Action Park in New Jersey was one of the first water parks, back in the lawless era that was the 1980s. As a result, a lot of the rides were experimental at best. At the time, there was little to no regulation on water attractions—they were just too new. Because of this, Action Park got away with pretty much whatever they wanted to do, even with their non-water attractions. Most of these rides were little more than death traps that laughed in the face of safety. Add to that drunken guests (and some workers), apathetic (and sometimes stoned) teenage ride operators, and a general sense of recklessness, and you have a recipe for injuries. Lots of injuries.
10The Cannonball Loop
Some things just don’t go together, and while loops and roller coasters are the best of friends, we’re pretty sure that waterslides and loops have restraining orders against each other. Apparently, the engineers of Action Park never got this message (or their engineering degrees, for that matter) and built the flagship of stupidity called “The Cannonball Loop.”
It was exactly what it looks like: a waterslide with a loop at the end of it. While it doesn’t seem physically possible to make it through, the slide was an operating attraction at Action Park—for about a month. After that, the state mandated that it be closed down, probably for being the most hilariously unsafe ride ever created.
Everything about the Cannonball Loop was a safety hazard. There was a legitimate chance of not clearing the loop. In fact, that happened so many times that the park had to install a hatch at the bottom of the loop so people could actually get out if they didn’t make it. Not that those who made it fared much better—bruises, bloody noses, and cracked craniums weren’t uncommon. Some patrons didn’t gather enough speed to “stick” to the loop the whole way around and fell 3 meters (10 ft) on the downward half. Guests were actually hosed down with water in the hopes it would help them build up enough speed.
Another issue was the sand and dirt that would build up at the bottom of the loop and horribly scratch people’s backs as they zoomed onward toward loopification. There wasn’t even a pool waiting at the end of this unholy terror—the slide unceremoniously dumped those who conquered the loop onto a wet rubber mat. It’s rumored that they first tested the slide with crash test dummies—and that they came out the other end dismembered. However, we know that park employees were offered $100 to test it out. After the ride was closed, it wasn’t dismantled until the park changed hands in 1996. Until then, it stood in its place at the front of the park, warning all guests of the horrors that lurked within Action Park.
In a contest of “things we probably shouldn’t make a slide out of,” Aqua Scoot is the clear winner. This “slide” was made entirely of metal rollers, like the ones that they use to slide luggage on in airports. Riders hopped on a plastic sled, and rode down the rollers into a shallow pool below. The water in the pool was only about 30 centimeters (12 in) deep, and the idea was that the sled would hit the pool and skim across the water’s surface.
There were a couple of problems, though. First of all, you had to be sitting in the correct position for the sled to go skimming across the water. If you weren’t and happened to be lucky, the sled just sank when you hit the water. If you were unlucky, the sled took a nosedive and flung you face-first into the incredibly shallow water, which resulted in a bunch of lacerations. There were also reports of people pinching themselves on the rollers, because they’re rollers and not a material you’re supposed to use to make slides, as well as people getting smacked with other revelers coming out of the slide after them.
8The ‘Grave Pool’
The “Grave Pool” is the local nickname that was attributed to Action Park’s wave pool. It was one of the first of its kind, and because state regulations defined it as a pool, the only thing Action Park was required to do was keep the water clean and have lifeguards on duty. There was always a minimum of 12 guards, and sometimes, there were as many as 20. On a busy weekend, the guards would make as many as 30 saves in the pool, as opposed to the average one or two per season that a guard anywhere else can expect to make.
Half of the park’s six deaths were a result of people drowning in the wave pool. A lot of accidents and near-drownings were attributed to a combination of the pool’s design, which had waves higher than they should have been that lasted much longer than they should have, and the fact that most of the park-goers were from the city, where they didn’t get much swimming experience. It was also easy for people to forget that the freshwater waves weren’t nearly as buoyant as real ocean waves.
In theory, the Tarzan Swing wasn’t a bad idea. It was a 6-meter (20 ft) cable hanging from a steel arch that straddled a deep pool. Guests would stand on a platform, swing on the cable out over the pool, and then drop into the water. There were some design flaws, though. For one, the water was spring-fed, and because of that, it was freezing—significantly colder than the water in the rest of the park. The Tarzan Swing claims one of Action Park’s few non-wave pool deaths: A man died of a heart attack after entering the pool, presumably from shock because of the cold water.
The far side of the pool was bordered by the natural embankment, which was certainly within swinging range. Not to worry, though—the park decided to put a thin foam mat over the lower portion of it, making it virtually impossible for anyone to injure themselves by colliding with the bank, we promise.
Another big flaw in the design was that the zip line doubled back in the direction the line came from in such a way that the zip line was in full view of the entire line. A lot of riders would suddenly realize that they had an audience and perform reckless stunts like backflips, shout obscenities, or even display “body parts” to the onlookers. Remarkably, the Tarzan Swing is still in operation today.
6The Kayak Experience
The Kayak Experience was one of the more tame rides in Action Park. Riders got their own kayak and navigated it down a roughly straight slope with underwater fans that simulated real rapids. The worst thing you had to worry about was your kayak tipping over and having to get out and flip it back over. Oh, and of course, death by electrocution.
