It's a leap of faith onto a curvy, steep, wet chute.

In the amusem­ent park industry, the roller coaster is king. But during the hot summer months, these classic attractions get some tough competition from water slides. In the past 30 years, the world of water slides has exploded. They've transformed from­ simple poolside slopes to intricate attractions that dominate entire parks. According to the World Waterpark Association, there are more than 1,000 water parks in North America, and about 78 million people visited them in the summer of 2006.

Water parks boast slides with dozens of loops, incredible speeds and exhilarating drops. The tallest free-fall water slide on record is the 120-foot (37-meter) "Summit Plummet" in Walt Disney World's Blizzard Beach. If you'd rather ride down on a raft, you can take a plunge on the similarly record-breaking "Insane," an 11-story-tall water slide in Brazil [source: World Waterpark Association]. Whether you're on a mat, a raft or your bare skin, you're at the mercy of gravity as you make your way down -- and sometimes up -- the slippery slope.

A water slide is like a wet roller coaster with no seat and no safety harness, and it uses the same principles a roller coaster does to work. In this article, we'll peek behind the scenes to find out what's involved in operating a water slide, from pumping the water to cleaning it after the ride. We'll also see how the pieces of a wate­r slide fit together and find out what keeps you from flying off into the air as you whip around corners.