The Giant Dipper roller coaster, complete with its landmark red and white structure, spectacular view of the Monterey Bay, and speedy successive dips and fan curves, keeps new and old generations coming back for more.
The Giant Dipper is the fourth oldest coaster in the U.S., continuously operating in its original location.
Built by Arthur Looff in 1924, Looff’s love of amusement rides may have been hereditary. In 1911, his father, Charles I.D. Looff, delivered a new merry-go-round with hand-carved horses to the Boardwalk. The family’s ride legacies made history in June of 1987 when both the Giant Dipper and the antique carousel were designated National Historic Landmarks by the U.S. National Park Service.
According to Arthur Looff, he created the Giant Dipper envisioning a giant wooden coaster that would be, in his words, a “combination earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop.”
The thrill ride, with speeds up to 46 MPH, proved to be all that and more. Before the Giant Dipper’s arrival, a visitor’s Boardwalk experience was limited to the L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway’s hills and valleys, tame by more modern standards.
The Giant Dipper was built in just 47 days at a cost of $50,000. Today, labor and materials for merely painting the Giant Dipper are estimated around $300,000! It also now costs a little more to ride the classic coaster compared to May 17, 1924, when the Giant Dipper opened to the public. The fare then was 15 cents; today it’s $7.00 per ride.
One major characteristic that hasn’t changed, however, is the Giant Dipper’s excellent maintenance record. Four full-time Boardwalk mechanics are permanently assigned to maintain and check the ride each operating day. Approximately every two hours while the Giant Dipper is operating, these mechanics walk and inspect the half-mile track; they also work on the trains and replace portions of the structure and track annually. In addition, outside inspectors also check the Giant Dipper, including the use of such high-tech equipment as ultrasound to scan parts of the ride.
The Giant Dipper does look slightly different than in its youth. In 1976 the coaster station received a Victorian-style façade and structural paint job. Two new roller coaster trains, built by Morgan Manufacturing of Scotts Valley, replaced the old ones in 1984. The trains were designed with the sleek-nosed “woodie” look of classic roller coaster cars.
The Giant Dipper also has become a media star. Its familiar red-and-white tracks have been seen in television commercials and videos for Mitsubishi Automobiles, the Ford Motor Company, Levi’s, Coors Light, the National Association of Credit Unions, Sony, U.S. Air, MTV, Yahoo, and many others.
Major motion pictures featuring the Giant Dipper include Jordan Peele’s 2019 blockbuster Us, 2018 Transformer spinoff Bumblebee, vampire cult classic The Lost Boys, Michelle Pfeiffer’s hit Dangerous Minds, and Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact, as well as numerous television productions.
The Giant Dipper’s unique moves and setting have inspired excitement in many people. Legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen often expressed his fond regard for the Dipper. Caen once wrote, “…the great roller coaster arose amid screams above the golden strand of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk … a tooth-loosener, eyeball-popper, and one long shriek.”
More than 66 million riders have shared in those Giant Dipper shrieks since the classic thrill ride first opened. And the coaster star of the West Coast’s only major seaside amusement park stands ready to keep thrilling for many decades ahead.