The Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz beach Boardwalk
If any California roller coaster was ever a classic, it is The Giant Dipper. In the most picturesque location imaginable on the Santa Cruz beach, this woodie’s red and white color scheme and simplistic double out and back layout make it a joy to look at. Built in 1924 for a cost of 50,000 dollars in 47 days, it is one of the ten oldest operating roller coasters in the U.S. It is recognized as a piece of roller coaster history and has become an ACE coaster landmark. It is also a very rare remaining example of the Aurther and Looff’s work manufacturing roller coasters. Despite Giant Dipper’s remarkable age, it is still an excellent roller coaster, and a favorite to many.
As mentioned previously, this coaster is nestled snugly in its spot on the Boardwalk, overlooking the gorgeous coastline. It’s highest point is 70 feet tall, which is of course the top of the lift hill. Although this may sound unimpressive, it is one of the tallest attractions at the Boardwalk, and it certainly looks as if it dominates the skyline of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It’s drop is measured at approximately 65 feet, at the bottom of which the coaster reaches it’s top speed of about 50 mph. The total track length is 2,640 feet, which is navigated by the coaster’s Morgan trains. It has two trains with six cars each that have two rows and seat two across, for a total of 24 riders a train.
When walking down the midway, it is a very hard attraction to miss. A large sign that reads ‘Giant Dipper’ is directly above the ride entrance. Directly below it is an imprint also stating the name, and the year it was built. After entering the line, riders will pass through a quick set of outdoor switchbacks before coming upon a plaque informing them that it is indeed an ACE landmark. Riders then enter the indoor waiting area, where many facts and pictures of the ride can be found. After scanning their wristband, guests are allowed to select their seat, restraints are checked, and the horn blows. Before you know it, you’re underway! The interesting thing about the Giant Dipper’s trains is that one side is entirely enclosed, riders can only enter and exit on one side of the train. Riders enter and exit on the right side of the train.
This is a coaster that does not take its time getting going. As soon as the train is dispatched, it immediately descends into a pitch black tunnel in which it coasts its way through a few turns. This can actually be really thrilling if you are not expecting it, and is a very cool feature. You then emerge from the tunnel onto the lift hill, where riders can enjoy some beautiful views before the train crests the lift hill and descends the first drop. Some gentle floater airtime can be enjoyed here, which is soon contrasted by the first turnaround which is essentially un-banked. The lack of banking provides some very intense and almost painful laterals. After that, a series of airtime hills ensue. Surprise surprise, unlike its cousin at Belmont Park, this Giant Dipper’s airtime hills actually provide… airtime! Although not all of them do, throughout the ride there is sufficient airtime and some enjoyable head choppers can be found within the support structure. We found that these sensations are best enjoyed in the back seat. After some more hills, some more un-banked turnarounds, and total of one minute and 52 seconds spent, it comes screeching into the brake run, with the riders almost always erupting into a round of applause.
This ride defines its respective park, representing the history and quality that they both share. It is a perfect balance between a thrilling and family friendly experience, and makes a great first ‘big’ coaster for the young ones. Its mix of forces such as graceful airtime, and violent laterals make for a great experience for any enthusiast as well. There is no doubt that it’s a classic, but its more than that. Even without the nostalgia that surrounds it for many, it is a great wooden coaster. At 91 years old, it’s smoother than many modern woodies and really only has one or two rough spots. Yes we’re looking at you guys, Roar and GhostRider. If you are at the Boardwalk, you really don’t have an excuse not to ride. It is the parks flagship coaster, and rightfully so. Even with Goldstriker only an hour-drive away, it’s hard not to think of The Giant Dipper when discussing the best Californian woodies. We may love this ride, but what do you think? Make sure to leave your thoughts below.
4 Replies to “Giant Dipper – Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk – Review”
Great article. As a former UCSC Banana Slug, I’m sorry I never tried it but we’ll definitely check the Dipper out next time up there.
Totally agree! Well said!
Great review! I wonder how this coaster compares to the Sea Serpent (or previously known as the Hi-Boy) wooden roller coaster that I grew up riding at Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in Santa Monica /Venice.
Great research, Byron! Next time we’re in Santa Cruz, we’ll take the kids to check it out. Best, Millie