You’ve probably heard this one before: a kid goes down a water slide and gets slashed up by a razor blade on the way down. Everyone seems to know about it, and the details don’t vary too much. Some psycho affixes a blade with a bit of chewy, or jams it into the joints between pieces of the slide. Your mate’s-mate’s-cousin who worked a water park one summer says all the parks know about it, which is why they send down test dummies first thing in the morning before the visitors arrive. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Australians have been permanently maimed by brushes with razors blades at hotspots around the Gold Coast, West Sydney, and Geelong. Everyone knows about this, so there’s got to be some truth to it—right?
Yeah, probably not.
I looked long and hard for a victim, an incident, or anything that could say definitively that this had indeed happened in Australia before. The closest I came were a couple of mid-2010s newspaper reports saying the same thing: the now long-gone Grundy’s Entertainment Centre in Surfers Paradise was “the centre of an infamous incident in the mid-1980s when razor blades were allegedly placed between a slide's joints, leading to the injury of a child”. One report even said they’d confirmed the incident with a former Grundy’s employee, without offering further details.
I couldn't find anything substantial, though, from anywhere in the country, about a razor on a water slide. I searched the vast digitised newspaper collection of the National Library of Australia (more than 220 million newspaper articles). No reports. I asked water parks across the country if they’d ever heard of this happening. Predictably, I didn’t get much of a response, and no confirmations. I dug through forums on the topic from the early days of the Australian internet, looking for leads, and came up with diddly-squat. I even stuck a razor to the wall of my shower with a piece of gum and hit it with running water to see if that iteration of the myth was even possible (it held for 11 seconds, which doesn’t seem like long enough).
After all this, I say with some certainty: nah, didn’t happen. Not here, anyway.
So why has this urban legend propagated so far and wide across our country? That’s a trickier question. According to historian and urban legend researcher at Federation University, Dr David Waldron, the razor on a water slide story has been around for “a very, very long time”. In fact, David says it was considered a textbook example of an urban legend by the folklorist who popularised the term. Professor Jan Brunvand—known as “Mr Urban Legend”—wrote about it in his 1989 collection of urban legends Curses! Broiled Again: naming razor blades on the water slide as one of the big three amusement park mishap myths, along with electrocution and snakes.
For Brunvand it was clear these tales were urban legends because while bizarre accidents did sometimes occur, they “couldn’t possibly occur at the rate folklore suggests, or else no insurance company would issue liability coverage, and very few parks would survive”. He added that “those stories about razor blades said to be stuck with chewing gum on water slides by vandals…—as common as they are—seldom show much imagination or variation in their details”.
But while Brunvand was changing the way academics were thinking about modern folklore, technology was changing the way we consumed and shared it. It just so happened that this was around the time water parks were getting pretty popular in Australia.
“During the 1980s we really start getting modern mass media, in the later part of the 80s you start getting the proto-internet, and these stories start to spread,” David explains.
Essentially, rather than offering a way to challenge the truth of these stories, mass communication allowed them to proliferate. Often, the more gruesome the tale, the further it would spread.
“This is the problem with folklore: you believe because it’s had an emotional impact on you, or because it elevates your sense of values or community, not because the evidence really supports it,” David says. The strength of the razor on a water slide story, he suggests, is that it makes us feel particularly uncomfortable.
“The real visceral feeling of sliding down and getting slashed by a razor blade—that visceral feeling will give it a lot of power even if it never happened, like the razor blades in apples thing,” he says.
The other powerful factor, he adds, is the victim is often said to be a child and we have particularly strong responses when children are harmed.
“The idea of having something sacred, special, precious, that is so brutally damaged, really invokes very powerful abject responses,” he says. “That’s an enormously powerful emotional reaction.”
The fact is, this urban legend is probably too good at rustling our jimmies to ever truly die, no matter how little evidence there is for it. Meanwhile, water slides have caused numerous actual deaths and horrific injuries around the world, including the decapitation of a 10 year old boy in 2016 in Kansas City. So what’s the take-away? Well, it’s probably more likely you’ll die horrifically on a water slide than it is that you’ll be slashed by a razor blade. Good to know, just as we’re entering what could be another scorcher of a summer.
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