"Aaaaiiiiieeeee!" a young girl yells as the roller coaster crests a 100-foot peak and hurtles down a steep incline. "Aaaaiiiieeeee!" echoes a man in a nearby car as it rockets around a sharply banked curve at 55 miles per hour.
Shrieks of delight or screams of terror? It depends on your pleasure/pain threshold, but the folks riding the Dania Beach Hurricanethis autumnal day are feeling no pain. The Hurricane is the newest "woodie," the affectionate name for the old-fashioned wooden coasters that first set the hearts of thrillseekers palpitating. Now the wooden structures are nothing more than a quaint memory to most, so why, in this era of loop-de-loop thrill rides, would anyone want to reinvent the wheel?
It's all about "air time" -- the feeling you get when the cars plummet downhill and you strain against your seat bar and belt, involuntarily half-standing in unconscious imitation of a bird, the sensation that you're flying. And you just don't get that type of air time strapped tightly into a modern ride.
"Air time is the great romance of the coaster game," says Kimberly Lynch, a Fort Lauderdale roller coaster maven who's head of the Florida Coaster Club, a couple hundred coaster enthusiasts who wander the world looking for their next adrenaline rush. (Saturday, November 4, is club day at the Hurricane.)
According to Lynch, the new Dania Beach coaster fulfills the gravity-defying promise of woodies: "lots of time when your butt is in the air instead of in your seat."
The Hurricane, only the third woodie in Florida (the Gwazi at Busch Gardens in Tampa and the Starlighter in Panama City Beach are the others), is the brainchild of Jules Ross, former owner of Grand Prix Race-O-Rama, which he sold to California amusement-park chain Boomers! Ross then leased back land for the coaster and hired engineer and woodie specialist George Laibe to design the Hurricane.
Laibe's company, Coaster Works of Tennessee, built the exquisite architectural sculpture of wooden struts and crossbeams, which rises 100 feet above the roadside schlock of Interstate 95. The Hurricane boasts 8 million pounds of concrete, 1 million board feet of wood, and 50,000 nuts and bolts. It was completely hand-built on site: Sections were put together on the ground and raised into place in a scene similar to a New England barn-raising. The L-shape Hurricane now stretches 3200 feet in length and has two trains of five cars each; each train can take as many as 30 people on a screaming sortie that lasts about 105 seconds.
That translates into nearly 30 rides per day for coaster groupie Lynch, who plans to spend her daily lunch hour at the Hurricane. "Why not?" she laughs. "We here in South Florida have waited a long time for a woodie of our own."