Goals and challenges

The only memorable part of the Highlands Park Aquatic Center’s annual Luau Day last year was when a shark soared over guests’ heads as though carried on hurricane-force winds. So this year, officials decided to dispense with the luau theme altogether and give the people what they really want: More sharks.

How they did it

The predators have become synonymous with summer, thanks to the much−hyped TV events Sharknado and Shark Week. So officials thought it made sense for the aquatics center to create a frenzy of its own.

The inaugural Shark Day at the Highlands Park Aquatic Center in Westerville, Ohio featured the return of the inflatable flying shark that first terrorized swimmers during Luau Day, plus many more shark−centric offerings.

Before going any further, a little explanation is in order: A “sharknado” is a freak (but fictional) weather event in which sharks are sucked up into a tornado, resulting in a whirlwind of fins and gnashing teeth. It’s the premise of the ridiculous film series called Sharknado — four sequels and counting — on the Syfy network.

To fashion their own low−budget version of the sharknado, Highlands Park maintenance specialists Brent Krelko and Bryan Goff tethered a 7-foot−long shark to a zipline that they fabricated from scrap lumber, pulleys and rope from a rock−climbing wall. Each appearance of the Highlands Park sharknado was preceded by a warning on the public address system, accompanied by the iconic Jaws theme (duuuh dun, duuuh dun).

Lifeguards also re-created the now−infamous “race” between Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps and a CGI shark that kicked off Discovery Channel’s Shark Week last summer. In Highlands Park’s version, a lifeguard dressed as Phelps sporting headphones and gold medals went up against another lifeguard in a foam shark costume. The race was preceded by an Olympic ceremony and interviews with the competitors. (The shark promised to eat Phelps’ arm if it won.) The main event even included a choreographed fight wherein Phelps punches the shark on the head to win. Spectators were enthralled.

Children also got a chance to save swimmers from man-eaters by hurling water balloons at two guards in shark costumes circling the pool — all this plus games, crafts, costumes and an inflatable obstacle course.

While Shark Day is mainly meant to entertain guests and get more folks into the pool, it also involves team−building exercises. Highlands Park officials say it’s important for staff members to get involved. That’s why lifeguards dress as sharks and warn of impending sharknados.

“The past had seen staff attitude towards special event days soured, as it only meant bigger crowds and more work,” says William Plessinger, aquatics manager. “When included, guards saw special event days as a chance to do crafts and interact rather than sit in the lifeguard chair all day.”