NCL Free At Sea

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster At Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

By on 05/28/2013

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Giant Dipper roller coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was the very first roller coaster that I ever went on. The year was 1977, I was eight years old, and intense fear is about the only thing I remember about it. However, it ignited a passion for thrill rides that grew as I got older. After 36 years, I finally had the opportunity to return to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and reunite with the ride that was the genesis for me eventually becoming The Coaster Guy, and it was great!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a 100+ year old seaside amusement park located right on the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz, California. They have a wide variety of entertainment for the entire family, including thrill rides, miniature golf, and video game arcades. Their most popular ride is the Giant Dipper roller coaster. It is a wooden roller coaster that was built in 1924 by Arthur Looff, in just 47 days and at a cost of $50,000.

The entrance to the Giant Dipper roller coaster ia located roughly in the middle of the Boardwalk. It has a series of switchbacks in the front of the building:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

It costs $6 per ride if you use individual tickets, or you can ride as many time as you like with an unlimited rides wristband. The switchbacks lead to this very unassuming entrance, where you will either give them your tickets or show them your wristband:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The station was given a Victorian look in 1976 and it still looks good today. Here is the front of the station as seen from a passing gondola overhead:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Once you enter the station, you start to make your way up a ramp. Along the way are various stats about the roller coaster along the wall:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Once you get to the end of the ramp, it cuts back towards the loading area. The path curves alongside the track as it enters the station:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

While waiting in line, you have an excellent view of the trains as they enter the station and curve around to the loading area:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Two Morgan trains were purchased new in 1984, currently painted orange and blue. There are six cars per train, with standard 2×2 seating, allowing 24 riders per dispatch. Here is the orange train after it completed its run and just entered the station:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Once the train is dispatched, it drops right into a tunnel to make its way to the lift hill. This was a very cool element for me because 1) I wasn’t expecting it, 2) it was completely pitch black, and 3) it seemed like you were in the tunnel for awhile going through some dips and turns:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The coaster only stands at 70′ tall with a 65′ first drop. That’s not much by today’s standards, but I bet it was quite exhilarating back in 1924. Here you can see where the track exits the tunnel at the base of the lift hill:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Here is a train on the first drop as seen from the ground:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The track layout is a classic double out and back, with a series of decreasing hills between each turnaround. The entire track is 2,640′ long, reaches speeds up to 46 MPH, and the ride from start to finish lasts about 1:52 minutes. It was the world’s fastest roller coaster from the time it debuted in 1924 up until June 1927:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Here is a train rounding the first turn after the initial drop:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

This is the second turnaround, behind the station:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Once the ride is over, you exit the station through a small corridor located next to the tunnel that the trains drop into during dispatch, as seen in an above photo. On the way out, you can see your on-ride photograph that was taken:

Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Overall, I was very impressed by the Giant Dipper roller coaster. The station was extremely clean, had fresh paint, and looked great. The staff was very friendly and there were interesting facts and figures about the coaster presented both on the walls and on the TV monitor in the queue to keep you entertained.

I was amazed at how smooth the coaster was for its age. I’ve been on coasters less than half the age of the Giant Dipper that were unbearable. It wasn’t smooth as glass, but it wasn’t jarring either. The park is extremely proud of their maintenance record, boasting four full-time mechanics dedicated to just this coaster, and inspecting the entire track after every two hours of operation.

While it’s a great family coaster, and the perfect “first big coaster” for the younger kids, I didn’t find anything truly unique about it. I’m sure that’s because I’ve become spoiled by the wooden behemoth known as Colossus at my local park, Six Flags Magic Mountain. At almost twice the height and length, not to mention 54 years younger, Colossus almost makes the Giant Dipper look like a kiddie coaster. However, it’s still a very fun roller coaster. If you find yourself in the area, stop by and ride it for yourself.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this was the very first roller coaster that I ever went on, so it will always hold a very special place in my heart. If you’ve ever ridden the Giant Dipper, I’d love to hear your take on the ride. Please leave a comment below.


  1. Kieran

    05/28/2013 at 11:53 pm

    That’s awesome! One of my biggest coasters actually was the Giant Dipperat Belmont Park in San Diego. It was built a year after this one.

  2. Kieran

    05/28/2013 at 11:54 pm

    I meant FIRST big coasters when I was a kid.

