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ZIPPING THROUGH THE U.S. NATIONAL WHITEWATER CENTER IN CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA.


PHO T O: P ATRICK SCHNEIDER


Adjusting for inflation, the cost of whitewater parks has remained consistent over time. All things considered, artificial whitewater facilities like the new park in Oklahoma City and the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, come with price tags 10 times larger than the most elaborate in- stream design. For Scott Shipley, another former Olympic slalom paddler, engineer and


Gary Lacy protégé, the greatest thrill in whitewater design is dreaming up a river from scratch. With eight full-time employees, Shipley’s Lyons, Colorado- based S2O Design is the largest whitewater park firm in the world. After train- ing under Lacy, Shipley’s first big project was designing the entirely artificial facility in Charlotte. His modular “Rapidblocs”—fully adjustable, engineered structures to create river features—were critical in the design of England’s Lee Valley White Water Centre, a venue for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Shipley is a huge proponent of whitewater parks—especially big projects


like Charlotte and Oklahoma City, his latest creation, which are marketed as adventure theme parks. Both use pumps to recirculate tap water through spe- cially engineered channels of varying degrees of difficulty, with a conveyor belt eliminating the need to portage back to the top of the run. “Charlotte makes $22 million per year,” notes Shipley. “There are so many


activities”—including mountain biking, rock climbing and outdoor concerts— “that once people find it, they keep coming back. Revenues grow every year. That shows it’s become a destination.” Glenwood Springs, Colorado-based consultant Bob Campbell, director of


Whitewater Parks International and a former coach with the U.S. whitewater team, has applied the same large-scale, futuristic model in designing Olympic


facilities. He stumbled into the industry nearly two decades ago, when he part- nered with Aussie John Felton, who was responsible for the artificial whitewa- ter course designed for the 2000 Sydney Games Just like any piece of Olympic infrastructure, Campbell says the challenge is


to meet world-class standards, but also to ensure the venue will be appropriate for elite training, weekend warriors and families after the main event wraps up. It’s telling that the Sydney whitewater park is the only 2000 Olympic venue that steadily operates in the black. “The big idea is that these large facilities can be used for recreational pad-


dling,” says Campbell, whose firm was the lead designer at Lee Valley and re- cently completed the whitewater venue for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. Another Campbell brainchild is the Vector Wero Whitewater Park in Auckland, New Zealand, whose claim to fame is a 15-foot waterfall that’s commercially runnable in rafts (see page 29). In Sydney and London, “people can sign up for a rafting program without


any whitewater experience,” adds Campbell. “How many different sports can you imagine where people can experience the same venue used by Olympians? Even without the Olympics card, it’s an exciting, real, authentic kind of out- door experience that’s accessible in an urban environment.” Shipley cannot wait for the day he’s asked to build a whitewater park in a U.S.


megalopolis like New York, Dallas or Miami. “Charlotte and OKC aren’t huge population bases,” he says, “but they show the potential. People are tired of roller- coasters. They want to get active at home. With a whitewater park, you don’t have to go on a trip to the Rockies. You can have an adventure experience downtown.”


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