Active Vacation Culture / Ruthie Oppenheim

Iris Sintara, My sister and me (Lona Gal), 2018, Tempra on paper 23X30

A strong smell of chlorine blended with suntan-promoting oils on the one hand, or suntan-blocking lotions on the other. A hint of shampoo rising from the hair of the person standing in front of you in line. The smell of French fries, hot dogs, cheap hamburgers every time you run past the cafeteria to get in line for another turn on the inflatable tubes. Bare feet running across blistering granolithic surfaces. Momentary relief when you run across a small strip of lawn and/or through the toddlers’ pool (one with mushroom waterfalls and a coarse sky-blue concrete floor). Dry grass clippings floating beside you along the inflatable-tube course or the pools you drop into at the end of every ride, clinging to your skin until you wash them off, then clinging to someone else’s skin. Scorching metal. Dazzling light.

The first waterslide (in all probability) was presented in New Zealand, at the 1906 International Exhibition. Elegantly dressed people sat in specialized boats that hurtled at high speed through a pipe into Lake Victoria. In the 1920s, the toboggan sled was developed in the United States that was adapted for skimming down a slide into a body of water (which would later become what is now known as the “typhoon slide”). Initially, and for several decades, waterslide riders skimmed the surface rather than immersing in the water. In contrast to amusement parks with their roller coasters, pirate ships, and carrousels, a waterslide is a highly rational element. The notion of creating a channel based on the laws of gravity, which allows water to flow from top to bottom, and people to slide in it, can be logically justified. In terms of its characteristics, a slide is reminiscent of any stream or watercourse, albeit with sharp loops and angles (to get the adrenaline pumping), and names of natural disasters or Japanese warfare (hurricane, kamikaze). However, there is something in this whole constellation that chimes quite organically with the human disposition for physical playfulness. There was a growing need in post-World War II America to create recreation and amusement for everyone (probably part of the urban sprawl and the rise of the middle class after the war). At the time, the main attraction in public swimming pools (if there was one) was a diving board. In the 1940s, more and more pools featured pool slides, and some included water being pumped onto them to aid easier sliding. Additional elements were developed in the following decades in the United States, including utilization of the water in swimming pools or amusement parks – wave pools, splash pads, and sophisticated waterslides. The first to incorporate all these elements into a single complex was George Millay, the founding father of water parks, who searched for a location that had year-round sunshine (to maximize profits). In 1977, he opened Wet ‘n Wild in Florida – the first purpose-built water park of its kind, which also set the standard and appearance of water parks all over the world (and which closed in 2016).

A swimsuit riding up your bum. A shirt you’re forced to wear against sunburn, and which clings to your body when it’s wet. Skin grazed on concrete surfaces. The incredible heat your body produces when it rubs against fiberglass at high speed without sufficient lubrication. The skin on your shoulders that burns despite the shirt (because it’s cut). The taste of chocolate milk in a bag and a bread roll with chocolate spread, and the smell of French fries, hot dogs, cheap hamburgers, and juice you’re not allowed to buy because it’s a HaNoar HaOved youth movement trip.

Israel’s first water park opened in 1984. It promised an active, cultural vacation as an alternative to the primitive lazing around on the shores of Lake Kinneret with a barbeque and cassettes (according to the Marketing section of the Israel Advertisers Association’s OTOT Magazine in 1968). The Luna Gal Water Park was the precursor of attractions, all-inclusive-resorts, fun-day-out-for-workers-committee-kids, coupon-codes, and getaways, and also offered a standard of water entertainment like in America. For many years it was the biggest water park in Israel, and was jointly operated by five moshavim: Givat Yoav, Neot Golan, Eliad, Gamla, and Aniam (due to problematic management and a decline in revenues, it was put into receivership, and in 1992, it was bought by Moshav Kanaf in partnership with Dugal Enterprise and Investments Ltd. In 2020, the Luna Gal closed down for good).

My parents never took me to the Luna Gal, for purely elitist reasons. Vacation and recreation took the form a group of families hiking in the south, camping on the beach, going down to Sinai, but not the Luna Gal (or Luna Park for that matter). For them, it amounted to spending time in a crowded site packed with hotheads which they were incapable of enduring. Luckily, I joined a youth movement, as a pupil and then a leader, which filled all my activity-, vacation-, culture– related deficiencies. In fact, it was only logical that a youth movement that advocates equality enabled me to experience, like everyone else, a local culture I had been deprived of. I flowed from the Luna Gal in the north, to Tzemah, Neve Yam, through Shefayim Water Park, Meymadion Water Park, Ashkelona Water Park, all the way to Kalya under the youth movement’s promise that “our home is open to every girl and boy”. I particularly remember a Northern District trip to the Golan Heights on a relatively warm autumn day. We concluded it at the Luna Gal, which was empty of people. Just us, the boys and girls of the district (dozens, perhaps a few hundred) in the park’s entire forty dunams (which at full capacity admitted 1,300 people a day, and 260,000 visitors a year). The Luna Gal was ours – we took over the national stronghold of standing in line. Dizzy and euphoric, we ran from one ride to the next, again and again. We looked like used teabags that had been repeatedly dipped into the chlorinated pools. It was the first time I experienced acute chaffing, my elbows and knee pits smarting from so many turns on the inflatable tubes.

Waterslides expose the rider’s body to physical exertion, anxiety, acceleration, rotation, and abrupt deceleration. In contrast with rollercoasters, which are faster, and the time spent on them longer, a waterslide rider climbs up to the top of the slide, then hurtles down at high speed (at times twisting and turning and dropping from a great height) until they reach the end and drop into the final pool. The maximum observed heartrates of riders on a rollercoaster occur in anticipation rather than during the actual rollercoaster ride. A first study on the heartrate of riders on particularly intense waterslides (that include falling from a great height and multiple twists and turns) shows that, as with rollercoaster riders, the maximum observed heartrates occurred at the anticipation stage. However, in comparison with rollercoasters, the heartrates of waterslide riders were generally higher, apparently due to the effort of climbing up the steps.

Standing in line, an inflatable tube around my waist, or over my shoulder. Out of breath from dashing to get in line as fast as possible, sitting in the tube, and constantly afraid that someone will intentionally create a bottleneck and I’ll capsize under the tube and all the rest of the tubes will pile up on top of me. Climbing metal steps carrying a plastic board on my back, on which I’ll slide down once I make it to the top, a long line with other kids carrying plastic boards on their backs. The steps turn into a metal cage as you climb higher. The young man sitting at the top of the slide, where you sit down. Where your heart pounds against your chest just before he raises the sponge-covered bar. Dazzling light.

Yamit and Iris


Elise S. Hokanson, Alexander F.L. Brauer, John S. Hokanson, John S. Hokanson, Marlowe W. Eldridge, Kathleen R. Maginot, Heart rate and rhythm responses of healthy young adults to modern water slides, International Journal of Cardiology, 214, 426-427, 2016.

How did water parks develop?, 

Uri Ovnat, Luna Gal: From a Lake Kinneret of barbeques and “cassette singers” to active vacation culture, OTOT, 100, 54-57, 1988.