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Giant Dipper Roller Coaster Turns 90 Years Old

When you think of Santa Cruz, odds are it’s image is one of the first you’ll conjure. And this weekend, the Grand Old Lady of Santa Cruz will celebrate a milestone birthday.

This Saturday, the Giant Dipper join only a small pantheon of rides in the world by turning 90 years old.

The idyllic location of the ride only amplifies it's sensations. Photo © Kris Rowberry

The idyllic location of the ride only amplifies it’s sensations. Photo © Kris Rowberry

An icon of coaster-dom, the Giant Dipper harks back to a different era – the so-called, “Golden Age” of wooden coasters and parks, where everyone had to build a bigger, faster, more intense ride than their neighbors. And to think it was built for only $50,000 back in 1924…

Now, most people will inevitably say, “Well, if its 90 years old – that wood is all 90, too!” But, that’s simply not the case. The reason wooden coasters seem to last forever, is because they’re constantly being replaced, piece by piece. Odds are, none of the wood on the ride is original to 1924 – but it certainly adds to the mystique.

The unique curved station offers close up views of the trains, just don't high five the passenger's heads! Photo © Kris Rowberry

The unique, curved station was a necessity due to the layout of the ride – and is one of a handful of coasters that is manually braked (via a computer panel). Photo © Kris Rowberry

Around half a mile long, and only 70 feet high – the ride is dwarfed by others these days. In fact, a “lost park” in San Mateo bested the height of this coaster by ten feet, three years earlier. And yet – something about this ride makes it special. What is that “X” factor? Well, isn’t it obvious? Unlike the modern thrills of today (and nothing against them) but this ride has a soul…old in age, but perennially young at heart.

Countless celebrities have ridden the coaster, all with their own unique take on the thrill. Just walking up to the station provides riders with a glimpse back into what made this ride not only a local legend – but an international destination.

The station is a study in history - old articles and fun facts adorn it's curved surfaces. Photo © Kris Rowberry

The station is a study in history – old articles and fun facts adorn it’s curved surfaces. Photo © Kris Rowberry

Featured in many films and countless advertisements, the Giant Dipper is one of only two roller coasters given the honor of National Historic Landmark (The other being the Coney Island Cyclone).

Those who have never ridden are always shocked by the kick thei old girl can dish out – and *SPOILER ALERT* that kick starts well before the lift hill! In turning 90, the ride is not only a survivor, it is also a legend. A defiant vestige of times gone by and never to return.

Timeless doesn't even begin to describe this ride. Photo © Kris Rowberry

Timeless doesn’t even begin to describe this ride. By the way, this photo was taken in 2013. Photo © Kris Rowberry

So how did this ride survive the Great Depression, two World Wars and thousands of minor (and one major) earthquake? It’s the ownership – the Canfield Family, specifically. They’ve owed the Boardwalk since there was a Boardwalk – and nostalgia has been their best souvenir.  I’m glad to be among the ranks that get to enjoy this ride each and every year.

There’s not many things that different generations have enjoyed together. Thankfully, the venerable Giant Dipper is one that will continue to thrill millions, for generations to come.

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One response

  1. CLEMONSTER@aol.com

    It’s wonderful that the Giant Dipper is 90, and still here for all of us to enjoy! Just a note, there are other coasters that are historical landmarks, including Belmont Park’s Giant Dipper, and since all of Kennywood is a historical landmark, so also would be The Jack Rabbit, The Racer and The Thunderbolt. Looking forward to your next show! John / Union City

    May 13, 2014 at 2:52 pm