Great article from the BBC News Toronto on Whitewater West’s Geoff Chutter. Geoff opened Canada’s second waterpark in British Columbia, Canada in 1980. Fast forward 40 years, and Geoff’s business – Whitewater West – is today the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of water parks. H&LA’s David Sangree was honored to contribute a quote for the article, noting Geoff’s impressive leadership at Whitewater over the years.
Big splash: The world’s largest designer of water parks
Published by: Jessica Murphy, BBC News Toronto
Published date: April 2020
In 1980 Geoff Chutter found himself “mortgaged to the underside of the nostrils”, and the owner of a brand new water park.
The then 28-year-old had no previous experience of working in the world of giant water slides and swimming pools, but he thought it would be more fun than continuing to work as an accountant. So he decided to build his own.
Geoff had previously spent five years employed by the auditing firm KPMG Canada, until one day he came across the country’s first water park in the western province of British Columbia.
He was sent there on a work assignment, and he was immediately intrigued. “It had some basic component that I thought was hugely fun,” says Geoff.
“How good would it be to spend your life putting smiles on families’ faces?”
So, inspired, he decided to quit the day job, take a leap of faith, and open Canada’s second water park. Joining with a business partner, he found 18 acres of land in the city of Penticton, British Columbia, and constructed one.
Fast forward 40 years, and Geoff’s business – Whitewater West – is today the world’s largest designer and manufacturer of water parks.
When he opened that first park back in 1980, Geoff says it was “very much house is on the line, savings on the line – modest as they were”. He adds: “In reflection, the only thing more naïve than myself was the Royal Bank of Canada [who gave us the money].”
At the time, the water parks industry was in its infancy, with the first modern attraction opening in Florida in 1977. So Geoff couldn’t simply buy in slides, or even follow some already drawn up plans. Instead he had to design and build his park from scratch, working with an engineering firm to create everything.
During the park’s inaugural summer, something fortuitous happened. “Four [separate] fellows came by and said ‘Gee, I’d like to do that in my home town. How’d you do it?'” he says.
Geoff ended up signing contracts to build four new parks, three in Canada and one in Washington State, in the US.
Launching his new endeavour he had soothed his stress with the thought that, if the venture failed miserably, he always had accounting to fall back on.
But riding that first wave of success, he says that he has “frankly never looking back”.
Three years after his park opened, he sold it, divesting completely from park ownership and operations, to instead focus on waterslide and pool design, engineering, manufacturing, and delivery.
Today, Whitewater has 600 employees around the world, and projects across six continents, from Russia to India, Brazil to the US, and Australia to South Africa.
With annual sales of $200m (£116m), the firm works with everyone from hotels, to amusement park behemoths like Disney, for whom it designed the vast Typhoon Lagoon wave pool in Orlando, Florida.
“We’re the big boys in the industry – we’re the gorillas in the living room, for sure,” says Geoff.
The water parks industry has boomed over the decades, with 30.9 million visiting the top 20 water parks in the world alone in 2018, according to sector-wide figures. To try to stay ahead of the curve in an industry always seeking bigger thrills and fresh experiences, Geoff says that the company focuses on innovation.
Teams of designers, architects and engineers work at its headquarters in Vancouver, alongside artists and sculptors, to create the next most popular water slides, and other aqueous attractions.
While some of Whitewater’s North American rivals have not expanded outside of the US and Canada, Geoff says that he was always keen to build a truly global presence.