Specific Type: Wooden, Double Out & Back
Along the Pacific, upon the sandy shores of the California coastline, a generation of screams was carried through the salty air as rumbling wooden tracks thrilled millions. It was the golden age of the Golden State's wooden coaster thrills: the 1910s through the end of the Roaring Twenties. The classic boardwalk became a hot spot under the warm West Coast sun, drawing all ages to experience the best of modern wooden coaster technology before any day at the beach would be complete. During those two decades, rides such as the Jack Rabbit Racer at Silver Spray Pier, Cyclone Racer at Long Beach Pier, and Dipper Bobs and Giant Dipper at Venice Pier became the namesake of thrills for the West Coast of the United States. As time went on, many of the once-great wooden coasters were lost to arson and disrepair, but when all was said and done, a lone pair of the great wooden coasters would outlast the rest to become the final remaining rides of their type along the coast: theGiant Dipper coasters at Belmont Park in San Diego and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. And out of those two, only the latter would continuously operate throughout the century as a surviving monument to a time period of an American past time, earning the title of a National Historic Landmark for its sixty-third birthday. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Belmont Park had coincidentally built their rides within two years of each other, with Santa Cruz's ride opening first by a year and several months, but in the end it would be the older of the two rides that would weather out the years ceaselessly to see its mission of thrilling park goers through.
For a coaster that was built in only a month and a half, the Giant Dipper's lifespan would stretch for an unprecedented length into the future after opening day, May 17th, 1924. The Giant Dipper replaced the twenty-three-year-old Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's original wooden coaster, the 1908 L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway. Construction had only consumed fifty-thousand dollars and forty-seven days, but Arthur Looff's craftsmanship would last well through his life and into the future with the help of daily maintenance. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk trusted Looff with the project after satisfaction with his father Charles Looff's Carousel thirteen seasons before. And while the carousel continued to be a family favorite, the Giant Dipper was the new standard for thrills. The double out and back layout was the brainchild of Frank Prior and Fredrick Church, and was based on one of their long-time coaster world legends: the Bobs at Riverview Park near Chicago, which would become defunct in 1967. With 2,640 feet of wooden rails, the Giant Dipper could boast exactly a half-mile of track along with its impressive fifty-five-mile-per-hour speeds and furious layout.
Giant Dipper operated without much change for nearly half a decade. Then, the boardwalk attempted to draw fresh attention to the coaster beginning in 1974 by renaming it Earthquake in reference to Looff's 1920s conception of the coaster as “combination earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop.” Other changes to the coaster were a fresh coat of paint and new Victorian-style architecture around the station. However, the classic Giant Dipper name would be reinstated shortly afterwards. The 1984 season brought more modernization to the decades-old thrill ride as shiny new Morgan-manufactured trains were placed on the tracks. Then, the classic Prior and Church wooden coaster earned the status of a National Historic Landmark along with the Carousel on February 27th, 1987, which drew new attention to the coaster as an important part not only of Santa Cruz history but also the history of the American roller coaster. In 2001, the coaster would once again receive a revamping and fresh coat of paint to help carry it into the new millennium and appear to the latest generation of riders just as it did that first season in 1924.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk guests can purchase a ticket for Giant Dipper at $3.90, some twenty-six times the original 1924 price of fifteen cents. But while prices may have changed, the thrill of strapping into a train ready to take on a wooden track of adventure is still the same. Twenty-four riders at a time slide into their seats in the coaster's unique curved loading station and pull down lap bars, then the yellow train begins its travels on its way from the station, plunging into darkness in a tunnel leading to the lift. Riders emerge from the darkness to find themselves heading skyward in route to the top of the seventy-foot lift hill. A panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean presents itself to the right, the only complete obstruction being the 2005 Double Shot's 125-foot tower. Between the flags adorning the top of the lift, the train crests and then plunges sixty-five feet to speed past the midway to the right at fifty-five miles an hour. The red and brown track begins banking to the left as it ascends into the first fan turnaround, and after the crest, does the same to dive back to the ground. Heading towards the first drop, the layout takes a forty-five-degree rightward turn while climbing to the top of the third hill. Drop number three takes Giant Dipper riders under white lift hill supports then over a gradual hop veering slightly to the left and right before a major climb onto a straightaway into the second turnaround. For the Dipper's second complete turnaround, the ride curves to the right and dives 215 degrees while flying over rooftops and then completing a forty-five-degree climb to get the course on its second 'out' run. The train quickly ducks under a pair of supports then flies over a hop leading under the lift hill. Another hop, then it's time for a smaller and faster version of the first turnaround running along the inside of it, followed up by a quick dip, forty-five-degree right-hand climb, dip, hop, and rise into a covered braking area.
On May 23rd, 2002, the Giant Dipper celebrated its fifty-millionth rider, a milestone of how far the coaster has made it. Through seventy-six years, the Giant Dipper made it into a new millennium with the intention of thrilling generations to come with its classic charm.
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