First riders on Verrückt at Schlitterbahn love the ‘rush’ (with video)

07/09/2014 11:48 AM

07/14/2014 1:03 PM

“Like dropping out of the sky.”

That description won the day Wednesday at Schlitterbahn waterpark, where the record-setting Verrückt, at long last, got to show off.

The park opened the 17-story-high ride to the news media and VIP guests in advance of Thursday’s public opening.

“That was the most amazing ride I’ve ever ridden,” said Doug Flora of Prairie Village, who was on the first raft of the day. “And it felt safe from beginning to end.”

Verrückt — its German name means “insane” — was certified in April as the tallest water slide in the world by Guinness World Records.

Riders sit in a three-person raft and are secured with straps across the waist and shoulders, like a seat belt. The chute drops 168 feet, 7 inches, a bit more than Niagara Falls, and the raft hits speeds of 60 to 70 mph.

To ride such a monster requires meeting a lot of prerequisites.

First of all, riders must be at least 54 inches tall and 14 years old. Then there’s a weigh-in: The combined weight of riders per raft must be between 400 and 550 pounds. To make sure, riders only get the go-ahead after standing together on a scale at the bottom of the tower and again at the top.

To get to the top, they must climb 264 steps, which can take four to seven minutes and might require stopping and resting. Just in case, the tower is equipped with emergency call boxes.

But once you’re there …

“Up at the top, that 168 feet feels like 168 miles,” said Steve Larese of USA Today Travel. “It’s like parachuting.”

Larese was among the many national media representatives taking the plunge Wednesday. Others included correspondents from the “Today” show, “NBC Nightly News” and ESPN. All of which made it a big news day for Schlitterbahn and Kansas City, Kan.

Mayor Mark Holland of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County had plenty of reasons to smile.

“We’ve been with Schlitterbahn through the whole process,” Holland said. “They have been a great partner for us. And this area has really developed into a world-class destination.”

After riding Verrückt, Holland was even more ebullient. The best part?

“Obviously that first drop, when you’re just dropping out of the sky,” he said. “And then you’re getting soaked going up the big hump. It’s terrifying and horrible and terrific.”

Verrückt originally was set to open May 23, when the park opened for the season. But the date was delayed three times — something that comes with the territory, said Jeff Henry, Verrückt designer and a co-owner of Schlitterbahn.

“I wasn’t surprised by any of the delays,” said Henry, who was in attendance Wednesday. “Anytime we build anything brand new, we have to make adjustments as we go along, especially when there’s new technology involved.”

One of the adjustments included making the raft for three people instead of four, as originally announced. The ride is covered in netting, but Henry said that was always in the plan. The net is needed because the chute’s sides are much lower than a typical water slide. That, he said, “allows the rider to see out of the ride.”

But the low sides aren’t safe for maintenance workers, he said. And the net is an extra precaution for riders too.

“It’s nice to always know that nobody’s ever going to come out of the ride,” Henry said.

“This ride is ready for the public. I’m very happy with it.”

Riders commented repeatedly that the ride seemed very safe. The list of rules is extensive, including admonitions to remain seated, feet first, and to hold on to the raft handles “at all times.”

On Wednesday, the riders on the second raft of the day were as pumped up as the riders on the first.

“I screamed from the minute the gate opened,” said Kate Lynch, Wyandotte County District Court judge, referring to the gate that frees the raft for the ride down. “When you go over, you know the slide is there, but you can’t see it.”

Lynch said she could feel the pressure of the speed against her chest.

“If you like any sort of adrenaline rush, you’ll love this,” she said.

Linda Smith, a claims adjuster with Haas & Wilkerson, thought the front seat was the scariest.

“When you look over, there’s nothing,” she said.

Alas, the ride’s frenzy also means the whole experience is quick, gone in about 18 seconds. After the initial drop, the raft travels over a five-story hill in a furious Act 2. Water cannons propel the rafts up the second hill and riders get swamped.

Many riders were eager to go again, including Flora’s daughter, Reagan.

“I couldn’t even think straight, it was so fast,” Reagan said.

The rest of the park was open to the public Wednesday, and many patrons were watchful — some wary, some primed.

Mike Eckert of Olathe was there with sons Ben and Noah, who aren’t old enough yet to ride Verrückt. Eckert is interested, but he said he might give the ride some breaking-in time. The family has a season pass to the park.

“I’ll probably wait for a few weeks before I go — just to make sure,” Eckert said.

Nodding to his sons, he added, “Mom joked that Dad had to have his life insurance paid up before he could ride it.”

Raven Haule and Breanna Hammond traveled from Wichita to visit the park. Both said they would come back for Verrückt.

“I couldn’t breathe the first time I watched a raft go down it,” Hammond said. “I don’t know if I could do it, but I want to come back and try.”

Haule said Verrückt lives up to the media storm, which has been churning since April.

“I can’t wait for it to officially open,” she said. “It’s bigger than I pictured.”

The Star’s Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

To reach Edward M. Eveld, call 816-234-4442 or send email to eeveld@kcstar.com.

Verrückt

The name: It’s German for “insane”

The drop: The chute drops 168 feet, 7 inches.

The speed: The three-person rafts reach 60-70 mph.

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