- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2002

The breeze in your hair, the sun on your back and the waves at your feet.

It's a hankering shared by many metro-area dwellers, but a three-hour drive separates many of us from the beaches of Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Ocean City, Md. Three long, hot, traffic-filled hours.

Great Waves at Cameron Run Regional Park is right around the corner, however in Alexandria. The water park was created so those who do not have access to a beach still may experience the joy of swimming in waves, says park safety officer Derric Bolton.

Park operators have surf-making down to a science. The waves in the half-acre pool are created by a "wave machine" (of course) consisting of three large 100-horsepower fans that drive air into chambers on an alternating cycle. This action produces waves that roll rather than break. The waves are operated on a cycle of 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, and the staff alternates the wave patterns throughout the day, adjusting them with an eye for audience and capacity.

"It can be like a day at the lake or the North Shore of Hawaii," Mr. Bolton says. "We try to throw in three to four different patterns every other 10 minutes. We'll throw in some slow rollers so parents can take their small children in there."

That's not all Great Waves offers.

A four-story water slide features three flumes with 300 feet of twists and turns. Children of any age can ride a slide, provided they're at least 48 inches tall and weigh no more than 250 pounds. Those with height aversions would be well-advised to skip this one it requires a long walk up an open staircase.

Many families may choose to take a load off and spend most of their time in the 7,000-square-foot shallow play pool. The play pool features a long, spongy snake and an alligator for climbing; waterfalls that spill from rock formations; and an 8-foot-high mushroom-shaped rain tree. There is a smaller, twisting slide for the very youngest of daredevils as well as a ramp slide suitable for a family slide en masse.

Just around the corner is a baby pool with bubblers and a gentle waterfall. A lap pool adjacent to the water playground offers lanes for those bent on getting some exercise.

Although the water park is designed for fun, the Great Waves lifeguards are serious about their jobs. A drowning can happen in half a foot of water or less, Mr. Bolton says, and in as little time as 38 seconds. No lives have been lost at Great Waves, and the staff goes to great pains to ensure the status quo.

Guards make from zero to six rescues a day in the wave pool, he says.

"At any one time, the number of guards at the wave pool can range from three to seven," Mr. Bolton says. "When the wave machines are on, everyone's required to stand it's just a better bird's-eye view when the waves are rolling. It makes them one step closer to a victim."

The guards have a hunter mentality, he says, "where they're looking for a victim."

While the guards scan the water, several Alexandria police officers keep an eye on things above water level. Every weekend, two to five officers are there an unusual sight at a water park, perhaps.

"They are there to assist us in keeping the facility safe and enjoyable," Mr. Bolton says. "When we have a water park like we do, we tend to get a lot of young adults. We want to make sure that Mom and Dad coming in with 5- and 6-year-olds can come in and use the pool. There's times when you get some rowdies in there. The police help the staff reinforce the behavior there it's more preventative than anything."

He recommends that people visit Great Waves during the week, if possible.

"Weekdays are the time to go to Cameron Run." he says. "You see the stay-at-home or vacationing parents with their kids, some organized summer camps and recreation groups. On weekends, there are no organized groups it's more just families off for the day."

In fact, visitors can expect to mingle with 1,000 others on the weekends, compared with 400 to 500 people on weekdays. Sounds just like a day at Ocean City.

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