Toward the end of the Kayak Experience’s operation, a young man’s kayak flipped. When he got out to fix it, he stepped on some exposed wiring for one of the fans, which shocked him to death. Two of his nearby family members were also electrocuted, but they survived. The official coroner’s report said that the cause of death was cardiac arrest due to electrocution, but Action Park officials denied any responsibility. An investigation determined that the park hadn’t violated any regulations, but remember, there were few of those to begin with at the time.
Action Park drained the Kayak Experience and never reopened it after the incident, saying that guests would “always be intimidated by it.” A bit of a strange move, considering the park claimed the ride wasn’t responsible for killing him.
For a couple of years, Action Park had an obstacle course and jousting competitions inspired by the show American Gladiator. For the jousting portion, guests would compete against a “gladiator” (read: musclebound Action Park employee) and attempt to knock them off a 1-meter (3 ft) pedestal into the pool below. A metal pedestal. A wet, slippery metal pedestal. If they succeeded in not being bludgeoned to death by the gladiator, they were rewarded with the chance to be bludgeoned by the biggest gladiator, called “the Titan,” on a 2-meter (6 ft) pedestal. All of this was done in front of crowds of guests, of course, to sate their bloodlust.
And the park didn’t survey current employees to select its gladiators. No one said “Hey, Johnny, you look strong. Take this oversize cotton swab and go knock some guests off some poles.” No, instead, they surveyed a bunch of local gyms to find the biggest, strongest guys they could and told them not to hold back. On top of that, the events had an announcer who would perform commentary and make fun of guests who were outclassed by the gladiators.
You’ve probably seen an attraction similar to Surf Hill at almost every water park you’ve ever been to. It was a large waterslide that was split into a bunch of side-by-side lanes, and riders would race each other on mats to the bottom. Because it was one of the first slides of its kind, though, they still hadn’t ironed all of the kinks out. The dividers between lanes weren’t high enough, and it was very easy to jump lanes. The seventh lane also had one section that dropped off a bit faster than the others, making it easy to get air. On breaks, park employees would make a habit of sitting at the cafe at the base of the slide because it was almost guaranteed they’d see a wipeout or lost bikini top.
Once riders reached the bottom, they found themselves choosing the worst of two evils. You see, there wasn’t room at the bottom for the typical long, straight stretch that modern versions of these slides use to slow down. Instead, there was a water-filled basin that curved up to form a padded wall opposite the slide. If you went too slowly, you dropped into the basin, and your mat slapped you in the face. But if you went too fast, you slid up the curved wall and fell backward into the basin.
Geronimo Falls was Action Park’s take on speed slides. But there was a catch: The incline was far more steep than most speed slides today. It was so steep that the first portion of the slide was enclosed because riders would frequently come off of the slide at the top, and the enclosure forced them back down onto the slide instead of plummeting to the ground below. There was a metal bar that guests would hang from with their feet out over the edge of the slide and let themselves drop out onto it. Were they supposed to do this? Probably not, but it was a frequent occurrence. Riders could reach speeds of nearly 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph) on the way down.
When the park changed ownership, the slides that made up Geronimo Falls were dismantled, and a new green speed slide (called H2 Oh No!) with a lesser incline was installed in their place.
2The Alpine Slide
Another worthy contender in our “please don’t make slides out of this, what are you even thinking?” contest is the Alpine Slide, which was a luge-like ride with a track made from fiberglass and concrete. Riders sat in tiny plastic carts and zipped down the hill at breakneck speed. The carts had brakes that allowed riders to control their speed, but they were notorious for not working. Without brakes, it was a challenge to keep the cart from sailing off the tracks—and many people failed that challenge.
This ride led to so many cuts, scrapes, bumps, bruises, lacerations, and crying children that it’s impossible to keep count of how many poor souls wiped out on this monstrosity. There are more personal accounts of people losing skin on this attraction than any amusement park ride should boast, and this problem was made even worse by the fact that Action Park is a water park. People had a habit of going down in their bathing suits.
It also became the site of the park’s first death when an employee’s cart flew off the tracks and ricocheted off a hay bale (which was put there for safety, ironically), which parted him from his cart. He tumbled down an embankment and fatally slammed his head against a rock.
The tracks took up so much of the hill that riders took a ski lift to go down the slide, and the ski lift went right over the tracks. This led to guests on the lift spitting and hurling insults down at the riders below on a regular basis. Despite all of this, it was the park’s most popular ride, and a park official went so far as to claim it was “the safest ride there is.” The Alpine Slide was torn down when the park changed hands, but you can still see the path it used to take on the ground below the lift.
At its core, Tank Tag seems like some good, clean fun, and for the guests of Action Park, it probably was. But for the workers, it was literally the worst station in the park to be posted.
Think of the ride like most bumper cars, with riders in a relatively small fenced in area, but the bumper cars are tanks, and the tanks are armed with tennis ball cannons. The perimeter of the enclosure was lined with mounted tennis ball cannons that other park visitors could pay money to fire at the tanks.
Every now and then, one of the tanks would stall out, requiring one of the workers to run out and start it back up. Despite countless signs posted to dissuade this very thing, the park employees (who were totally unarmed and unprotected) would suddenly become everyone’s target and get pelted with tennis balls. Talk about a stressful work environment.
Kier is a writer at Listverse and Cracked.com, and when he isn’t doing that stuff, he’s tobogganing down a cement ditch and ramping through a ring of fire. It was awesome. You should’ve been there.