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DFW water parks: Embracing the splash

Posted 5:24pm on Thursday, Jul. 31, 2014

My heart pounding in my temples and soaking-wet shirt clinging to my skin, I waded through the Tornado’s splashdown pool at Hurricane Harbor, shaking the water out of my ears.

A small cluster of boys stood at the pool’s broad steps, their grins wide.

“You sure were yelling a lot,” one of them offered, in a tone somewhere between amused, accusatory and awed.

Still trying to get my bearings, I grunted in their direction.

In my head, I thought: Well, yeah — isn’t that the point of these things?

As childhood becomes a distant memory, it’s easy to forget adulthood has some perks, particularly as it relates to summertime fun.

Over the course of a couple weeks spent slip-sliding through area water parks, if I saw it once, I saw it a hundred times: a hopeful young kid, straining to reach the 48-inch cut-off to be allowed on this or that thrill ride, only to be rejected by a lifeguard. Sorry, kid, the look seemed to say, come back when you’re a little older.

But maybe the idea of laying down in a thick plastic tube scarcely wider than you are, with little more between you and perceived oblivion than a stream of water, fills you with more fear than a dentist’s appointment.

That’s probably because, as we age, our taste for risk tends to drop in proportion to the rise in responsibilities. (Ooh — a low-APR credit card offer? Sign me up!) When we succumb to adulthood and all its trappings, it can make the idea of water parks — teeming with rugrats and tourists, concession stands asking a small fortune for ice cream — seem about as appealing as a day spent waiting in line at the DMV.

But adulthood and all its trappings are exactly why we should embrace the free fall, the splashdown — the abandon.

From pulse-quickening body slides (although nothing on the order of the recently opened — and flatly terrifying — Verruckt at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan.) to floating in the swirling currents of a “lazy river,” there’s an abundance of aquatic amusement for all ages at area water parks.

So, time to push aside the credit card offers, if only momentarily, and plunge into a pool of chlorinated joy.

Even if you don’t dare attempt heart-in-your-throat drops or climb aboard an inner tube bound for raging rapids, just remember: You’re never too old to appreciate a thorough dousing of cool water on a hot summer’s day. All you need is a swim suit, sun screen and a sense of adventure.

To help guide you on your wet and wild journey, photographer Paul Moseley and I scouted the options at three of DFW’s most entertaining parks. Join us as we dive into our favorite rides — and don’t forget a towel!

Hurricane Harbor in Arlington

“Hey, Clara.”

The young man’s voice was insistent, barely audible above the din of the water park.

“Clara — don’t die.”

I was amused at the sentiment, delivered to a young woman seated in an inner tube atop the Tornado, the blue-and-yellow “high thrill” ride that opened a decade ago and is often visible from Interstate 30.

It was a sunny, almost cloudless day, a perfect day to spend getting soaked and having fun at Hurricane Harbor, so named since its 1997 rebranding (Six Flags acquired the Wet ‘n Wild park in 1995, changing the name two years later).

Who was thinking about dying?

As photographer Paul Moseley and I faced each other and settled into the tube seven stories up, I couldn’t help noticing I’d be traveling backward through the 132-foot tunnel toward the — gulp — 75-foot drop into a 60-foot-wide funnel, through which pours 5,000 gallons of water.

Suddenly, I understood the kid’s concern for Clara.

There’s nothing to hold onto but the handles built into the raft, and for a moment, the ride is almost pleasant, water sloshing into the tube.

Then, the inner tube tips back, and I feel the world fall away.

I’m floating for what seems like an eternity, but is probably only milliseconds, before slamming into a wall of water that drenches me thoroughly. I dimly remember shouting and laughing, the adrenaline surging through my body. The funnel slings us back and forth before dumping us into a wading pool.

What a rush.

By comparison, the Wahoo Racer, Hurricane Harbor’s newest ride, which opened earlier this year, is almost anticlimactic — but no less fun.

Standing 60 feet tall, this “two-tiered slide mat racer” attraction is more dynamic than it seems at first glance. Riders hop on a thin rubber mat, outfitted with plastic handles, and rocket head first — at up to 40 feet per second — through a tube into the water-filled trough at the end.

My ride — a GoPro camera strapped to my head — started off innocently enough, but G-forces ripped the GoPro from my head as I whipped into a turn that actually elicited a gasp. (The Wahoo Racer is over in a blink-and-miss-it 20 seconds.) No worries, though: A kind woman two lanes over came up with the camera.

We have no idea how it wound up over there.

(We wanted to capture our rides with the GoPro, but we weren’t permitted to take the camera on Hurricane Harbor’s tallest attractions, the 72-foot Der Stuka and six-story Geronimo body slides.)

If you go: Hurricane Harbor is at 1800 E. Lamar Blvd., Arlington. Hours are 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday. The park is open daily until Sept. 1, when it’s open Saturday-Sunday through the month of September. Admission is $31.99, $26.99 children under 48 inches tall, and children under 2 years old are free (find discounted tickets, $26.99, online). For more information, call 817-640-8900 or visit sixflags.com/hurricaneharbor texas.

