August 19, 2002 12:00 PM

What could be better than a water park on a sweltering summer day? How about a water park without long lines—or, unbelievably, with no lines at all? That’s not science fiction; it’s the latest innovation from Jeff Henry, widely considered the Walt Disney of water parks—the summer destinations of 71 million Americans. “I do what I do for fun,” he says. “I’ve got 500 ideas floating in my head.”

He’s also got millions of people floating through his innovative rides. Henry, 47, has created such instant hits as the wave-making Boogie Bahn, now a water park staple, and the Master Blaster, a roller coaster that defies gravity by forcing water to run uphill. At his new $15 million, 26-acre park, Schlitterbahn, on South Padre Island, Texas, Henry unveiled his heralded Transportainment System, which whisks people through 11 main attractions that feed into each other, creating the first lineless water park—an idea now seen as, well, the wave of the future. “I love building rides and I’m constantly looking at ways to improve them,” he says. “What I do is a lifestyle, not work.”

The Houston-born Henry was 12 when he helped his family build a water slide for their resort in New Braunfels, Texas. Smitten, he skipped college and developed such features as foam-coated landings and interconnecting fiberglass tubes. Says Tim O’Brien of Amusement Business: “Jeff didn’t step out of the box to become the top ride man; he’s never been in the box.”

Twice divorced and the father of two, Henry has designed close to 50 parks in dozens of countries and doesn’t expect his pool of ideas to dry up anytime soon. “We’re all kids at heart,” he says. “And when I see people having fun, that’s all the motivation I need.”

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