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Waterparks From the Start
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Waterparks From the Start

In 2022, waterpark operations legend, Billy Hamilton, was inducted into the World Waterpark Association Hall of Fame, honored for his pioneering work maintaining water quality on a mass scale. Here he shares his story with an eye toward the innovative spirit and experimentation that put him on the forefront of the industry’s most complex and challenging commercial facilities.

By Billy Hamilton

I like to tell people I’ve enjoyed the most unbelievable career any man could have. My works has placed me at the forefront of an entire industry that’s all about people having fun as I’ve seen first-hand how waterparks have developed into the worldwide industry they are today. It’s been quite a ride, pun intended.   

In a very real way, I believe I was destined to work in this amazing business from the very start. I was born in Rockledge, FL, a suburb of the Cocoa Beach area and grew up in coastal Florida. I always loved the water and spent my childhood swimming, fishing, and basically doing everything you can do at the beach. And, I’ve always loved swimming pools.

A pool is like an oasis that can exist almost anywhere. When you’re a young guy growing up in the Sunshine State, pools are where the girls are, where you and your friends hang out, where life happens. When you’re older, the pool is where families have fun together, and later where you relax in your golden years.  

I always felt that way and it’s probably not surprising that shortly after high school, I landed a position with Tropicana Pools in Winter Park, FL, one of the largest residential pool builders in the country at the time. I embraced everything about working on pools. I’ve always been mechanical and enjoy science and technology. In more ways than one, pools were a perfect fit for everything that interested me.

As luck would have it, the pool business was becoming incredibly busy in those days as more and more homeowners installed pools in their backyards, and the company desperately needed service technicians. I was trained by a guy who had been in the business for 30 years, Hank Rudzick. He thought I had real potential and soon recommended that I be given my own truck and tools; and, that I would definitely not disappoint given the opportunity.

That’s how I got my start in the industry and in a very real sense, have never second-guessed my good fortune.


The trendsetting Wet ‘n Wild, Orlando, which opened in 1977, stands as the property largely credited as the first modern waterpark.

I was learning about how pools work in fine detail, at first pressure testing on all the plumbing one new and renovated pools to make sure everything was working per spec and not leaking. From there I moved on to every other aspect of maintenance and repair. I was fascinated by water chemistry and was constantly learning about sanitizing pools and water balance. And, equally important, I learned a lot about the consumer and how to keep them happy, which forever established my understanding of the way pools impact people’s lives.

Little did I know what was waiting just down the road, nothing less than a golden opportunity to apply my newly acquired knowledge on an unprecedented scale.  

In May 1980, I saw a listing for a water chemist at Wet ‘n Wild in Orlando where I immediately applied for the job. Widely considered the world’s first true waterpark, the facility had opened in 1977, founded by George Millay, the visionary behind the SeaWorld franchise.

As a side note: there are always people who argue the point about whether or not it was the “first” waterpark. It’s true there had been waterpark-like features, such as slides, splash pads, lazy rivers and wave pools at other locations, but they were on lakes and other existing natural bodies of water.

Wet-n-Wild was the first facility to place those attractions in what amounted to massive swimming pools. It was the first waterpark where the water was entirely recirculated, filtered and chemically treated, just like a pool, but on a much, much larger scale.

I had driven by the property a few times and was always intrigued to say the least. My first day on the job was May 13, 1980, a day that forever changed the course of my career. I had never seen so many people swimming in a pool. From that moment, I could tell that this was something very new and exciting. It was an entirely different level of aquatic fun, combining the joy of water with something akin to amusement park thrill rides. People absolutely go crazy in water parks. They love it. And Wet n’ Wild had some thrilling, thrilling rides.

Although the property had been open for three years when I came on board, they were striving to maintain water quality with the park’s constantly increasing popularity. The volume of treated water combined with the enormous bather loads were unprecedented and the maintenance staff was overwhelmed.

Waterpark bather loads and resulting water-treatment demands were unlike anything ever experienced in the traditional pool industry.

I stepped in as water-quality manager and immediately embraced the challenge. It was game-on in a big way.  


Wet ‘n Wild was all new and unprecedented from a technology and water-treatment standpoint. The number of bodies of water, constant flow, mass aeration, and bather contamination made for an incredibly dynamic chemical environment. Maintaining quality water conditions was a constant challenge and we were learning almost entirely by trial and error on a daily basis.

