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Giant Dipper

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This article is about the roller coaster in the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. For the roller coaster at Belmont Park in San Diego, California, see Giant Dipper (Belmont Park).
Giant Dipper
SantaCruz BeachBoardwalk GiantDipperTrack2 DSCN9390.JPG
Track overview from the Skyglider
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Coordinates 36°57′53″N 122°00′55″W / 36.96472°N 122.01528°W / 36.96472; -122.01528Coordinates: 36°57′53″N 122°00′55″W / 36.96472°N 122.01528°W / 36.96472; -122.01528
Status Operating
Opening date May 17, 1924


Designated 1987[1]
Part of Santa Cruz Looff Carousel and Roller Coaster
Reference no. 87000764
General statistics
Type Wood
Manufacturer Arthur Looff
Designer Frank Prior, Frederick Church
Track layout Double Out and Back
Lift/launch system Chain lift hill
Height 70 ft (21 m)
Drop 65 ft (20 m)
Length 2,640 ft (800 m)
Speed 55 mph (89 km/h)
Inversions 0
Duration 1:52
Height restriction 50 in (127 cm)
Trains 2 trains with 6 cars. Riders are arranged 2 across in 2 rows for a total of 24 riders per train.
Giant Dipper at RCDB
Pictures of Giant Dipper at RCDB

The Giant Dipper is a historic wooden roller coaster located at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an amusement park in Santa Cruz, California. It took 47 days to build at a cost of $50,000. It opened on May 17, 1924, and replaced the Thompson's Scenic Railway. With a height of 70 feet (21 m) and a speed of 55 miles per hour (89 km/h), it is one of the most popular wooden roller coasters in the world. As of 2012, over 60 million people have ridden the Giant Dipper since its opening. The ride has received several awards such as being named a National Historic Landmark, a Golden Age Coaster award, and a Coaster Landmark award; it has been ranked annually in Mitch Hawker's Best Wooden roller coaster poll.[2]


The Thompson's Scenic Railway was built on the site of Giant Dipper in 1908 as the longest roller coaster in the United States. In October 1923, manager R.L. Cardiff and Walter Loof began negotiations to build a new ride to replace the Scenic Railway. The price was set at $50,000, $15,000 more than the Scenic Railway. In January 1924, the permit to build the Giant Dipper was granted to Arthur Loof. He wanted to create a ride that had "the thrill of a plunge down a mine shaft, a balloon ascent, a parachute jump, airplane acrobatics, a cyclone, a toboggan ride, and a ship in a storm." The Scenic Railway began to be demolished in January 1924 to make room for the Giant Dipper. It took 5 months to demolish the Scenic Railway and construct the Giant Dipper.[3] The actual construction of the Giant Dipper took 47 days.[4] The ride opened to the public for the first time on May 17, 1924.[5] The ride had a few incidents over the years in which three people have died.[6]

In 1974, the ride received a new coat of paint with Victorian-style architecture around the station.[7] In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Giant Dipper was almost completely untouched. The ride was closed for about a month to be inspected. The park held a benefit for victims of the earthquake.[8][9] In 2002, the ride celebrated its 50 millionth rider.[6] Ten years after the 50 millionth rider, the park celebrated the Giant Dipper's 60 millionth rider on July 27, 2012. The park gave out trivia coasters leading up to the event. The 24 riders that were on the train when it hit 60 million riders received a hoodie among other prizes.[10]

View of Giant Dipper

The Giant Dipper was built by Arthur Looff and designed by Frederick Church. It required 327,000 feet (100,000 m) of lumber, 743,000 nails, and 24,000 bolts to construct. The lumber was provided by Homer T. Maynard Lumber, and the 70 horsepower motor, which is still used today, was provided by Santa Cruz Electric. The concrete was done by T.F. Costello, and the steel work was done by Berger and Carter.[3]


The first death on Giant Dipper occurred four months after it debuted, on September 21. A 15-year-old boy fell from the ride while standing up near the end of the ride. The emergency brake was applied, but the boy fell head first onto the track and was crushed by the roller coaster train. Other fatalities also occurred in 1940 and 1970. Several modifications have been made to the trains as a result.[3]

Ride experience[edit]

After departing from the station, the train immediately enters a tunnel. After going through some drops and turns in the tunnel, the train emerges at the base of the lift hill. Once climbing 70 feet (21 m) to the top, the train drops 65 feet (20 m), reaching a top speed of 55 miles per hour (89 km/h). The train then rises up into a banked turn to the left. Riders then go through two hills next to the lift hill followed by a turnaround that is positioned over the tunnel at the beginning of the ride. The train then travels over three small hills situated next to the lift hill followed by another turnaround. Riders then go through three more small hills and enter the final brake run.[7][11]



The Giant Dipper currently operates with two trains with six cars per train. Riders are arranged two across in two rows for a total of 24 riders per train.[4] The trains were built by Dana Morgan from D.H. Morgan Manufacturing. When the Giant Dipper opened, it ran with three trains, each with ten cars. Over time, the trains have been redesigned several times with changes to the restraint system. However, they are almost unchanged since they opened.[3] The trains have changed colors several times since the ride opened.


