The perfect antidote to summer’s outdoor space heater is water, anywhere and everywhere. Sprinkling, splashing, dousing, drenching; up your nose and down your back and in your face.
About 20 miles north of Richmond, you can wander WaterWorks, 20-plus acres of aquatic attractions inside Kings Dominion, dripping like a golden retriever on Lake Winnipesaukee. Open since 1992, the water park received an $11 million expansion four years ago, bumping the total number of rides to nine and expanding the overall volume of water to equal that of a small ocean.
The makeover also included the addition of 16 private cabanas on Tidal Wave Bay, one of which I recently transformed into the headquarters of Operation H2O. Inside the blue-striped tent, I had at my command all the necessary tools: a map of the park, a table and chairs for plotting and navigating, a small cooler of ice (primarily for beverages, but since I didn’t want to spring for a $4 soda, I chewed the ice), a locker and a ceiling fan so useless that it forced me to seek refuge outside.
WaterWorks sits in the deep end of the park, bisected by the Rebel Yell roller coaster, which roars overhead. On a code-free day, it’s a perky walk from the parking lot to the water park; on a hot one, it’s like a long trek through the Sahara on your knees. Fortunately, Snoopy’s Splash Dance, a midway point, is no mirage. The tangle of pipes that spray water like a plumber’s fiasco gave me the strength to continue onward.
By the time I reached Tidal Wave Bay, I needed another dip. I jumped into the pool, fast water-walking to the greater depths so that I could plunge my head without skinning my nose. While I was dog-paddling around the other floaters, an alarm sounded. I looked around, wondering who’d lost their water wings and caused this unfortunate evacuation. But no one exited. Instead, four-foot waves started to roll at us with the power of a speedboat wake. I tried to surf them back to shore, banging into other swimmers attempting the same feat.
To break out of the pack, I decided to plunge feet-first into Night Slider, a dark tunnel that drops a screaming 77 feet. For a brief moment, I would have the water all to myself. Well, not exactly. I had to share it with my fear.
While awaiting my turn at the top of the high tower, I watched the daredevils ahead of me swoosh down, including a woman in a purple bikini who nearly turned back until we egged her on with loud applause.
By the time I was greenlighted to go, I’d worked myself and the girl behind me into a quivering bowl of jelly. “After this,” she said, “I just want to stand under that giant bucket of water.” (She was referring to Surf City Splash House, ranked much lower on the thrill scale.)