By Donald Wittkowski
If shrieks and screams are any way to judge the thrill factor of an amusement ride, then the new Gale Force roller-coaster at Playland’s Castaway Cove is already a blockbuster hit.
Primal, high-pitched screeching filled the air above the Ocean City Boardwalk as riders got their first taste of a towering roller-coaster that is exhilarating one moment and terrifying the next.
“Scary, that’s all I have to say,” 8-year-old Mia Plocinik exclaimed moments after stepping off the coaster Sunday afternoon.
Her father, Chris Plocinik, of Newtown Square, Pa., chuckled at his daughter’s reaction. He loved the ride.
“It was fast,” Plocinik said. “There were a lot of loop-de-loops. It is the best thing they have going now in Ocean City. They absolutely need something like this ride.”
The coaster propels riders through a series of breathtaking twists and turns at a top speed of 64 mph while zooming 125 feet high and plunging earthward at about a 90-degree drop. Riders also flip upside down and travel backwards, adding to the heart-pounding thrills.
“They love it. Everything’s been positive. It’s been the best experience everyone has ever had on a roller-coaster,” said Jon Mahony, a Playland electrical mechanic for the ride.
Jason Benoit, a Playland maintenance worker, said the coaster leaves most riders breathless. “There’s anything from hysterical laughter to shock,” he added.
The eagerly anticipated coaster made its debut Friday evening, just in time for the start of the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff of the bustling summer tourism season at the Jersey Shore.
Gale Force serves as the new centerpiece attraction at Playland’s Castaway Cove, Ocean City’s oldest amusement park. It serves as another example of how Playland, which was founded in 1959, has evolved over the years to ratchet up the excitement level and meet the changing demands of its customers.
“For the first two days, it’s been great,” Brian Hartley, Playland’s vice president, said of the early public reaction to the coaster. “So far, when people get off the ride, the first thing they say is, ‘Oh my God, it’s so fast.’”
At times, the ride gives you the sensation of free-falling, as if you’re plummeting off the side of a cliff. The ground below disappears as the coaster seemingly contorts, zigzags and swerves along the serpentine, blue track that looms above the Boardwalk at 10th Street.
“It was a real adrenalin rush,” said rider Chris Christensen, 35, of Wilmington, Del. “It pushes you forward and then turns you around. But it lands you safely with a smile.”
The ride doesn’t merely start, it “launches” 70 feet into the air at the very beginning. The launch deceives riders into thinking that they will travel forward, but suddenly the coaster shifts into reverse and moves backwards at high speed.
The coaster also hangs upside down, shoots up to 125 feet at its highest point and drops steeply toward the ground. If that’s not enough, there’s also an array of stomach-churning dips, twists and turns during the approximately 50-second ride.
“I think I’m going to puke,” joked 8-year-old James Shephard, who rode the coaster with his sister, Allie, and her friend, Mya Coupe.
Allie Shephard, 11, said she was amazed by the coaster’s speed. Mya Coupe, 12, called the ride “really exhilarating.”
Theresa and Eric Shephard, the parents of James and Allie, chose not to go on the ride, instead watching their children from a decidedly more sedate spot on the ground. The Shephards live in Newtown Square, Pa., and have a vacation home in the Gardens section of Ocean City.
Theresa Shephard, a structural engineer, said she was fascinated by the roller-coaster while it was under construction.
“I watched it go up,” she said. “We were waiting with bated breath for it to open. I think it’s phenomenal. It is a simple design, considering the complexity of the ride.”
Playland’s Castaway Cove is located on the Boardwalk between 10th and 11th streets. Tickets for the Gale Force roller-coaster are $14, although there is a special $10 pass valid for a single ride. Rules and restrictions for the coaster, including a 48-inch minimum height requirement for riders, are listed on a large sign.