The Fireball is the smoothest ride on the Boardwalk. Evil, but smooth. Photo by Jim Whitehead.
We sent a reporter to the Boardwalk with a fistful of tickets and orders to ride the top five Boardwalk rides, as determined by the readers of Santa Cruz Weekly in the 2012 Gold Awards ballot. This is her tale.
It’s a 1924 antique wooden roller coaster that my dad can reminisce about, and so could his father and his father’s father. It’s been titled a National Historic Landmark and has been featured in magazines and travel guides. There are 21,000 screws in the Giant Dipper, but they don’t say how many surgeons would need to decompress your spine after your bones fold like hot laundry on the hairpin turns and dips. They seemed to have liked it rough in the twenties, so as long as they stubbornly refuse to change so much as a plank, my teeth crack and we rattle like nuts in a too-large shell, and the velocity rips my hairpins into the face of a girl being filmed for some travel biopic. The picture they took of her mid-dip looks like a demon with a face stretching all the way to Monterey.
My ride partner Jessica wants to live till she’s 100, so she waits this one out. It’s a giant arcade claw game, spinning while swinging back and forth like a pendulum on some kind of frantic upper. It is a place for thrillseekers and punishment freaks, but is probably the smoothest ride on the Boardwalk and is totally worth the $5 ticket price. It would be a good music video too—a dozen people staring around the circle of drooling, frenzied faces with their bare feet swinging through the abyss.
You know, it’s a carousel made in 1911. It goes around in circles and plays Candyland music from the original Ruth & Sohn band organ while we check ourselves out in the cupid framed mirrors and admire the beach, because kids want to pretend they can ride. I choose an ill-tempered, hand-carved black stallion with a jewel-encrusted saddle, and Jessica mounts the blond palfrey behind me. We are fine ladies out for a ride on the white beach with the hot medieval sun at our backs, spurring our steeds onward with flicks of the leather reins, dripping with gems and gold leaf. The stallion has rubies for eyes, and as I wave to the assembled peasantry, Jessica tosses rings into a wooden clown’s mouth as if it were truly no thang. What carousing! I grab two and drop both on the ground.
If you like repetitive rocking motions, the Pirate Ship is money. Sliding around a slick plastic bench with four or five other people pretending that they don’t feel like galley slaves is pretty lovely. The wind isn’t too much, and if you watch the ocean it feels like the real thing. It’s another pendulum ride, but is gentler than the Fireball and you don’t need to pull down any full-body harness or worry that your deep-fried Twinkie will be making another appearance. It’s for people who want to introduce their kids to motion-rides: still full of that weightless feeling when all your organs kind of float, still tame enough for Jessica.
The renovated Haunted Castle is state-of-the-art and well lit. We hop into a four-person train that takes us through three levels of spooky locations like wine cellars while ghouls prance around in alcoves, and thank Zeus that during the remodel all those nasty cobwebs were finally swept down and the flickering lights were replaced. The Haunted Castle works if you’re 8 and haven’t been fed a diet of television and video games. It works on the Amish and kids raised on communes. Otherwise it’s great for teenagers making out and peaceful interludes between the Fireball and the Giant Dipper, where for once you don’t have to be worried about being scared to death.