The National Weather Service declared April 2016 to be Las Vegas’ third-wettest April on record and the wettest April the city has seen since 1965. That may be great for gardens and drought watchers, but for Takuya Ohki, general manager at Wet’n’Wild Las Vegas, 7055 S. Fort Apache Road, soggy skies have been a challenge.
“We’ve had a pretty slow start on weekends,” Ohki said. “There are times when we’ve opened the park at 65 degrees, which is not water park weather.”
Rain or shine, Ohki has opened the gates with only high winds and lightning as closure-causing deterrents. He said that when the sun shines, guests are rewarded with nonexistent lines.
On May 7, Ohki took a few minutes away from storm watch to talk about what it takes to run a water park.
“Anything for myself, I need to do it in the morning, or nothing gets done,” he said.
“Morning” to Ohki is the middle of the night to many. Most days, the triathlete rises at 4 a.m. and is either in the pool or on a bike by 4:30 a.m. On May 7, he and a friend cycled from his Seven Hills neighborhood, looping through Lake Lake Las Vegas and circling past the Galleria at Sunset before returning home.
Back home, Ohki gets ready for work and reads for a bit before the real work starts. The father of five — three girls ages 18, 15 and 12, and two boys, 10 and 7 — takes the morning shift and shuttles kids to school before heading to the water park. Most days, he’s there by 8 or 8:30 a.m.
He walks the park, double checks each ride and checks in with all his employees. Then when the gates open at 10 a.m., he’s there making sure everything goes smoothly. Park duties from lunch rush to maintenance checks keep him hopping until around 9 p.m.
During the park’s May through September open season, Ohki works six 10- or 11-hour days six days a week. And no two days are alike.
“Being here, I get to do a lot of different things,” he said. “It’s not just being a GM and sitting behind a desk. I go out, and there’s a lot of things happening.”
If a motor breaks or a ride is not working, Ohki has to be ready to fix it, or at least diagnose the problem and oversee the work of his staff and contractors. With only four full-time staff members overseeing a crew of seasonal workers, he has to be ready for anything.
“It’s a fun job,” he said. “You become a Jack of all trades. As a general manager, you need to know everything.”
During the offseason, you might think Ohki would get a break, but he doesn’t. He ships off to help out at other Wet’n’Wild water parks around the world. Last year, he was in Australia. This year, he could end up in China.
As challenging as his job is, Ohki said it’s nothing compared to what his wife does as a stay-at-home mom. He marvels at how she keeps up shuttling kids to music, sports and more and leading a young women’s youth group at church.
“This is so much easier,” he said of his job.
Not that much about Ohki’s path to leadership has been easy. A native of Tokyo, he left Japan at 18. He spoke little English when he enrolled at the Brigham Young University Hawaii campus to pursue a degree in international business.
His first roommate was from Micronesia.
“And his English was very difficult to understand, and my English was difficult to understand for him. So I don’t know how we communicated,” Ohki said.
The future water park manager changed his major to accounting, caught on to English quickly and got a job at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii’s top paid attraction, as a tour guide. As graduation neared, Ohki learned a Wet’n’Wild water park was opening.
“I thought maybe that would be fun,” he said.
He graduated, then took a job in customer service and worked his way through the ranks in sales, accounting and operations until he reached the top spot, general manager.
In 2012, he was asked to move to Las Vegas to help plan, build and launch the return of Wet’n’Wild to Southern Nevada.
When he arrived in July that year, the heat stunned him.
“It was so hot. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a water park here,” he said.
The first year the park was open, Ohki and his staff were kept busy.
“What’s new is glue,” he said. “Everyone came out when we first opened.”
Lines were long at first, but Ohki said he and his staff have worked to speed ride operation. They collaborated with slide manufacturers to swap traditional splash pool slide exits for straight runout exits. The runouts are safer, result in a quicker exit because you’re not waiting for a slider to swim to the side, and because swimming isn’t required, they allow access to sliders who are 42 inches or taller versus a splash pool’s 47 inches.
The other added benefit is water conservation. There’s much less water evaporation from a runout than from a splash pool.
“A lot of water parks don’t think of those things,” Ohki said. “But we’ve been in the industry so long, we know what we want.”
Ohki said the best part of his job is “making people happy.”
“And that’s not just the guests but also the employees,” he said, adding that he loves mentoring employees and seeing them be successful.
Part of that success is setting clear standards for every job. Ohki is a stickler for keeping the park clean. He’s been known to crack out a net and clean the Lazy River himself when staffing is short.
“I want to make sure the park is clean and well represented because that doesn’t cost money,” he said. “A lot of other things, capital costs and budgets, you might not get. But we can at least control cleanliness. It’s something we can all do. So we teach our staff that.”
That can be a challenge with young employees.
“Some of these kids have never cleaned their rooms,” Ohki said. “And when you see the inside of their cars … We say, ‘OK, we’ve really got to teach you.’ So, we teach expectation. We show them pictures. This is what it looks like when it’s clean and when it’s not. You really have to teach from the basics.”
He said teaching those basics pays off with seasonal employees who return every summer and move their way up through the ranks.
“We do have great staff,” Ohki said. “We really depend on them.”
The staff depends on Ohki, too. Cathy Lawson, who has been Ohki’s second in command since she moved from Wet’n’Wild Phoenix in January, said he has been a great boss.
“Takuya is an amazing general manager,” she said. “He’s a wonderful person to work for, and he didn’t even pay me to say that. He really is. I love it here.”
Contact View contributing reporter Ginger Meurer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter: @gingermmm.
Wet’n’Wild Las Vegas
Address: 7055 S. Fort Apache Road
Information: Visit wetnwildlasvegas.com.