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Zip, Climb, and Fall: HarborWalk Adventures offers thrill rides for all

Savannah Chastain
HarborWalk Adventures booth is located at the foot of the west tower beside the rock wall.

Editor’s Note: As part of the “100 days of Summer,” The Log will be exploring Destin and the activities it has to offer during the summer season. This week the featured pastime is HarborWalk Adventures. This feature is the last in the series.

If you’ve been down to the Destin harbor in the past two years, or even driven by it, you will have seen them; the tall zip-line towers that stand at either end of the docks and light up the night sky in a multitude of colors. And if you’ve taken a stroll through the HarborWalk Village you most likely will have also seen the glowing hamster balls, the light-up rock wall and the giant bulls-eye. All of these attractions attest to HarborWalk Adventures, which offers seven different attractions to anyone seeking a good time while visiting the Destin harbor.

 “In 2011 when I opened the Kids Zone, there were no attractions down here,” said owner Christopher Cristiani. “It was a parking lot for all the fishermen.”

Crisitiani moved to Destin in 2004 from Los Angles and said that when he first put the idea to developers to open the Kids Zone he was met with some reluctance.

“I saw a huge demand for some type of family amusement attraction down here,” he said.

The first activities to open were the hamster balls and bungee-trampolines, which Cristiani said garnered a huge response from families after the first season.

“We had moms going to the information booth and saying, ‘Thank you so much for adding a kid zone,’” he said. “Now kids can’t get enough of it, they come back two or three times a day.” 

In 2012, Crisitiani added the Mining Company, a hands-on interactive educational experience at the west end of HarborWalk.

“The kids buy a bag of mining ‘rough,’ then depending on which bag they buy, as they begin sifting they can identify fossils, sea-shells, gemstones and arrowheads,” said Cristiani. “The bags come with a card so you can find out where the items come from, and what they are made out of.”

In July 2013, Cristiani opened the largest of his attractions, the zip-line, free-fall and rock wall adventure.

“There is no other zip lining system in the world that has anything newer than this,” said Cristiani detailing the harnesses, the braking system and the view. “Zip-lining operators from across the country fly in to see how this tower operates.”

Cristiani told The Log that his zip line uses parasail harnesses with a dual lanyard, which not only make the ride safer, but also more comfortable for the rider.

“I’m all about safety, so everything we do in our zip line is redundant, there’s always a back-up,” he said. “In our system it is much more comfortable because the rider does not spin to the side, but can sit comfortably and choose where they are looking.”  

The ride itself is 1,000 feet round trip and takes you from the 65-foot tower on the west side to the 100-foot tower on the east end of the harbor — and of course back again.

“Of course it’s round trip, you wouldn’t go to the moon and then not come back,” joked Cristiani.

For the bravest of heart there is also the 100-foot free fall jump down to the large colorful bulls-eye target below.

“The power-fan freefall was first used in the movie industry about 20 years ago,” said Cristiani. “We are one of the few commercial places in the country that has the 100-foot version.”

Made from the same material as bullet-proof vests, Crisitani ensured that the free-fall is much safer than bungee cords.

“It’s super, super strong,” he said. “Where in bungee jumping you need an inflatable beneath the jumper, in case the cord breaks, in our free-fall when you jump you free-fall for about 80 feet and then for the last 20 feet you have a controlled decent which allows you to slowly touch down directly on top of the bulls-eye.”

What makes the HarborWalk Adventure activities stand out the most however is the multicolored light-shows that are incorporated into the zip line towers, the rock wall and the hamster balls.

“We program the towers with a light show for every event on the calendar; it lights up in Mardi Gras colors for Tuesdays and red, white and blue for Thursday nights,” said Cristiani. “I designed the whole light show and it can do 36 million colors.”

Before launching the adventure business, Cristiani was a computer programmer, designing in the electronics and gaming industry. Today, he uses that knowledge to bring one-of-a-kind interactive lighting to his attractions.

“It’s the only interactive climbing wall in the world, and at 40 feet, it’s the worlds tallest graphic equalizer,” said Cristiani.

The climbing wall features three games that use light-up hand-holds to engage climbers. The follow-the-leader game lights up the pathway that the climber must use to reach the top. The red-light green-light game gives climbers the chance to climb when the handles are green, and pause when red; ending when the first climber reaches the top. And the ride the rising tide game shows a wave of colors slowly rising to the top of the wall and climbers must stay ahead of the wave in order to win the game.

“When I thought about it, it was all in my head, but to see it come to reality that has just been an incredible experience for me,” Cristiani said. “It is absolutely amazing; I pinch myself every time I go down there.”

HarborWalk Adventures is located at 72 Harbor Blvd., in the heart of the HarborWalk Village. For more information call 543-4291 or visit www.facebook.com/HarborWalkAdventures.