Can adults use a Slip 'N Slide?

A Slippery Slope

It was an ordinary summer afternoon when Robert Carrier, a boat interior upholsterer in California, arrived home from work.

The scene that greeted him, however, was anything but average. His son was doing belly flops down the family driveway, sliding toward the street. He'd used a garden hose to turn the painted concrete surface into an impromptu water slide.

It didn't take long for Carrier to bring home a safer solution: a 50-foot (15.24-meter) roll of vinyl-covered fabric his son could use to slide in the grass instead of the driveway.

Carrier eventually patented his invention and sold it to Wham-O, the same company that initiated the American love affair with the Hula Hoop and Frisbee. Wham-O introduced the Slip 'N Slide as a children's toy at the 1961 Toy Fair [source: Walsh]. Since then, millions of Slip 'N Slides have been sold, despite cautions from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and reports of serious injuries. Seven adults and a 13-year-old suffered neck injuries or paralysis between 1973 and 1991 after using a Wham-O Slip 'N Slide [source: CPSC].

In fact, Wham-O stopped making the water slide in the late '70s, after the first reports of injuries. In 1982, a toy company called Kransco acquired Wham-O and reintroduced the product in 1983 with a warning label that it was not for use by adults [source: Weiser].

A 1991 lawsuit brought by a man who became a quadriplegic after using a Slip 'N Slide led the commission to put out this warning in 1993: "Because of their weight and height, adults and teenagers who dive onto the water slide may hit and abruptly stop in such a way that could cause permanent spinal cord injury, resulting in quadriplegia or paraplegia. The slider's forward momentum drives the body into the neck and compresses the spinal cord."

After the lawsuit, the Slip'N Slide was once again taken off the market but was brought back in the 2000s, a perennial backyard favorite of children. It still comes in its trademark yellow form, as well as inflatable, sports-themed and multi-user versions. The current product is labeled for ages 5 to 12.

However, like other adventure-seeking adults, you could make your own water fun with a plastic sheet that is much longer than the store brand, and conceivably, safer for your spinal cord -- unless you take the whole contraption to level 11 by adding obstacles, ramps or baby oil.

Author's Note:Can adults use a Slip 'N Slide?

I must have been one of the three children in the U.S. who didn't spend summer afternoons careening down a Slip 'N Slide. My recent excitement at filling in this missing childhood memory was, however, tempered when my research uncovered the rash of Slip 'N Slide spinal injuries that cropped up during the 1990s. Naturally, I rushed to the store to see if I could still purchase a Slip 'N Slide. Then I let my two youngest daughters spend an afternoon (injury-free, thank goodness) enjoying run/flop/slide antics. Duly warned by the CPSC, I abstained from any Slip 'N Slide activities. Funny, though, I did expect the Kool-Aid Man -- that beloved "spokespitcher" of the mid-1970s -- to burst through the backyard fence, sugary refreshment in hand.

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  • Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Wham-O Backyard Water Slides Are Dangerous For Adults and Teenagers." May 27, 1993. (June 14, 2013)
  • Denmead, Ken. "Build an Awesome DIY Slip'N Slide for Summer Fun." Wired. June 6, 2012. (June 14, 2013)
  • Walsh, Tim. "Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them." Andrews McMeel Publishing. 2005.
  • Weiser, Benjamin. "Is The Public's Safety Being Protected By Court-Ordered Secrecy In Lawsuits?" The Washington Post. July 30, 1994. (June 14, 2013)
  • Wham-O. "Wham-O's Brand Introduced: Slip'N Slide." (June 14, 2013)