Wild Rapids Waterslide in 1985. This sepia photograph was taken was the newspaper and show many people reclining in the sunshine in the enclosed area around the pools.

History of Wild Rapids Waterslide Park remembered

The world of waterslides would change forever in the early 80’s

The world of waterslides would change forever in the early 80’s when Dave and Ria Dubeta were asked by their three daughters to take them to the water park in Kelowna.

Dubeta couldn’t help but ask his kids what a waterslide was. It wasn’t long after this initial interaction with the whirlwind of water in Kelowna that the Dubeta’s would soon own a set themselves, in turn changing the face of waterparks worldwide.

In June of 1982, Wild Rapids Waterslide Park opened their doors. The innovative facility was the first of its kind in the world and was the first tower style water park, with all other waterslides previously having been built intohillsides.

Looking back on that day in Kelowna with his daughters, Dubeta recognizes this is where it all began. In talking to other sliders at the park, he soon found many to be from Alberta.

“We spent the day at Wet N’ Wild in Kelowna. I’d never had that much fun in my life,” said Dubeta.

He soon had the notion, “Why not build a water park in Alberta?” It was from this idea that Wild Rapids was born. Initially he had his eye on a location in Edmonton’s river valley. After speaking with the City, it was soon apparent adecision would be made anytime soon as to whether he would be allowed to build or not. Next came the suggestion of putting the park in Red Deer, due to the central location of the city. Despite his ongoing search, the right pieceof property wasn’t appearing.

At the time, the family was living in Kelowna with Dubeta mainly working out of Edmonton but with an ongoing project in Red Deer. On his frequent drive from Red Deer to Kelowna, Dubeta would pass by Sylvan Lake. He recallsthe town always appealing to him. Packed full of tourists each summer, waiting for something new to entertain them.

Prior to Wild Rapids construction, the area in which the slides are located on was formerly known as Sandy Cove Campground. In late 1981, Dubeta would purchase the 4.97 acres which the campground sat. In January 1982,construction began on Wild Rapids Waterslide Park.

“It was a real battle,” recalls Dubeta of the construction process. “That had to of been the coldest winter we’ve ever seen. It was -20 or colder nearly every day that winter.”

Six months and $2.4 million later borrowed from the bank, the battle the Dubeta’s had fought to build the park was over. Ria recalls the first summer Wild Rapids opened their doors.

“There were people lined up from all the way back to where Highway 2 is trying to get to Sylvan to see the slides,” she remembered. “It was the first year of the recession. Towns and cities every where were reporting huge losses,but that summer Sylvan Lake recorded four times the number of visitors.”

Dubeta said if he learned anything from his parents and the great depression of the dirty thirties, it was that during an economic recession or depression, amusements parks never stopped profiting.

Over the course of the 20 years which the family owned Wild Rapids, the park would operate ‘nine to nine rain or shine’ according to Ria. She added the park would typically see around 3,000 people come and go on a busy daywith particularily hectic days drawing crowds of up to 4,000 people.

Despite the successful first summer in Sylvan Lake, the venture was far from won for the Dubeta’s. With interest rates at an all time due to the state of the economy at that time, money was tight and it was tough to keep up withthe costs at first. Together the pair each worked around 100 hours a week.

“Essentially we operated the park for 15 years for free. It really wasn’t until our tenth year that we started to see profit,” recalled Dave.

In 1985, Dubeta developed a patented technology now as ‘Flash Flood’. The signature pump allowed water to build up and release to sling shot sliders on an even faster ride. The sidewinder slide which Wild Rapids came to beknown for was his next venture. Following the patented design of the new slide, the Dubeta’s travelled extensively starting a company known as Water Fun Products, installing versions of the sidewinder in waterparks throughoutthe world.

In 2000, Dubeta was inducted into the World Water Park Association’s Hall of Fame, which exists to recognize and honour individuals who have made noteworthy acheivements in the development and advancement of the waterattraction industry.

In 2002, after twenty years of operations the Dubeta’s sold Wild Rapids Waterslide Park to Bert Messier and Bear Developments Corp.

Just as it was challenging to hand over the reigns to the water park in those days, so too has Dubeta found the news that the slides will be taken down and sold off saddening.

Ria added right from the beginning her husband referred to Wild Rapids as his ‘test lab’. A place where he would try out new designs and think up interesting ideas.

For the Dubeta’s Wild Rapids Waterslide Park was home for many years. They are assured in knowing it meant so much to so many. For generations of Albertans, Canadians and even some non-Canadian visitors, Wild Rapids left arippling affect. It was a place where one would go as a youth, making unforgettable memories only to turn around and later take their own children there.

“What parent doesn’t like to hear their children laughing?” asked Ria with Dave adding, “It always seemed like everyone at Wild Rapids had a smile on their face.”

In addition to the multi-generational visitors Wild Rapids saw, much of their staff throughout the year has spanned generations within families. Ria added that some staff members worked at the park for as many as five summers ina row, always returning to help out the park if they were short staffed.

Wild Rapids Waterslide Park will turned the water off on Sept. 8 of this year with the land to be redeveloped by the Town who purchased the parcel of waterfront property for $4,995,000. The purchase does not include the waterslide structure which owner, Bert Messier along with Wild Rapids general manager Charlie Everest began the job of taking down on Monday, Sept. 12.

Everest said that the difficult choice to shut the water off came entirely from the tough economics of running a 34-year-old water park.

“It has been a destination for Central Albertans and from people in Calgary and Edmonton for decades,” he said. “We didn’t take that lightly, but unfortunately outdoor water parks in Canada, with only a two-month season, are noteconomically viable.”

“There are a lot of people who went to this park when they were seven years old and now they have grandkids coming.”

Dubeta added he looks forward to seeing what the Town decides to do with the land.

editor@sylvanlakenews.com

 

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