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Each night of the Busch Gardens and Water Country USA seasons, Carl Lum pores over guest survey results on his phone, studying the reasons visitors did or did not have a good time and which attractions they said they would want to enjoy again.
As Lum reviews the responses, he is thinking about what will be the next best attraction for each park. In Water Country's case, that new attraction comes in the form of a towering water slide called Colossal Curl.
After years of planning, Colossal Curl is beginning to take shape in the parking lot at Water Country USA, mere feet from where it will be permanently anchored.
The process of planning a new attraction for a SeaWorld park, such as Busch Gardens or Water Country USA, begins with an idea about something that will add to the park experience. Park President Carl Lum said picking a new attraction involves strategy and input from customers and visitors. When Lum began working as park president in October 2010, he began working toward bringing a new ride to Water Country.
Lum travels the country trying out attractions at various parks to determine which might be a good fit in Williamsburg. When looking for a new ride for Water Country, Lum said he and other park employees were exploring the idea of a family-oriented ride with a thrill feature.
Colossal Curl is the first ride of its kind in the U.S., so Lum and his staff were able to see and experience similar pieces before deciding on the perfect ride for the park. Lum would not say how much the company spent on developing Colossal Curl, but he did say rides are a large, carefully considered investment.
“It sounds glamorous, but it’s not,” Lum said. “Part of having a good product is giving people what they want. You don’t want to layer on your personal preferences about what you like and don’t like.”
Lum said asking him to explain what types of rides he prefers is like asking him to choose which of his sons he likes better. The type of ride that means the most to him is one that brings a smile to guests' faces. When Verbolten opened, he said he stood at the base of the ride watching guests get off the ride.
“They were all smiling and having a good time and happy. That’s when you know you did great," Lum said. "I felt good that day."
While Lum has the responsibility of reviewing rides at other parks, it is a four-person team of engineers at the Williamsburg-based theme parks responsible for building the rides — and the process has not been quick.
Suzy Cheely, director of design and engineering, has also been a part of the Colossal Curl process from the beginning. Her job has been to ensure the ride gets built.
“It’s always fun to kind of see things go together,” Cheely said. “Busch Gardens has been neat because the job site is right outside the office.”
Cheely got her start at a Northern Virginia-based concrete engineering firm responsible for office buildings and parking decks. In that position, she was unable to see her projects because all construction happened off-site.
Just over 23 years ago, Cheely joined Busch Gardens and Water Country’s engineering staff, which comprises her, two other engineers and a contracts administrator. When Colossal Curl came on the books, she sprung to work on the multi-year planning and building process.
With a ride in mind, a team began looking for a company to build it. In Colossal Curl’s case it was Canadian manufacturer ProSlide Technology Inc. that provided customizable waterslides that met the park’s plan. Once Water Country contracted with ProSlide, the door was finally open for work to really begin on the park’s next attraction.
With the ride chosen, soil testing could begin to determine whether the park’s soil would support the ride without help. Engineers and builders account for the type of soil in the supports installed for rides. With soil testing complete, local company Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. was able to complete a site plan and submit it to York County for approval at the end of October 2013.
Once the site plan was complete, Cheely began contracting engineers to design plumbing, water heating systems and the water pumps needed to send water gushing down the rides.
When the engineering was complete, the project was sent out to bid. Local company David A. Nice Builders Inc. was hired as the general contractor for Colossal Curl; Cheely said the parks try to contract with local companies. Once required permits are obtained allowing the ride to be built, “then the fun begins,” Cheely said.
Colossal Curl is in the “digging and getting dirty” stage, Cheely said. David A. Nice workers are installing the rides footings, which are massive metal poles driven into concrete poured a few feet in the ground. Several footings are visible at the Colossal Curl site, dotting the landscape near the park’s main entrance.
While some builders are working on moving dirt, pouring concrete and installing footings, others are assembling the blue and yellow pieces of thick, hard plastic that will eventually be the belly of the ride.
When complete, Colossal Curl will be more than 550 feet in length with a nearly 70-foot drop. Four riders will board a single cloverleaf-shaped inner tube before launching into a fully enclosed tube.
First, riders will hit a 24-foot funnel, which will swish them from left to right as they head through it. After leaving the funnel, riders will get a glimpse of sunlight before entering another enclosed tube and shooting down a snaking drop to a nearly vertical wall, called the wave. Riders will coast up toward the top of the wall before curving back to the enclosed tube, experiencing a weightless feeling. The final section of enclosed tube will launch riders into a shallow pool – similar to the one at the base of Vanish Point – before riders deboard.
The funnel section of the ride sits in the parking lot, supported by blocks and sawhorses, with the large end hoisted up by a crane. During an interview Feb. 24, one worker climbed through a metal frame surrounding the funnel while another stood in a cherry-picker overseeing his work.
As Cheely walked the site during that interview, she said she was very excited to ride Colossal Curl, which is planned to be up and running by sometime this spring.
At the end of October, Water Country began teasing a new attraction through YouTube, using videos that hinted at the new ride. The videos starred Cheely, her supervisor Larry Giles and Lum. Cheely’s role in the videos was to hose down Giles and Lum as they discussed the ride plans seated in a four-person inner tube, and dump water on a toy model of a ride.
“It was a lot of fun to get to hose down my boss and get to keep my job,” Cheely said.