Members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts snap photos of the Giant Dipper from a backstage area Thursday at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk as the train barrels down the first drop. (Photos by Erik Chalhoub/Register-Pajaronian)
SANTA CRUZ — They may be sleep-deprived and a little rattled from riding roller coasters for a week straight, but members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts wouldn't have it any other way.
More than 400 coaster enthusiasts from around the country visited the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Thursday for CoasterCon XXXVII, day five of the week-long event.
The annual event is held each June at different amusement parks around the country. This year, CoasterCon visited parks in Northern California, beginning at California's Great America on June 15, and included stops at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and the Boardwalk, ending at Gilroy Gardens on Friday.
Boardwalk spokesman Kris Reyes said ACE members appreciate the park's history.
"We're thrilled to have all of these folks from all over the country," he said. "It's an honor to have them."
During the visit, the group had a chance to take a tour of the Giant Dipper's motor room, as well as a walk underneath the roller coaster's fan turn, the sweeping first turn after the main drop. The coaster turned 90 years old this year.
In addition, ACE members enjoyed exclusive ride time both before and after regular park hours. A sandcastle contest, dinner in the Cocoanut Grove, a silent auction, and a special presentation by the Boardwalk rounded out the day.
The silent auction items included two large links from the Giant Dipper’s lift chain, a Giant Dipper wheel, a wooden Giant Dipper ticket sign from the 1980s, two Giant Dipper event signs, the last bolt removed from the Hurricane roller coaster before it was shipped to Western Playland in 2012, and a “Captain Jack” pirate costume from the opening of the Pirate Ship in 1984.
ACE member Ben Haber, from Pittsburgh, Pa., visited the Boardwalk for the first time in six years, and said he enjoyed all the coasters that made up CoasterCon.
"It's wonderful," he said. "Each park has its signature new coaster we want to try out."
Making the trip even better was the warm weather and clear skies, a sight he said is rare in Pittsburgh.
"It's a beautiful day," Haber said. "We're not used to blue sky."
Castaic resident Kurt Dahlin, who runs the enthusiast website TheCoasterGuy.com, attended a CoasterCon event for the first time. Dahlin said he knew he would have a great time at the event, but even so, he didn't know how much he would enjoy it.
"It's way more than I expected," Dahlin said. "The parks have pulled out all the stops."
Taylor Evans of San Jose agreed.
"CoasterCon exceeded my expectations," he said. "The things I have seen and experienced has blown my mind."
Each park visit included behind-the-scenes tours, exclusive ride time and more, most days going from early in the morning to midnight.
As a result, many of the group members were fighting off fatigue. That included San Jose resident Robert Ingle, who said that although he was tired, the experience was well worth it.
"It's a fun event," he said. "It's the best coaster event of the year."
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