The 2011 slide restoration project at Farmington Water Park in

Farmington, Mo., included custom-matching the bright pink

PHOTOS COURTESY SLIDERENU The 2011 slide restoration project at Farmington Water Park in Farmington, Mo., included custom-matching the bright pink color.

Does it seem strange to talk about water slides and park attraction maintenance during the off season?

Not for Raging Waves Waterparkin Yorkville, Ill. The best time to make sure everything looks fresh and functions optimally on opening day is immediately after the waterpark closes for the season, park managers say.

“Our out-of-season maintenance program is just as rigorous as our in-season program,” General Manager Randy Witt says. “Just prior to opening day, we clean, descale, compound polish and wax all our slides. After the season closes, we ‘winterize’ our slides and perform new product tests. … We are constantly looking for the best products on the market that can extend the life of our slides while protecting our investment.”

By adopting the same strategy at your facility, you can save money and ensure that your hottest attractions aren’t wearing “Closed for Maintenance” signs next summer.

During the peak operating season, regular maintenance is an integral part of upkeep with any park attraction. Slide cleaning, waxing and pressure washing can be very time- consuming, but it’s time well spent. Be sure to use the recommended materials for your type of slide, and try to avoid products that contain a petrochemical. Petrochemicals or solvent-based maintenance products are too aggressive and can permanently damage the slide’s gel coat.

The off-season is the perfect time to focus on larger tasks. If your slides are in need of a face-lift, there are several options. 

Gel coat resurfacing is a technique where an epoxy polyester resin is applied to the slide surface. This method has been used for the past 20 years because of its technical compatibility with the original gel coat applied by the manufacturer. But it’s an expensive process, costing $20 to $25 per square foot, and requiring experienced applicators and precise metering spray equipment. Unfortunately, the results often are short-lived because the lesser quality gel coat resurfacing fades faster than the original manufacturer formulations. Gel coat paint was first developed for a variety of applications, including use on lake and saltwater fiberglass boats. It was never intended to protect surfaces from UV rays and the chlorinated water that can permanently bleach the colored pigment. Clear sealant coatings are available that will minimize this oxidation process.   

Solid color or clear protective chlorine-resistant coating systems are a viable alternative to gel coat resurfacing. These types of coatings provide a wet-look shine and the formula resists wear from flowing water, riders, inner tubes and slide mats. Some interior slide surface coatings are fortified with Teflon for added protection on the ride path areas that experience the most wear. This type of product is specifically formulated for water slides, and if you have a skilled maintenance staff or a trusted painting contractor, the cost can be as much as 50 percent less than hiring a gel coat applicator. 

A simple color change is another option that will go a long way toward bringing your attractions up to date. Solid color, chlorine-resistant coatings can be applied over any gel coat surface to change the color just as you would do to change the color of your house. But proceed with caution and always think of your customer base when determining what to change about your attractions. Remember that certain colors together, such as orange and yellow or orange and red, can appear to be “cheap.” This is a good thing if you’re attracting customers on tight budgets. For higher-end customers you’ll want to consider colors such as deep tans, greens and blues.

Beyond face-lifts, more significant water slide refurbishment jobs such as extensive fiberglass repairs, fixing leaky seams and widespread color changes all require specialized skills. In many cases, one project simply does not merit the expense or extensive training, so it’s best to call in the experts. Some companies have certified applicators located throughout the country who can provide turnkey solutions.

However, large operations may find that training someone in house makes sense. For example, with 11 indoor and outdoor aquatics centers, Prince George Countyin Maryland took maintenance to a new level. Its internal maintenance staff was trained to repair and restore the water slides.

“We needed to become more participative during our annual shutdown period with respect to maintaining our water slides and aquatic play features,” said Sandra Dove, aquatics manager. “We hired a water slide maintenance company to … train us on how to restore a family slide and two-lane kiddie slide. Although none of us had ever restored or refinished a water slide using products specifically designed for that purpose, we were able to refinish a family slide and a two-lane racer kiddie slide under the supervision of the water slide technician. We are now making plans to systematically address the needs of all of our slides during their staggered annual shutdown periods. The cost savings will be substantial.”