Water rides have long been a staple of theme parks and amusement parks as guests look to escape the heat of summer. In the early 1980's a new innovation came with the rapids ride making its debut at Six Flags Astroworld which became the hottest, coolest ride that every park had to have.
|Six Flags partnered
with INTAMIN to create the world's first whitewater rafting ride for
Astroworld in 1980 and it was an immediate and huge success which led
the company to add the attractions to more of their parks. Great
Adventure and Magic Mountain being the two largest parks both were the
top priorities for the innovative new rides so for the 1981 season plans
were made for bigger and better versions of the rapids ride built for
An elaborate model of the new Roaring Rapids ride was built which showed the massive new ride and how it would fit into the park alongside the existing Splash Down and Lightnin' Loops rides. The site chosen had originally been some of the wooded area that the Great Train Ride had occupied, necessitating the train's removal.
|The scale of Roaring Rapids was enormous and the construction project was the largest that Great Adventure had embarked on since the initial construction of the park in 1974. Tons of earth was excavated to create the trough for the "river" along with a huge retention pond that would hold the boats when they were out of service as well as the water at the low end of the run when the pumps were shut off.
|Over the winter off-season workers toiled to create the intricate new attraction. The large, rectangular retention pond was one of the first elements to take shape. Plywood forms and rebar frames began to line the walls of the trough and even through the cold and snow, tons of concrete was poured to create the river's rock lined course.
|The deepest part of the excavation was the end of the course where the boats would move up the lift into the station. The ride would use gravity to carry the boats from the highest point at the start of the river. At the end of the ride a massive pit was needed for the conveyor belt system for the station lift as well as for the massive pumps required to move the water from the lower level back to the upper level to carry the boats along the river.
|The river's course was created with two nearly vertical concrete walls cut into the earth. After the walls were constructed, work began on the floor of the trough. Before the concrete was poured, metal rails were installed along sections of the run. These rails would be on the surface of the concrete base and were used to attach wood logs which created the rapids along the racing currents of the river.
|Part of the ride requiring the most work was the creation of the rocks all along the river. Small rock island were created for the wave sections of the course, designed to spin the boats as they traveled towards the next rapid. Other rocks formations were designed to hide mechanical components like the wave machines. The biggest rocks were near the end of the ride to create a waterfall guaranteed to soak the riders as the passed.
|The rebar framework of the rock was covered with mesh and layers of concrete were applied to create the final rock surfaces. The rocks were sculpted with texture and striations being added to make them look as realistic as possible. Finally layers of color were added to the surfaces to make them look less concrete and more natural.
|As the winter turned into spring the project really started to take shape and look complete.
|Since Great Adventure opened in 1974, the Log Flume had been the most popular ride, so much so that a second flume was added the following year. With Roaring Rapids, the park would now offer three massive water rides which were perfect for hot summer days. No doubt the crews working on the ride in the coldest part of the winter were trying to keep warm by trying to picture those summer days.
|The project was massive in scale in just about every way. The twin belts for the lift and the station stops utilized hundreds of rollers and massive drive motors. While the ride itself used tons of concrete, the queue area as well as the pathway leading to the ride also required truck after truck full of concrete to connect the remote location of the ride to the existing theme park pathways.
|Two massive electric water pumps were installed right next to the station. The pumps raised the water from the lower end. Massive pipes were designed to push the boats as they were released from the station belts and start on their journey.
|With most of the concrete work either complete or nearly complete, installation of the mechanical components of the ride began. Along with the massive water pumps and the twin lift hills, other installations included wave machines in two sections of the river and smaller pumps for the waterfalls. Only once construction was complete would the logs required to create the actual rapids elements be attached to the rails mounted in the concrete.
|The massive rocks at the final bend in the river were designed to look imposing as the rafts approached, with the towering waterfall spilling into the river and onto the passing boats. The rockwork for Roaring Rapids was far superior to the original version of the ride (Thunder River) built at Astroworld, with a bigger budget and the knowledge gained from construction of the first ride.
|Included in the rockwork were whimsical faces which added to the generic "exotic" theme of the ride. It was not designed to evoke any particular geographic location, but just be a wild river ride through a jungle.
|As the ride's completion date drew closer and closer many of the final touches were added. Landscaping was added along the banks as the final touches were added to the rockwork. Sections of the area surrounding the ride that had to be cleared for construction were planted with new trees, bushes, and grass to help fill in the "jungle" around the rapids.
|The final element of the ride to come together was the giant rafts which were assembled in the employee parking lot in preparation for Roaring Rapids opening day.
|Original Spotlight: May 17, 2015; Updated June 14, 2021. GAH Reference#: RIDE#-1981-001C.