by Melynda Harrison – I’m lying, stomach-down, in a little chute, gripping a boogie board beneath me. I’ve ridden them in the ocean before, but this is my first time riding an artificial wave. The instructor tells me to pull my elbows in, keep my chest up, and put my feet down a bit if I am about to go backwards over the crest of the wave. I scoot down, shoot into the water, and promptly flip back over the top. I forgot about that foot trick.
The Boogie Bahn at Schlitterbauhn Waterpark in New Braunfels, Texas is home the to the first surfing ride. The artificial wave was invented at Schlitterbauhn by and for professional surfers 27 years ago. Today, in addition to newbies and thrill seekers like me, people come from all over to “ride the wave” in surfing competitions and learn-to-surf events.
My second try on the Boogie Bahn is more successful; I slide into the 50,000 gallons of water and hold my place on the wave. It is kind of cheating, but I touch the bottom of the pool with my toes to hold myself steady. As soon as I lift my feet and try to turn, I slide off to the side, but that’s ok, it was a good ride while it lasted. An eight-year-old boy is doing tricks and riding like a pro. He is showing my up in every way. I am both impressed and envious.
It is my first time at a Schlitterbauhn Waterpark and my first time on an artificial surfing wave. The water amusement park in New Braunfels is the flagship and first Schlitterbauhn, but there are four others. The park was the creation of Bob and Billye Henry and open to the public in 1979. Schlitterbauhn means “slippery road” in German and is a nod to the German heritage of New Braunfels.
What began as four waterslides descending from a German-style tower has grown to 51 attractions on over 70 acres and awards of the “World’s Best Waterpark” 19 years in a row.
The history is interesting and I love the German aesthetic, but it was time for me to get back in the water after the Boogie Bahn. Texas is a hot place and I can see why waterparks are such a draw. I saunter over to a kiosk and use my Blast Pass to secure myself a place in line for the Dragon’s Revenge, an uphill water coaster. Now I can do other things in the park until my digital bracelet beeps to let me know it is my turn.
With my place in line for the Dragon’s Revenge securely and digitally held, I can bob along in the Kristal River lazy river until it’s my turn on the ride. I pass kids riding on alligators and one of seven play areas for kids. More than a splash park, these elaborate squirting, climbing, soaking areas are perfect for little kids to spend hours at play.
Schlittebahn has been a gathering place for families for 50 years as a resort, and 40 years as a waterpark. Families and groups of friends rent the houses, rooms, and cabins every summer and spend a week riding the water rides, floating the many tube rides (one is 45-minutes long!) and splashing on the banks of the Comal River. In the evening at the Resort at the Bahn, where I stayed, they show movies on an outdoor screen, hand out popcorn, and roast marshmallows for s’mores over a campfire.
When my Blast Pass beeps, I hop out of the river and go to the front of the line. The Dragon’s Revenge is the first uphill water coaster in the world. It starts with a walk through a dungeon-like entrance area. The ground is covered in water, both creating a moat-like feel and keeping feet cool on the cement. I wore sandals on all the rides, but if you were barefoot, you’d appreciate this little detail. Once on my double tube, streams of water shoot us uphill and into the tunnel. And then we go up again. It’s just like a roller coaster, only I am wet. A dragon appears out of the mist, we turn corners and shoot upward and plunge down, finally ending in a flat chute where we return the tube.
After the Dragon’s Revenge, it’s time to check out the other part of the park. I had spent the morning in Surfenburg and Blastenhoff (home of the Master Blaster and two other slides –can you call them slides if they go uphill?) and wanted to check out the other side – the original Schlitterbahn. The two sections can be connected with a tram ride. While the “new” Schlitterbahn has some thrilling rides, as well as water play areas for little ones, the original Schlitterbahn has even more rides and more trees.
The first thing I do upon reaching the original half of the park is grab an inner tube. You need one for almost every ride and everyone seems to be carrying them around. I heard that if you line up all the tubes at Schlitterbahn, they stretch eight miles. I wonder how many they have to purchase in a year.
I wander through 100-year-old oak, cedar, and cypress trees to the iconic tower modeled after the Bergfried Tower, the guard tower of the Solms Castle in Braunfels, Germany. I plop on my tube and float down a chute past many of the other attractions. The first thing I notice is that the water is colder over here. That’s because it comes straight out of the Comal River, is filtered, and then provides the water for the rides before being returned to the river. In the 97-degree heat, it feels amazing to be sitting in refreshing water, relaxing my way through the park and eventually landing in the Comal River itself.
Families are floating together, teens are holding hands across the tubes, and everyone seems to be having the most wholesome of summer vacations. While the rides are fun, the real draw of the Schlitterbahn is the opportunity to connect with friends and family. In the rooms near mine, extended families bbq on their porches while chatting about the day and their lives. Kids frolic in the swimming pools outside the rooms, tipping eachother out of inflatables and running back to the porches for snacks. Memories and connections that last a lifetime are formed here on lazy rivers, uphill water coasters, and picnic dinners.
If You Go
Getting there: New Braunfels is 32 miles or 40 minutes north of San Antonio off Interstate 35. Just plug “400 N. Liberty Ave., New Braunfels, TX 78130” into your GPS or Google Maps. Parking is free.
The closest major airport is San Antonio.
During the summer, tickets are $41.99 for children 3-11 and seniors 55+. General admission tickets are $54.99. Check the website before you go as there are package deals that include lodging and/or use of private cabanas.
What to Bring
- Your own food (no alcohol or glass) or money to eat from the many concession stands.
- Family-appropriate swimwear, swim shirt, cover-up, water shoes (you must hold these on some rides).
- Sunscreen and sun hat.
- Waterproof camera or phone case.
- Reusable water bottle.
- Personal life jacket if you think your child will want one. There are some available first come, first served.
- If you forget anything, an extensive gift shop has all the necessities.
Melynda Harrison is contributing editor to Outdoor Families Magazine and writes for numerous publications including Big Sky Journal and Montana Parent. Her company YellowstoneTrips.com, specializing in Yellowstone travel. Currently, she is traveling through Europe with her family. Learn more at travelingmel.com, on YouTube, and Instagram.