Judge’s Comment: Consistency in management and introduction of new equipment has led to growth over time.
Judge’s Comment: Consistency in management and introduction of new equipment has led to growth over time.

Rapids Water Park opened 33 years ago in 1979 with one ride, a fiberglass slide called Old Yellar. Patrons paid by the hour to ride a mat down the slide and splash into a landing pool.

How times have changed.

Today, the Riviera Beach, Fla.-based waterpark is the largest in south Florida. Whether it’s the variety of attractions and programs, the skilled staff or some of both, patrons keep this park growing.

Over the years, The Rapids has expanded from five to more than 30 acres, with 35 water slides, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool, a quarter-mile lazy river and its newest attraction, the Rapids Racer. Installed in 2011, the Rapids Racer has won awards for the Best New Ride from the World Water Park Association and the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions. Dancing fountains, a lounge pool and a carousel provide entertainment for the less adventurous.

Attractions are designed for all age groups — from family-friendly to adrenaline chilling — and marketing efforts reach across the surrounding area. Park advertising is heard on 35 radio stations, and seen on 12 televisions stations and three cable systems.

Operators run several contests and promotions, including dads get in free on Father’s Day and moms don’t pay on Mother’s Day. Appearances by popular characters SpongeBob Squarepants and some of the Marvel Superheroes — and celebrity athletes including members of the NFL Miami Dolphins, Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, auto racing star Danica Patrick, and Olympian Lindsey Vonn — also have drawn attention.

As a testament to the quality of staff training and management, numerous employees return year after year. Operators say employment has become a “family tradition” for some, with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins working at The Rapids each season. Staff retention programs are ongoing.

Lifeguards receive approximately 25 hours of orientation, and there’s ongoing training of six hours per month for lifeguards and EMT staff. Biweekly in-service trainings are conducted to improve skills, build teamwork, and prepare staff for the unexpected.