with the water flow, some sections of which are faster than others. The vehicles also rotate randomly, ensuring every rider has a chance to face the shore and no one person is continually in the “line of fire.”

“That gentle rotation really adds a different aspect and element that can’t be found in any like products or types of attractions,” says Jones.

Each raft can accommodate six riders, paired up, facing outward, each with a hand-crank water cannon that draws water from the channel below. The muscle-driven guns add to the excitement (“Turn faster; another boat is shooting at us,” exclaims a guest.) and reduce the chances of a technical breakdown. The height of each cannon is also adjustable to make it easier for children and their parents to sit and play together.

Parkgoers in the queue line also have the opportunity to spray water at other guests as they come in or go out of the station, knowing full well that they’ll soon be targets in the boats themselves.

The degree to which passengers are soaked by the end of the rapid river ride can be dialed up or down, depending on a park’s preference, which makes it suitable for both wet and dry parks.

The first Raft Battle debuted in August at Gui’an Wonderland, a park located near China’s eastern seaboard in Fuzhou province. Another will launch at Amikoo Park in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera next year. Several more are in the pipeline, including three in Asia, one in the Middle East, and one in the Americas. 

Turnaround time from commissioning to open is about 12 months, and vehicles are custom-themed. At Asian Attractions Expo 2018, a demo was designed like a fire engine. At Amikoo Park, the rafts are designed for the jungle. 

The ride’s layout is also customized, though it’s never a simple circuit. There are geysers that go off and mini tipping buckets throughout. Switchbacks mean rafts pass each other going in different directions. Rope bridges over the river provide another direction for interactivity. 

“It’s not just a simple water gun battle back and forth,” says Jones. “There really is a surprise aspect and sense of discovery when you go around the corner and don’t know what’s going to happen.”