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When temperatures raise beyond 40 degrees Celsius in summer, people in Arizona only want one thing: a place to cool off. Breakers Water Park in Marana near Tucson was once one of the largest water parks in the state. The wave pool in the park was among the largest in the United States. Despite many new attractions and the addition of an aquarium, the park went bankrupt in 2018. Today the former water park lies in ruins and is slowly being torn down.
Warning: Breakers Waterpark is not an abandoned Lost Place. The park is under surveillance and neighbors will call the police, as you can read below!
Breakers was opened in 1982 at 8555 W Tangerine Road in Marana, Pima County and is one of the oldest waterparks in Arizona. The metropolitan area of Tucson with more than one million inhabitants is barely 30 minutes away. Ideal conditions for such a park, and especially from the 1980s and 1990s you can find some archived pictures on the internet. Whole school classes went on excursions to the park in summer.
Between 1982 and 2002 the water park doesn’t seem to have changed much. Apart from the large wave pool, one of the largest in the USA, there were apparently only a children’s pool, one or two water slides and a volleyball field. Management seemed to concentrate mainly on events: Birthday parties, group and evening events could be booked, including catering. In 1991 the Great Tucson Duck Race with 7,000 rubber ducks took place here, in 2009 the Southern Arizona Special Olympics Polar Plunge, a charity event during which participants jumped into the water in costume.
In 2001 the new manager Steve Miklosi started to expand the attractions. The Splash Canyon water slide probably opened in 2002, for 2003 the website listed a total of seven water slides (Bonzai Pipelines and Splash Canyon). In the 2009 season Riptide, consisting of two 17-metre (52 feet) high and very steep water slides, was opened. The slides can be seen in the following commercial:
The Rock Slide was opened in 2014 next to the Bonzai Pipelines and was equipped with light and sound effects. At timestamp 00:08 in the video you can see the accompanying decorations in the form of red guitars. For the 2015 season, high jumpers and stuntmen were hired for a High Dive Show:
In 2017 the ExplorAquarium was opened. This was an approximately 80 centimetre (33 inch) deep tank in which visitors could swim with rays, eels and small sharks – for an additional charge. Whether this was actually as pleasant for the animals as suggested in this video, I don’t know…
Since there never seems to have been an official plan of the park, I created this 3D map from aerial photos and other information. However, some water slides seem to be missing. The last press release before the closure mentions eleven slides, I can only come up with nine?
For many people the closure of the park in 2018 came unexpected, but actually there had been problems for a long time. Operating costs kept rising constantly, it took about 120 employees – mainly part-time workers like high school and university students – to keep the park running. At the same time visitor satisfaction and admission prices continued to go down. Negative comments about defective attractions, dirt and garbage popped up in online review portals. According to many visitors some of the slides were considered downright dangerous. In addition there was no proper online and social media advertising strategy. In 2002 the park was still able to charge 39.95 US dollars for a season pass, while by 2017 the price had dropped to just 25.99 US Dollars (approx. 22 Euros). In order to keep up with inflation, the price would have had to rise to about 57 Dollars (about 48 Euros) instead.
Justin’s Water World, a smaller water park in Wonderland near Tucson, already had to shut down in 2007. The final blow for Breakers came with the minimum wage increase planned for 2018.
Breakers Waterpark is not a lost place, but a supervised construction site. The attractions are slowly being dismantled to clear the land for sale. The owners’ last asking price was 1.1 million US dollars.
I have to urgently advise against any unannounced visits. Less than 20 minutes after I had started taking pictures, five policemen were on site. Fortunately I had obtained permission from Charles, the current manager, and the policemen were very nice. After the misunderstanding was sorted out we had a conversation about the former water park. Everybody remembered coming here as a kid, but the policemen also confirmed the problems. The park had been neglected and the slides were unsafe.
If you are planning to visit the park, I can put you in contact with Charles.
The Wave Pool
The Wave Pool held one million gallons of water, or about four million litres, according to official figures. As with most larger wave pools, water was pumped into large tanks at the head end and then suddenly released into the pool to create huge tidal waves. The wave spread all the way to the back of the pool and slowly ran out due to the “fan shape” of the pool.
Riptide was opened in 2009. It consisted of two very steep slides about 17 meters high. The special feature of Riptide was not just the steep descent, but the passengers slid down the slide on small plastic sledges and then “bounced” over the shallow water in the concrete pools like stones. The plastic sledges were then transported back up again via a small elevator.
A quite clever idea. But you don’t have to be an expert to notice that a finger or hand can quickly get caught between the plastic and the concrete, resulting in injuries. And that’s exactly what happened, of course. You don’t have to search the Internet for long to find corresponding reports…
Bonzai Pipelines & Rock Slide
The Bonzai Pipelines consisted of two yellow and red pipes through which riders slid on mats. The starting tower was located on small hill. A smaller slide (the tiny green one on the right) also started from the same tower, but I don’t know if this slide also was formally part of the Bonzai Pipelines.
In 2014 the Rock Slide was opened next to the Bonzai Pipelines. You can recognize it on the pictures by the square profile of the tube, and on the top of the tube you can see the covers of the light and sound modules. The decorations consisting of red guitars had already been removed.
The Rock Slide starts at the bottom of the Bonzai Pipelines tower. In contrast to the Bonzai Pipelines and Riptide, this slide operated at a quite leisurely pace, begin aimed especially at smaller children. People would slide through the tube on mats and see and hear the light and sound effects on the way. The square-ish profile of the tube was supposed to stabilize the mats and keep them on track. But the concept doesn’t seem to have worked as intended and the mats still tipped over. At least one can find many reports about this problem on the net.
Splash Canyon consisted of two slides for large rubber tyres, each tyre holding up to two people. One of the slides was open at the top, the other was closed.
Captain Kidd’s Surfari
For smaller children there was a separate paddling pool with small slides and water showers.
What remains of an amusement park
The covered picnic areas had already been partially dismantled, as had the decorations and lamps. The deck chairs were also waiting for removal.
Die überdachten Picknick-Zonen waren bereits teilweise demontiert worden, genau wie die Dekorationen und Lampen. Auch die Liegestühle warteten auf den Abtransport.
Being able to visit something as special as a closed water park in this condition was a rare luck. A few months later there probably wouldn’t have been much left to photograph.
This post was written by Simon for One Man, One Map. The original can be found here. All rights reserved.
I would love to visit the park could you please put me in contact with Charles. I’m a photographer and I love abandoned places. I really wouldn’t any trouble with the police so I would love to get permission.
Just want to say I absolutely love this post. The photos, the history you included, and your experience. My best friend and I were reminiscing about our memories at this water park (we grew up in Tucson in the 90s), so I googled “breakers Tucson” and found your post. What a gem!
Thank you for your kind words. It was definitely a day well spent 🙂
Based on your research would you say this park dies due to mismanagement or is a water park in Marana/Tucson not of interest to the people?
According to the people I’ve talked to, people are still interested. But the operating costs of such a park are simply extremely high in a place like Tucson, and the region doesn’t seem to have enough inhabitants to keep a water park going. It’s different around Pheonix, where water is a bit easier to come by and there are much more potential customers.