NRH20 in North Richland Hills

Like most water-based thrill rides of a certain height, the view from the ground is deceptive.

“It won’t be that bad,” you think to yourself, gazing up while disregarding the screams you hear as other riders zip around sharp turns. “Piece of cake.”

Climb up a few flights of stairs, however, and suddenly, you realize you can see AT&T Stadium from where you’re standing.

Then you begin to understand why people have lined up for 20 years to get both soaked and thrilled at NRH2O.

Often considered one of the top water parks in the country, this cozy yet expansive park offers plenty of splash for the buck, featuring a mixture of rides (including a pair of fully enclosed “body slides”), whether you want thrills or to zone out and float away.

Undaunted by the climb, Paul and I decided to tackle the Green Extreme first, riding what NRH2O claims is “the world’s largest uphill water-coaster.”

At 1,100 feet long (and launching from a tower that stands 81 feet tall), the Green Extreme is a monster.

Two riders pile into an elongated inner tube, with the rider in back having to bury his or her feet in the armpits of the person up front (sorry about that, Paul). After a quick shove-off, the Green Extreme lives up to its billing, acting like a roller coaster, with dips and rises (and hairpin turns) — but one powered by water instead of gears.

It’s an exhilarating ride, and one that seems to last about eight seconds, culminating in a splashdown. (In a nice touch, a conveyor belt system lifts the tubes back up to the top, saving riders having to lug them up several flights of stairs.)

From the Green Extreme, it was over to NRH2O’s newest addition: the Viper, a strikingly painted purple and black funnel with — get this — its very own soundtrack (rock music, of the early-to-mid-’80s vintage, is piped in specifically for this attraction).

This time around, Paul got to be the lucky one with his back to the twists and turns, which hurtle riders along before depositing them into a 20-foot-wide “MEGAtube.”

Lots of water flying every which way throughout, and while the Viper’s climactic plunge didn’t seem quite as precipitous as the Tornado’s (I maintain it’s because I saw this particular drop coming), there was still plenty of adrenaline surging through my body as we waded out of the pool to collect our belongings. Paul just kept exclaiming “That was great!” over and over.

If you go: NRH2O is at 9001 Boulevard 26, North Richland Hills. Hours are 10 a.m. until 7, 8 or 10 p.m. seven days a week until Aug. 24, when the schedule winds down into early September (check the park’s website for exact times each day). Admission is $25.99 for those 48 inches and taller, $20.99 for those under 48 inches, and children under 2 years old get in free (the park offers an array of discounts, including half off Monday-Thursday after 3 p.m.). For more information, call 817-427-6500 or visit nrh2o.com.

Hawaiian Falls — White Settlement

Just a couple miles from Interstate 30 and Loop 820 sits the newest water park in Tarrant County: Hawaiian Falls. It’s the seventh location in the Texas-bred chain (its sixth location, in Pflugerville — the second Hawaiian Falls outside North Texas — also opened this year) and features just three rides, although one of them induces a ferocious amount of fear — but maybe that’s just me.

The Flying Hawaiian is such an innocuous name for a ride (technically a “body slide”) designed to drop you from a height of about 60 feet down a slide and into a trough of water.

Riders step onto a clear plastic platform inside a capsule, which is locked shut. A brief countdown commences, the platform falls away and then — nothing.

The pleasantly disorienting sensation of free-falling lasts a moment before your body hits water, and you feel as though you’re rocketing toward splashdown. There’s not even enough time to yell or swear or scream or laugh.

It’s as frightening as it is exhilarating, and a good reminder of how fun can sometimes involve terror.

The Rush, one of a trio of interconnected slides adjacent to the Flying Hawaiian, is an enclosed tube slide, which Paul and I rode together, but can be ridden alone. It’s a smooth yet twisty ride, which delights in providing steep, banked turns, designed to douse riders with water, before dumping them into a pool at the end.

Later this year, this location of Hawaiian Falls will also feature an “adventure park” and an event center, expanding the complex to a full 16 acres. The adventure park will feature zip-lining, among other attractions, and along with the event center, will open year-round, while the water park will only be open from May until September.

If you go: The newest Hawaiian Falls water park is at 8905 Clifford St., White Settlement (with other North Texas locations in Mansfield, Roanoke, Garland and The Colony). Hours are 10:30 a.m. until 6, 7, 8 or 10 p.m. seven days a week until Aug. 25, when the water park closes before reopening for its final weekend, concluding its inaugural season Sept. 1 (check the park’s website for exact times each day). Admission is $26.99 for those 48 inches and taller, $19.99 for those under 48 inches, and children under 2 years old are free (Hawaiian Falls also offers senior and military discounts). For more information, call 817-591-1159 or visit hfalls.com.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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