  3. Jeremy

    05/29/2013 at 12:30 am

    I love the Giant Dipper! I find it to have much more airtime than Colossus, especially in the back seat. It runs fantastic for its age and is definitely in the top 3 wooden coasters in CA (haven’t ridden Gold Striker yet). It fits an awesome niche in Santa Cruz on the Boardwalk!

  4. Eric

    05/29/2013 at 1:37 am

    My last visit to the Boardwalk was in 1999 for an ACE Fall Conference. Imagine ERT on the Giant Dipper! During dinner on the night the conference moved to the Boardwalk, they were giving out various door prizes. A number of them were walk-through tours of the Giant Dipper—its station and the maintenance area under the ride. I don’t know whether it’s still the case today, but at the time of the tour, a giant leather belt was used to transfer power from the motor to drive the lift hill chain. We also got to see all of the tools and parts stored under there in order to keep the ride running. Quite a ride it is.

    There was little mention of Undertow, so I’m guessing that it wasn’t yet open when you were there. It will probably be open really soon.

    Thank you for sharing your visit to a classic seaside boardwalk. While I certainly need to return to Santa Cruz, maybe next time I’m down in San Diego I’ll hit up Belmont Park where California’s other Giant Dipper is.

    • Nicholas Laschkewitsch

      05/30/2013 at 2:18 pm

      I went to the 2009 ACE NorCal Behind the Scenes Tour at SCBB and the giant leather belt still is in use!

  5. Alex

    05/29/2013 at 12:31 pm

    Makes me wish Colossas had the same exceptional service record. They have a dude walk the track early every morning with a socket wretch… That’s about it.

  6. Eric

    05/29/2013 at 5:42 pm

    One thing I wish they would do is to dump the Morgan trains from both Dippers and replace them with Millennium Flyers or Timberliners. Both rides would run much better in my opinion.

    • XYZ

      05/29/2013 at 7:54 pm

      I agree. Millennium Flyers would do so great on the Giant Dipper.

  7. XYZ

    05/29/2013 at 7:53 pm

    Giant Dipper’s station must’ve gotten a renovation recently as the theming in the interior and the new paint was not there last year.

  8. Brendan

    05/29/2013 at 9:56 pm

    I got to ride the Giant Dipper for the first time last December. It’s one of my favorite coasters now! Classic style, runs great and it is still an exciting ride.

  9. Pingback: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Trip Report 25 May 2013 - The Coaster Guy

  10. Nicholas Laschkewitsch

    05/30/2013 at 2:19 pm

    Too bad I was busy on Saturday! Let me know when you come back up again. IT looks like you had a really awesome time. 🙂

    • The Coaster Guy

      05/30/2013 at 10:07 pm

      Sorry we couldn’t make our schedules work for a meet-up. I’ll definitely let you know when I’m headed back up that way.

  11. Roger

    06/02/2013 at 8:26 am

    The tunnel before the lift is great!

  12. Pingback: Giant Dipper Roller Coaster At Belmont Park - The Coaster Guy

  13. Tom Monks

    04/14/2016 at 1:45 am

    It’s funny… I grew up in San Jose in the ’60’s. I never thought that the Giant Dipper was extremely significant… ok, just another coaster. When Great America opened in Santa Clara, that was the ultra modern park with steel rails on their coasters. Such an ignorant child I was as to the magnitude of this coaster 60 years before I was born, and the technology of the day.

    Today, I ‘conned’ my 6 year old daughter Sophia into riding the Giant Dipper as she BARELY make the height cut off. Up to now she was happy on kiddie coasters, etc. We were both a bit scared because I don’t remember riding this coaster in the past (probably because of big lines and big cost per ticket).

    Sophia dragged my along for 7 immediate return trips within an hour. She couldn’t get enough ! The was the holy grail and that kiddie coaster is out the window as far as she is concerned.

    After 7 immediate trips and running back to the start, I needed a break so I bought us some dipping dots and had a rest.

    I need to have Sophia read this article tomorrow (yes she can read it at 6). I will impress upon her the history and how lucky she is to ride it one time, let alone many times WITH NO LINE !

    Of those coming to Santa Cruz and wishing NO LINES, I strongly suggest the ‘minimum days’ where there are usually not so many people off season and the daily pass is $25 (heavy discount). WELL DONE SOPHIA, I AM PROUD OF YOU FOR BRAVELY GOING ON THE MONSTER COASTER 🙂

Leave a Reply

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *