A-Z Coaster of the Week: Giant Dipper
It’s “G” week here at Coaster101 in our ongoing A-Z Coasters of the Week series! We’re swinging over to the West Coast this week to continue our “Dipper” suite in the series, taking a look at one of the most historic roller coasters in the world, Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California.
A Brief History of Giant Dipper
Opened on May 17, 1924, Giant Dipper is the fifth oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the United States, the oldest roller coaster in California, and one of only three roller coasters from famed designer Frederick Church still operating. It was one of only two coasters to receive the “Golden Age Coaster” award (along with it’s sister ride at Belmont Park in San Diego) from American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), is an ACE Coaster Landmark, and is a National Historic Landmark (along with the Loof Carousel at the Boardwalk).
When built Giant Dipper used ~327,000 feet of lumber, but the ride cost only $50,000 to build (~$700,000 in todays dollars), and was finished in just 47 days. Both pretty remarkable numbers even in 1924! At the time the ride cost 15 cents to ride, while today it’s still a decent deal at 6 bucks. At 92 years old, Giant Dipper is still the signature ride of the Boardwalk, and one of the main reasons the park frequently wins the Golden Ticket award for “Best Seaside Park”. The reason it remains the signature is because even into its 90s, it offers a really, really good ride.
How the Giant Dipper Rides
The ride experience starts with one of my favorite “pre-lifts” of any ride, with the train dropping out of the uniquely curved loading station into a tunnel filled with small drops and twists until eventually emerging onto the lift hill. The train climbs 70 feet with gorgeous views of the Monterey Bay across the beach, then drops 65 feet into a double out and back design. The coaster hits a max speed of 55mph, as riders go through a series of hills on each run, nestled next to or under the structure of the main lift hill and station. The rides ends with a great head chopper going up a slight hill underneath the bottom of one of the earlier hills (it’s weird to see the track you’re on rise while the track above you comes down towards your head).
One of the most remarkable things about the coaster is how relatively smooth it actually is. The ride doesn’t have the original 1924 trains anymore, but uses ones that were custom made by nearby Morgan Manufacturing in 1984, that keep the look of the original ride but no doubt help with the comfort compared to the originals. When it was being designed by Arthur Loof and Fred Church, Loof said he wanted a ride that would be a “combination earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop.” It worked out pretty well, and probably leans more to the plane drop than the Earthquake side of things.
Giant Dipper Trivia
- The Victorian style facade was added to the ride in 1976, along with a fresh pain job
- The Giant Dipper has appeared in numerous movies, TV shows, and commercials, like “Dangerous Minds” and “Sudden Impact”, and ads for everything from Ford Motor Company to Coors Light.
- Over 60 million riders have been on Giant Dipper since it’s opening, a number that will surely keep climbing.
- There’s an employee break area under the big fan turn of the ride, which the Boardwalks Communications Manager Brigid Fuller pointed out to me, is “a pretty loud and interesting place to take your lunch.”
- The Giant Dipper has a sister ride at Belmont Park in San Diego down the California Coast. The San Diego version was opened in 1925, and is one of the other two Church coasters still in operation.
- Famous San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once said of the ride, “…the great roller coaster arose amid screams above the golden strand of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk … a tooth-loosener, eyeball-popper, and one long shriek.”
- There are small metal emblems/charms tacked up on various places on the structure of the ride. Every post has one, and they’re all stamped with the elevation and post number. Posts are all numbered East to West and lettered from North to South, and all the charms are tacked at the same elevation. If a post gets replaced, the charm is removed and attached to the new one. So why does the maintenance team use these? Simple, Fuller explained to me, “They were handy, easy to stamp, and likely we had lots (of the emblems) around. They were from the metal stamper that we had in the…Arcade.”
- Location: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz California
- Type/Category: Wooden Double Out and Back
- Opened: 1924 – still going strong!
- Designer/Manufacturer: Fred Church and Arthur Loof
- Height: 70ft / Drop: 65ft
- Speed: 55mph
- Length: 2,640ft
- Duration: 1:52
If, like me, you’re a huge fan of the Giant Dipper, let us know in the comments below, and share your favorite part of the ride with me. If you want to learn more about it, there’s a huge history page on the Boardwalk website, as well as info on their other historic landmark, the 1911 Loof Carousel. Check back next week for the “H” coaster of the week, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook so you don’t miss any future installments. And if you’ve never been on the Giant Dipper, plan a trip to the West Coast and stop in Santa Cruz while you’re out here.