Inflatable water slide at Smiley’s might be world’s tallest

The words “inflatable” and “architecture” don’t normally go together, but that may change if the new water slide at Smiley’s Flea Market catches on.

The bright blue and green structure is set up behind the buildings and stalls of the market, but you can see the top of it from the parking lot. It towers 45 feet above the ground.

Eight electric fans provide the air pressure necessary to convert gigantic fabric tubes into a framework of struts and buttresses. Forty-one steps lead up a steep incline to a lofty platform covered by a canopy.

“It was kind of scary,” 10-year-old Marisa Ussery said Sunday of her first climb up those steps. “When I was on the fifth step I said, ‘You can do this.’’’

Once at the top, Marisa said she could see all the way to the road that runs past Smiley’s. As for the trip down, “It was cool.”

The slide was erected the Sunday before last. It is the product of Blue Sky Slides of Gwinnett County, which bills it as the tallest inflatable water slide in the world. (The company is trying to get Guinness World Records to verify this claim.)

Blue Sky Slides plans to operate the slide at Smiley’s on weekends through October 1. Admission is $5 for one ride, $8 for three and $10 for an unlimited-ride wristband. The slide operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. (Winds higher than 20 miles per hour may cause the slide to shut down temporarily, as it was for a brief period Sunday.)

Blue Sky employee Crystal Moon said 64 people rode the slide Saturday, but more than 100 had ridden by mid-afternoon Sunday.

“Word’s getting out, people are telling their friends,” she said.

Phil Snyder, another Blue Sky employee, helped young customers hop down from the slippery platform at the end of the slide.

“Some of them get scared when they get up to the top,” he said.

“But as soon as they feel the rush and get that water spraying on them, they wear themselves out trying to get back up there.”

The slide was designed by Kris Torrens, one of three partners in Blue Sky Slides. He borrowed the basic design from existing slides but spent three-and-a half months working on the unique system of steps. Instead of the balloon-like tubes one normally sees on inflatable rides at carnivals, Blue Sky’s giant slide has solid steps with rubber grips. This makes the slide safer. So does a trained crew that enforces rules such as “feet first only,” Torrens said.

Torrens said Blue Sky previously has operated big inflatable water slides in California and Florida, but none as big as the four 45-footers he recently ordered from a foreign manufacturer. (He doesn’t want competitors to find out exactly where they are made.) These slides weigh 5,500 pounds. Blue Sky sells them for prices ranging from $80,000 to $120,000.

The slide at Smiley’s is the first of these new slides to go into operation. Two others will open soon at flea markets in Athens and Pendergrass, and another will open at a tubing resort in Ellijay.

“We didn’t want Georgia residents to have to go to the beach to have something like this,” Torrens said in a telephone interview. “You know as well as I do that we’re going to have some 90-degree days and higher here in Georgia over the summer. This is a great opportunity for people to cool off.”