LLYC Alum Creates Giant, Floating Structures Kids Love to Conquer
Summers at Laity Lodge Youth Camp begin with a hands-on maneuver few witness: the placement of 1,000 pounds of “big inflatables” into the cold waters of the Frio River at Singing Hills and Echo Valley.
“The inflatables are intense,” says LLYC Director Chandler Pruitt. “Deflated, they weigh over 500 pounds each. Our staff gets a great deal of satisfaction putting the toys in the water at the beginning of the summer.”
Both of the giant inflatables were created by Austin-based FunAir, founded by LLYC alumni Eric Goldreyer who spent the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Frio Canyon.
“Camp has definitely had an influence on some of the stuff we’re doing at FunAir,” says Goldreyer. “Our Super Sweet Slide was inspired by something we used to call ‘The Gravy Train’ at Singing Hills. We’d stretch out a length of black plastic and cover it in Gravy Train dog food, dishwashing soap, and water to make it slippery.” The special vinyl of the Super Sweet gets plenty slick with just plain water—no dish soap or dog food required. Bumpers on the side keep kids on track.
Echo Valley’s “Glacier” is a standard FunAir design that campers have nicknamed “the Articuno” after a large, bird-like Pokemon character. Singing Hills and FunAir staff together concocted the one-of-a-kind Singing Hills slide/cave/climbing/diving structure.
Both inflatables are icons of summer signaling the Canyon is ready for campers to climb up, slide down, and jump off of the toys thousands of times, in what Pruitt calls “joyful, controlled chaos.” These inflatables are among the most popular outdoor features of Singing Hills and Echo Valley camps. “They provide the thrill we’ve always imagined,” says Pruitt. “Campers are up and down and off the sides all day long.”
Placing such large water structures is no easy task. The toys are typically transported from storage to camp waterfronts with a front-end loader. Once they’re unloaded, a dozen or more summer staffers will unroll and inflate them, then carefully move them into the water. “This is delicate work,” says Pruitt. “We can’t slide them on any rough surface or we risk puncturing the vinyl. And there’s a deliberate strategy to lifting and moving the toys into the water without injury.”
Once inflated and afloat, they are set into place by a crew of swimmers, then attached at several places to concrete anchors in the river bottom for support. The entire process can take three to four hours per toy to complete—and an equal amount of time is required to remove them.
The entire process is tricky, as is maintenance. “Wind is not our friend,” says Pruitt. “Should there be a leak, finding and patching it can be difficult.” And usage alone takes its toll on the giant toys. “We pull them from the water once or twice a summer to inspect them and do repairs.”
Goldreyer says it is gratifying to see his company’s products in the Canyon and acknowledges that his time as an LLYC camper and counselor helped shape the course of his career: “My time at camp has been an incredibly great influence on what we’re doing today. My partners and I like to say that if we can create a business that brings people together to have fun and create memories, well, there’s no greater reward than that.”