George Millay, the creative founder of Sea World (San Diego, Ohio & Florida), Magic Mountain (Valencia, CA) and the first waterpark in the world, Wet ’n Wild in Orlando, was one of the most interesting, influential and fascinating people in the world of aquatics.
History has provided aquatic competition,
recreation, water safety and entertainment with individuals who not
only accomplished fantastic deeds during their careers, but were
also great personalities affecting those who had the opportunity to
watch them in action and perhaps even meet, know or even work with
during their lives.
To name just a few, I suggest Capt. Matthew Webb
and his first crossing of the English Channel and other swimming
feats; Commodore Wilbur Longfellow, creating the Life Saving
movement within the American Red Cross; Duke Kahanamoku, legendary
swimmer and the father of modern day surfing and (on a personal
note) Buck Dawson, founder of the International Swimming Hall of
Fame in Fort Lauderdale who just passed away, at age 87 a year ago
Though the waterpark industry is relatively new,
(Wet ’n Wild Orlando opened in 1977), George Millay’s
contribution to its creation and subsequently six others
(Arlington, TX, Las Vegas, Cancun, Sao Paulo, Salvador and Rio de
Janeiro), began an entirely new concept in aquatic recreation and
entertainment. It even spawned a new generation of lifeguard
and water safety training.
Tim O’Brian’s book
“The Wave Maker”
is more than just a biography of George Millay,
but also a creative telling of the history of Sea World, Magic
Mountain and Wet ’n Wild. O’Brian not only had access
to George personally (prior to Millay’s death in Feb. 2006 at
age 76), but also provides extensive short stories, tales, quips
and quotes by family members, former colleagues and even a few
The book reveals George Millay as an incredibly
creative, hard working, driven individual who was continually
looking for the next goal in life to accomplish. He worked hard in
life and appeared to play just as hard. He was a man who called
things as he saw them even if his comments would seem
‘politically incorrect’ to those around him. When it
came to those who worked for him, he was certainly a ‘my way
or the highway’ type of guy.
George Millay, the businessman, was not only
creative but also very good at hiring/firing, helping develop
talent and seeking out those who were strongest in their talents to
help him with his goals and projects. He made a lot of
money…for himself, his partner investors, the stockholders.
Millay was also very generous with his own money, taking care of
those around him. There is the story of a male employee who he
totally berates for not meeting the requisite short hair length and
then giving the kid a $20 for a $2 haircut.
As a family man, Millay married a lovely woman and
together they raised three sons and a daughter all of whom have
gone on to successful adult lives. His eldest son, Pat, actually
went into the family business and was very instrumental in the
development of the four ‘south of the border’ Wet
As a survivor in life, George went through three
major cancer operations between 1979-81, which left him extremely
disfigured on the right side of his face (he lost his ear, an eye
and all of the facial nerves leaving him unable to even smile).
Other than slowing him down somewhat physically, this did nothing
to dissuade him one bit as he continued to create, develop and
dream of new ways to entertain an ever appreciative and growing
“Next to Walt Disney himself, George Millay
will go down in history as one of the most creative people in the
industry,” says Larry Cochran, former CEO of Palace
Entertainment a leading amusement park company.