Friday A/V Club: The Legend of Action Park

It was the '80s. It was New Jersey. It was another place and time.


Action Park was a legendarily unsafe amusement park in New Jersey, the sort of place that Blue Teamers imagine a libertarian society would be like. (There is a parallel universe, I'm sure, where Action Park occupies the place held by Somalia on our plane's compendium of comment-thread clichés.) "Action Park was less a water park and more a complete insult to the evolutionary concept of self-preservation," Matthew Callan wrote in a fun Freezerbox piece some years back. "And yet, despite all the danger, we kids kept going back, tempting fate like Russian-roulette-players."

You should read Callan's whole essay, with its detailed descriptions of the park's fate-tempting rides. Here's a sample:

The very first ride you saw when you entered Action Park involved a sled and a ramp of metal rollers. You slid down on your sled across the metal rollers, reaching speeds of roughly 300 miles an hour, and skipped thirty feet across the surface of a very shallow pool. The metal-roller ramps had no guardrails on them, so there was always a possibility that you would veer off to the side and fall very quickly into two feet of water. And since there were four metal-roller ramps emptying into this pool in tandem, snarls of sled collisions were constantly occurring, making it look like the Cross Bronx Expressway on a Friday night.

The Colorado River Ride was a water slide involving huge inner tubes that could fit seven people. It tried to approximate a mountain rapid, with lots of bumps and obstacles and so forth. But the most dangerous part of it was the fact that the borders that kept the tubes on the course were criminally short. And just off to the side of the Colorado River Ride was a steep tree-and-pricker-bush-lined hill. It was the perfect demonstration of the Action Park philosophy: Put seven people in a large inner tube, push them down a wet slide, and let the laws of physics handle the rest. People would gather around to watch folks scream their way down, cheering and hoping that a tube would hop the barrier and go careening down the side of the hill. When a large family would come close to flying away, the whole crowd would gasp and then sigh in disappointment, like the audience at the Indy 500 when the Tide car just narrowly misses hitting the Pepsi car and exploding in a beautiful orange ball of flame.

And then there was this thing:

They called it the Cannonball Loop. "It was never open," Barry Petchesky recalls in Deadspin. "You wondered if it had ever been open." Turns out it had indeed been open, though apparently not for very long. Petchesky has located some footage of the slide in action, part of an alternately eerie and funny compilation of Action Park commercials and home movies:

If you want to watch people riding the slide, you can skip ahead to 8:17. But there's much more to see here, from the children-as-sewage-discharge footage at 5:12 to the breakdancing demonstration at 3:13. (The latter is recommended for hardcore '80s nostalgists only.) And at the very end of the video, there's the most frightening ad slogan I've ever heard: "where you and the rides become one."

Bonus link: "Anarchy, State, and Amusement Park."

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)