The water park of our youth

Published 8:05 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2017

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EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate the end of the school year, we dusted off an old 2007 Short Rows that recalled the water park of our youth. Enjoy the summer.

Long before there was a Water Country or Great Wolf Lodge, there was Lake Ahoy, and to youngsters growing up in what might be viewed as a rather sheltered environment, it was a splendid place.

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We had Jones Creek and Johnson’s Beach, of course, but like teens of every era, were open to that which was new and exciting.

And so, in the years that we weren’t carried — or herded, perhaps — into the arms of living history at Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg, we all-too-typical youngsters would opt for a class picnic at this wonderful little manmade lake in what is now the city of Chesapeake.

Of course, these were pre-and early teen years, or BDL — that’s before drivers’ licenses. So we were at the mercy of our mothers, who volunteered at the end of the school year to provide transportation for more than five dozen youngsters in a class eager for a picnic. It takes little imagination to wonder what the School Board’s reaction today would be to a field trip where transportation for an entire class was by private vehicle.

By today’s standards, Lake Ahoy wasn’t much, really. It was a manmade lake several acres in size, fed by an artesian well, which I always assumed was free-flowing.

Much of the lake was a shallow three to four feet deep, surrounded by a gently sloping — again, manmade — beach. Giant (by our standards) slides and a cable ride that would make today’s insurance companies hyperventilate provided thrills and the hope, for the boys, that the girls were watching.

A deep diving pool surrounded by a pier and diving boards rounded out this insurance liability waiting to happen. And we loved every inch of it.

A simple concrete block building offered snacks, pinball (our version of a video arcade) and the ever-active juke box. I distinctly remember that if you were barefoot and your feet were damp, which they always were, the jukebox would give you a pretty good tingle. The trick was to drop the coin in the slot without touching the metal coin receptacle, and then gently touch the plastic covered — and thus safe — command keys. In exchange for daring the machine to jolt you, there was the latest musical jolt from Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry. And we did dare it — repeatedly. The jukebox was rarely silent.

There were other summer entertainment options also in those days. Buckroe Beach and Ocean View stand out. Ocean View had the biggest roller coaster in Virginia at the time, but Buckroe seemed to be favored by many families and church groups as a bit more family-oriented. (I think that meant fewer sailors in a day when Norfolk was unabashedly Norfolk.) Buckroe also had one really classy carousel, and when the park was eventually demolished in the 1970’s, the city of Hampton bought and restored this masterpiece. It sits today next to the Air and Space Museum.

But Lake Ahoy stood alone for teenage fun. It was new, different and it was ours in those days. It was true entrepreneurship, an idea hatched by a family to serve a population just beginning to grow and looking for modern entertainment options. And it was a local favorite.