It was an overcast afternoon and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor was uncharacteristically quiet and ironically drained of water.
The park was in its off-season, and the scene had an abandoned feel with its empty pools and thick layer of fog; but in a small, shack-style building hidden around the corner of a path marked “Captain’s Crew,” echoed something unexpected – the sound of an exceptionally executed Pee-wee Herman impersonation.
The shack is affectionately known by employees as “base,” and the voice inside came from Hurricane Harbor’s operations manager, Roland Miller.
A jack-of-all-trades type, Miller worked his way up from a ride operator to a front gate supervisor at Magic Mountain before becoming the manager of the adjacent water park 21 years ago; his official training for the full-time position was less than formal.
“My boss at the time basically reached into his desk and grabbed these keys, he slid ‘em over to me and said, ‘your first job is to figure out what these go to;’ and ironically, that was the only guidance I ever really had.”
Hurricane Harbor first opened in the summer of 1995 and has since become one of the largest employers of the Santa Clarita Valley. Most of the park’s employees are high school and college students, just as Miller was when he first began what he initially thought would be “just a summer job.”
Prior to starting at Six Flags, Miller studied geography at Moorpark College with plans of going into city planning; but a presentation by two classmates about working for Magic Mountain peaked his interest and inspired him to apply.
“It was just a perfect summer job to go with school,” Miller said. “It was open full time during the summer when school was out, and I could work weekends when I was in school during the week, make some money on the side, and still devote time to school.”
Miller’s plan was to apply to work for the city of Santa Clarita, but when Six Flags offered him a full-time position at the park, he opted instead to “run away with the circus.”
While a career in city planning would have likely been a more financially profitable path, Miller’s job at Hurricane Harbor offered more than just money – it gave him a family.
In his two-plus decades running the park, Miller has become widely known and respected among his employees for his kind spirit, quirky sense of humor and grounded character.
He is regularly seen doing impressions, connecting with other employees, and even feeding the gaggle of “harbor geese” that have made the Santa Clarita water park their home.
After 21 years as Harbor’s “Big Kahuna,” most would place Miller above smaller, more tedious tasks like picking up trash, but he is still spotted several times a day navigating his way through the park, cleaning up the landscape as he roams.
Even as the only full-time, salaried employee in the park, Miller still cross-trains as a lifeguard each season and happily suits up when needed.
These are not generally common practices for someone in a managerial position, but even as the man in charge, Miller still sees himself as part of a team; and he places a great deal of value on his teammates – whom he considers to be more like family.
“I worked on Colossus for two summers, and that was probably one of the tightest groups I ever worked with,” Miller said. “When I came over here, I kind of felt that same feeling I had working on Colossus. I really take a lot of ownership in the people that work here; to me, it’s my work family.”
Miller’s office, located in the back right corner of base, has an entire wall filled with pictures of previous aquatics teams he’s looked after over the years; and he loves to recount their stories to anyone interested in listening, as if he were a proud parent bragging about his kids.
“I literally watch these people grow up,” Miller said. “We have a group going to instructor school this weekend, and there’s four of them; they stay at a hotel and everything, so, I sent them this long-winded note and I said, you know, ‘bear with me, I’m gonna sound like your parent,’ you know, like, rambling on here, ‘dada dada dada, don’t stay out late, don’t do this.”
Miller’s paternal approach is just one of the reasons why so many of his employees choose to come back each season; it’s their home away from home – and they treat it as such.
“Roland creates an enjoyable work environment by encouraging departments to create a family feeling among our employees,” said Elan Heissler, one of the park’s guest relations supervisors.
Over the years, the walls of base have been decorated by employees with everything from silly pictures to inside jokes – someone even attached a miniature basketball hoop to one of the cork boards.
There’s a unique and playfully human feel to it, which is noticeably different from most other work places.
“I like to enforce the rules,” Miller said. “But at the same time, we’re here to get a job done, but why not have a little bit of fun while you’re doing it?”
Since 1997, Miller has captained a crew of well over 300; but he won’t be running Hurricane Harbor forever.
“You know, I’m sure that somebody else could do a far better job, or something, but I just hope that whoever comes in, it’s somebody that has the same passion for the harbor.”