Posted by: trevormeers | August 5, 2010

Race Like A Clown

The Sirens of Lake Delton are giving Aqua the Clown a pretty good going-over. Planting your back end in a lawn chair isn’t exactly tying yourself to the mast, but Aqua is still hanging in there against the cooing of girls who just glided up on water skis. He spins his carrot-top head, watching seductresses slip by on every side. That painted-on smile can’t hide Aqua’s moral angst. Should he stay loyal to the good-hearted kids of Camp Bartlett? Or should he give in and join those rough-edged frat boys across the lake—the same crowd that sent these temptresses slicing across the bay in a pyramid formation just looking for clowns ready to go astray?

Aqua the Clown hears the sirens calling him to the side of the lake where the cool kids hang out.

Aqua may look like he rolls with dudes named Grimace, but that doesn’t mean he’s not shopping for a posse upgrade. And the frat boys can flat-out shred on water skis. In the last 15 minutes of The Tommy Bartlett Show, we’ve seen them doing back flips off ramps, jumping each other in mid-air and carving it up on some Mad Max-looking wakeboard with a giant metal fin on the bottom. And, entirely by coincidence, guess which side of the lake all the girls hang out on? None of us watching in horror are surprised, then, when the girls finally untie Aqua and lead him stumbling down the dock to join the frat boys. Everybody, as a philosopher named Dynamite once observed, digs guys who have skills.

Even dads who are pushing 40 and visiting the “Waterpark Capital of the World” in Wisconsin Dells with their 9-year-old daughter. Allison and I showed up right after breakfast at Noah’s Ark, “America’s Largest Waterpark,” so I wouldn’t have to wait in a 90-minute line to tackle their instantly notorious new tube slide: The Scorpion’s Tail, “America’s First Nearly Vertical Waterslide Loop.” Allison stands far below in the slide’s watery run-out, wishing we were riding the Stingray again, while I step into the Plexiglas tube at the top. At first, I feel like one of those bank canisters that shoots between your car and the teller in a pneumatic tube. But then I see my fellow riders staring at me as a computerized female voice softly counts, “3…2…1…” They’re scanning for fear in my eyes, and wondering how they’ll look when they take my spot in another minute or so. Now I start feeling more like a dead gunfighter on display in one of those see-through caskets they used to prop against the general store.

But in the moments before the tube’s floor falls away like a hangman’s platform and drops me four stories almost straight down, I’m not thinking fear. I’m thinking technique. A week ago, I read an article in Outside magazine about a German subculture that has elevated riding water slides into a competitive sport. You’ll be shocked to hear this about a German hobby, but this event—like Dave Hasselhoff’s singing career—is barely recognized outside Germany. The article told me that these slidemeisters have honed their technique to riding solely on their shoulder blades and one heel, minimizing friction with the tube. The good ones hit close to 60 miles per hour on a fast slide. And presumably sleep on their stomachs every night.

Naturally, I had to put this knowledge to work when I reached the Dells. Even average joes can attain 40mph on the Scorpion’s Tail. So while the girls in line at the slide are whimpering about their doom, I’m thinking “Shoulder blades and heels. Shoulder blades and heels. Shoulder blades and UUUNNNNGGGHHHH….” In the moments after the floor evaporates, the Tail piles enough G-force onto your chest that I’m not thinking about much but breathing. By the time my brain gets through to my back with the message to arch onto my shoulder blades, I’m piling up water in the run-out, and Allison is over me saying, “Can we go on the Stingray again?”

A tourist making like a pneumatic bank tube on the Scorpion's Tail. (Photo courtesy of Noah's Ark.)

The Dells’ tamer slides gave me better opportunities to hone my technique. On the Slidewinders’ three runs, I got some sweet bank through the curves. And on Klondike Kaverns’ body slide, I was pretty much a bullet, until I took a wave up the nose and lost all my form. Admittedly, I forfeited a lot of velocity by refusing to don a Speedo—a hesitation not shared by a few self-assured dudes in the Dells.

Maybe I was getting a little intense. Or maybe I was just keeping up. When Allison and I got behind the wheel of the go-karts, some insurance adjuster from Northbrook cut me off through a turn on the next-to-last lap. As I was chalking it up to good family fun, the guy goes all Iceman-vs-Mav and shoots me a smarmy smirk over his shoulder. I jammed the pedal and let all 8 horses in the engine run, but that smirk hadn’t faded from his face when we all leaned at the counter of the Big Dig snack bar for ice cream.

Even the tube obsession was far from mine alone. As I stood at the top of the four-holer Halley’s Comet at Lost World Waterpark, the other three guys were checking up and down the line like sprinters. They were carefully propping their heels against the back of the slide, waiting for the kid with the George Hamilton tan to toot his whistle and send us off. I came in last, sliding to a stop as Allison walked up to say, “Can we get back in the lazy river now?”



  1. Sounds like a good time was had by all. I’ll pass on the adrenaline rush slides. The Lazy River would be my choice. What’s with the clown?

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