Giant Dipper's yellow train

The wooden track is approximately 2,640 feet (800 m) in length, and the height of the lift is approximately 70 feet (21 m).[4] The track is colored red with white supports.[6] When built in 1924, 327,000 feet (100,000 m) of lumber was used. The track is inspected every two hours.[3]


In the early 1970s, the Giant Dipper became the last "classic roller coaster" between Vancouver, British Columbia and San Diego, California.[12] It is only one of three Church rides to still operate. The other two are Dragon Coaster at Playland Park and Giant Dipper at Belmont Park.[5] It is one of the only roller coasters that are still operating from what ACE calls the "golden age of roller coasters."[13] The ride is also one of the oldest roller coasters in the world.[6]


Plaques outside the ride's entrance

Since the Giant Dipper was one of the first roller coasters in existence when it opened, many people were concerned about the safety of the ride. Loof, as well as a local newspaper, insisted it was "virtually impossible" for the cars to leave the track because of the makeup of the trains and track. Although several incidents happened on the ride, none were related to the integrity of the track or trains.[3] Many people call the Giant Dipper the icon and crown jewel of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk[6] as well as one of the nation's most exciting roller coasters.[14] It is considered to be the signature ride of the park.[15]

The Giant Dipper is referred to in the song "Big Dipper", from the 1996 album The Golden Age by David Lowery's band Cracker. The ride also appeared in many television commercials and movies, including The Lost Boys, Sudden Impact, The Sting II, and Dangerous Minds.[3][6]


On February 27, 1987, the United States National Park Service recognized the Giant Dipper as a National Historic Landmark along with the Looff Carousel.[16][17]

It was awarded the American Coaster Enthusiasts Golden Age Coaster award in June 1994. The 1920s is often considered the "golden age of roller coaster construction" so the award recognizes the roller coasters that still remain today.[13][18] It is only one of two roller coasters to receive this designation, the other being the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park.[13] Giant Dipper was also awarded the ACE Coaster Landmark award on May 5, 2007 at the 100th anniversary of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. It won the award for its innovative track design, unusual curved station and for being one of the ten oldest operating coasters in the world and one of only three remaining examples of Frederick Church's work.[19]


Golden Ticket Awards: Top wood Roller Coasters
Year 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Ranking 18[20] 16[21] 18[22] 21[23] 26[24] 29[25] 32[26] 33 (tie)[27] 34[28] 22[29] 23[30] 22[31] 22[32] 28[33] 17[34] 22[35]
Mitch Hawker's Best Roller Coaster Poll: Best Wood-Tracked Roller Coaster[2]
Year 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ a b "Best Steel Roller Coaster Poll 20 year results table". Retrieved January 2015, 2013.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Chandra Beal, Richard Beal (2003). Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Early Years-- Never a Dull Moment. Santa Cruz, California: The Pacific Group. pp. 100–101, 143–147. ISBN 0962997420. 
  4. ^ a b c Marden, Duane. "Giant Dipper  (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Mike Shafer, Scott Rutherford (1998). Roller Coasters. Osceola, Wisconsin: MBI Publishing Company. p. 23. ISBN 0760305064. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Sideman, Roger (June 9, 2009). "Giant Dipper, at 85, still ranks among country's best coasters". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Giant Dipper". Coaster-Net. January 6, 2013. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Riding the Giant Dipper once again". Merced Sun-Star. November 6, 1989. Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  9. ^ Wiley, Walt (November 9, 1989). "Giant Dipper survives the earthquake". Lodi News-Sentinel. Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  10. ^ Fonsegrives, Romain (July 27, 2012). "Giant Dipper, bigger thrills; Boardwalk attraction marks 60 million riders". Santa Cruz Sentinel. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Giant Dipper POV". YouTube. Retrieved February 8, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Giant Dipper One of Few Coasters Left". The Press-Courier. August 14, 1971. Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c "Golden Age Coaster Award winners". American Coaster Enthusiasts. Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  14. ^ Daley, Yvonne (February 24, 2002). "Santa Cruz: Fun in the sun for families and club-goers alike". Boston Globe. 
  15. ^ "Memories endure as Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk turns 100". The Star. June 28, 2007. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  16. ^ "Listing of National Historic Landmarks in California" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Golden Age Coaster Award". American Coaster Enthusiasts. Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Coaster Landmark Award". American Coaster Enthusiasts. Retrieved February 28, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Top 25 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 6B. August 1998. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Top 25 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 6B. August 1999. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  21. ^ "Top 25 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today. August 2000. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Top 25 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 6B. August 2001. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Top 25 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 6B. September 2002. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 10–11B. September 2003. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 14–15B. September 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 3, 2007. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 22–23B. September 2005. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today: 30–31B. September 2006. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today 11 (6.2): 42–43. September 2007. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today 12 (6.2): 42–43. September 2008. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  30. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today 13 (6.2): 38–39. September 2009. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today 14 (6.2): 38–39. September 2010. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today 15 (6.2): 46–47. September 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  33. ^ "Top 50 wood roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today 16 (6.2): 46–47. September 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  34. ^ "2013 Top 50 wood Roller Coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today 17 (6.2): 40–41. September 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 19, 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
World's Fastest Roller Coaster
May 1924–June 1927
Succeeded by