Hurricane Harbor anchored by WhiteWater West’s Tsunami Surge

AT: Tim Baldwin

GURNEE, Ill. — After a delay from 2020, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Chicago was finally able to debut its newest attraction, Tsunami Surge. But that isn’t the only change. The water park, formerly with its entrance inside Six Flags Great America, now operates as a stand-alone second park.

“For the first time, guests are able to purchase a single day ticket just for the water park,” said Caitlin Kepple, communications and marketing manager, Six Flags Great America and Hurricane Harbor. “In the past, guests would have had to have a ticket to Six Flags Great America and then purchase an upgrade to Hurricane Harbor.”

“We want to provide our guests with the best value and experience for their money. Our guests often tell us that they would like the convenience and flexibility to only enjoy Hurricane Harbor Chicago, one of the world’s best waterparks, during their visit, and now there is that option with a single-day ticket,” noted Hank Salemi, park president.

Hurricane Harbor opened in 2005 and was a major boost to park attendance. The 13-acre park was included with a day’s ticket. Since then, the park has grown — and so has its popularity.

“For those that are Six Flags Great America season pass holder or members, their lives are not changing,” said Kepple.

For members and passholders, there will be no upcharge to visit the second gate, nor will there be an upcharge for sister park Hurricane Harbor Rockford either.

This change comes with a shiny new addition. Tsunami Surge welcomes guests with bragging rights as the world’s tallest water coaster. It was supplied by WhiteWater West.

“Tsunami Surge is the 25th attraction [in Hurricane Harbor]. There was so much anticipation,” Kepple told Amusement Today. “This was the first new attraction in Hurricane Harbor in a decade. We’re excited to introduce this to our guests. It’s the perfect complement to Hurricane Harbor being a stand-alone water park.”

Six Flags came to WhiteWater with the ambition of creating the world’s tallest water coaster and a standout new attraction for the popular Hurricane Harbor Chicago. That team approached Andrew Mowatt, WhiteWater’s executive vice president, Global Key Accounts, and discussed the possibility of adding a Master Blaster to the park. After only a few weeks of discussions, Mowatt, joined by Emily Colombo, VP, Strategic Partnerships, traveled to Chicago to visit the park and identify a few possible locations for the attraction. 

“Tsunami Surge is in a class all by itself, defying gravity to blast riders through 950 feet of exhilarating hills, drops, and turns from a world record-breaking height of 86 feet,” said Salemi. “We worked closely with Whitewater on every step of the project from conception to design to construction on this unique attraction.”

After walking the site, it became apparent that the layout of the water park presented the perfect opportunity to create something special which would tie together with the theme park. “Six Flags had installed a brand-new roller coaster called Maxx Force in 2019,” said Mowatt. “We knew we could do something to the same scale and worked with them to create a water slide with similar bragging rights. Now Six Flags has the world’s tallest water coaster, Tsunami Surge, standing at 86 feet high, alongside North America’s fastest launching roller coaster!” 

“It’s unlike anything we’ve offered our guests. It’s so exciting to have the world’s tallest water coaster here at Hurricane Harbor Chicago,” said Kepple. “Unlike your traditional water slide, this water coaster will actually take riders uphill.”

Riders 48 inches or taller can ride either single or double. Along the course, guests experience five drops, three uphill sections and five hairpin turns. Tsunami Surge is the only water slide in Hurricane Harbor Chicago to propel riders uphill. Utilizing low velocity but high flow rate water jets, the attraction begins with a heart-pumping mega drop into the slide’s first of five major descents, plummeting riders 32 feet before the water jets thrust them back uphill with top speeds of up to 28 miles per hour. When combined with the slide’s visual effects of AquaLucent rings and lasers, the overall ride experience is a mix of sensations spanning the ride’s 950-foot length.

As visitors approach the entrance to either park, Tsunami Surge’s towering height adds an iconic presence.

“When considering the placement of new capital, we always consider how to maximize the space available to showcase the thrills and physical attributes of an attraction,” said Salemi. “Tsunami Surge is in the perfect spot to showcase its stature as the world’s tallest water coaster near the new Hurricane Harbor Chicago entrance gate.”

Aside from its prime location near the water park’s new portal and its proximity to the Maxx Force coaster, it was the timing of this installation that added to its story. Like some of the other projects that began in 2020, one of the challenging aspects of this installation was that it started during the COVID-19 pandemic and was forced into a hiatus when Illinois went into a lockdown. Luckily, WhiteWater’s global installation team was on-site working away and were able to get the fiberglass up in the air before lockdown went into effect. 

Tsunami Surge’s eye-catching lime green and turquoise fiberglass stands out in the water park with its pop of colors, while mimicking the undulating crests and valleys of the nearby wooden rollercoaster. Towering over the rest of the slides, the attraction draws guests from the gate who are eager to learn more about the slide with uphill sections — a somewhat rare site for water parks. 

“The attraction is on brand for Six Flags, which is known for amazing thrills and fast rides,” said Columbo. “At eight stories high, this Master Blaster is right in line with what the park does: creating great family rides with the biggest drops.”

“The colors are bright and fun and have that Caribbean vibe,” added Kepple.

The visual impact of Tsunami Surge extends from its exterior into the interior. On the inside of the water slide lies AquaLucent rings, and lasers have been artfully placed to complement the Master Blaster’s features. Adding unexpected bursts of light, the addition of AquaLucent effects creates visual movement within the slide as riders race their way through the flume, resulting in a heightened sense of speed as guests are left guessing about what drops, twists and turns are ahead. 

Entrance into Hurricane Harbor is now more convenient for arriving guests, and the new attraction welcomes them near the front gate.

“Something that came through to us from feedback from our guests was that they really wanted the opportunity to visit the water park on the hot summer days,” Kepple said. “Midwesterners love their summers, and this is a new way to experience Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. It’s a way for them to have the thrills that are within the water park without having to visit the theme park, and they can do that on another day.”

This article appears in the JULY 2021 issue of Amusement Today.
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