Fortunately, I was supported by some great industry leaders including: Bob Wilkie, the maintenance manager who hired me; Rick Faber, former GM; Ron Sutula and Pat Finnegan, both former directors of operations; Michael Black, former GM; as well as Jeff Polk and David Durda with Universal Orlando. We had a great cast of characters and forward thinkers determined to find new ways to address the challenges we were facing.

For example, because of the size and level of use, we embraced chlorine gas as the primary sanitizer and oxidizer. At that time, it was the only practical way to deliver the amount of sanitizer needed to keep up with the constant contamination. It’s still the most efficient way to add hypochlorous acid to the water and it worked like a charm, even though it has since been outlawed in some places, and has fallen out of favor due to safety issues and liability.  

Also known as elemental chlorine, it also adds huge amounts of acid and strips the water of alkalinity. Knowing that water balance is critical for things like bather comfort and maintaining equipment as well as pool serviceability, we had to constantly add sodium bicarbonate in huge quantities to maintain proper levels of alkalinity, and we used mountains of it.

Filtration was another big challenge. At the time, Florida did not allow sand filters on commercial pool facilities, and ownership was not keen on diatomaceous earth filtration. That left us with cartridge filters. With water volumes measuring in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of gallons, we had banks and banks of cartridge filters throughout the park. That meant we had to systematize replacing and cleaning the cartridges, again to sustain the necessary water quality.

That operation became like a huge assembly line with staff that did nothing but remove, replace and clean cartridges all day long.

Volcano Bay, Orlando, which opened in 2017, represented a new generation of waterparks with more and more elaborate designs and entertaining attractions.


At one point, wanting to create even more polished water for nighttime events, we started using small amounts of DE as a filter aid, in effect achieving the micron filtration of DE in a cartridge system. We were constantly experimenting and innovating. As each new attraction would come on line, we were facing new challenges and adapting to new technology.  

There were so many specific technical challenges and solutions, it would take volumes of articles like this to explain them all. One that is worth mentioning, and one that I’m very proud of, is how we dealt with bather hygiene.

It’s impossible to control the behavior of humans, and we all know what I mean by that, especially when they’re gathered in the thousands and busy having fun. Add in beauty products, suntan lotion, and sunscreen. We learned in big way that if a percentage of the users were just somewhat cleaner, maintaining water quality became much, much easier.

The solution: we installed rinse-off showers near the stairway entries to heavily used attractions, such as the wave pool or places where people were moving from a sandy beach like the volleyball court toward the water. We encouraged people to use them, and many did.

It worked like a charm. We used less chemicals and there was dramatically reduced burden on the filtration systems, and best of all, sustaining quality water became easier, as well as the pool surfaces improved. I’ve been an advocate of bather hygiene awareness ever since.  


As the years went by, the waterpark industry continued to grow at an incredible rate, and managers from other facilities reached out to us for advice. My policy was to help anyone who asked. We wanted other waterparks to succeed because as more and more consumers had positive experiences, the demand for waterparks would continue to grow.

I personally enjoyed being able to help shorten the learning curve I knew others were experiencing. It’s entirely true that helping others brings an powerful sense of personal and professional satisfaction, and I was proud to play that role.

Author and WWA Hall of Fame member, Billy Hamilton, remains active as an instructor and leader in the art and science of recreational water treatment on a mass scale.

As time went on, I was asked to be involved in expansion projects, and eventually oversaw the renovation and development of new projects at Wet ‘n Wild.

In 1998, Universal Orlando purchased the water park and as the facility entered the 2000s, there were rumors of a new Universal waterpark. After years of development, Volcano Bay Water Theme Park opened in 2017. In the early construction phase, I transitioned to the new park, where I continued to share my knowledge about water quality and park maintenance with hundreds of people who were new to water park operations.


From those early days up until now, my involvement has snowballed, constantly expanding as my career followed the upward curve of the industry itself. I’ve been a Certified Pool Operator instructor and was inducted into the World Waterpark Association Hall of Fame in 2022.

A lot of people have asked me what I owe my success to because I’ve had such a great career. It’s funny and ironic how I owe a lot to how I cut my teeth in the residential industry. It’s like it all came full circle. Whether you’re working the residential market on pools that host small numbers of people or in waterparks that accommodate literally millions of fun seekers each year, you still have to make sure the water is clean and customer is happy.

Ultimately, that’s what this industry is all about, having fun in the sun, and I for one am grateful to be part of it!

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