Thunderbolt roller coaster debuts in Coney Island

Thunderbolt roller coaster debuts in Coney Island

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

The new Thunderbolt roller coaster -- which opened to the public in Coney Island Saturday -- welcomes riders with a plodding 115-foot, 90-degree ascent.

"I screamed all the way up: Why is this going straight up?" rider Pam Harris said.

Then, just when its passengers sort of acclimate to their view into the heavens above, the Thunderbolt levels out for a moment before dropping all those helpless souls aboard, launching them at nearly 60 miles an hour through 2,200 feet of stomach-crushing, eyeball-jostling, loopty-looped fury.

"A lot of pulling and twisting," Erik Knapp said. "Your body feels like it's going one way and the ride wants to go another. The G-force is incredible on this ride."

Knapp calls himself Mr. Cyclone and left his sleeves at home to prove his dedication: On his right bicep, one finds a tattoo of Coney Island's Cyclone roller coaster. On the Thunderbolt's first day open to the public, Knapp's left bicep already bore a permanent tribute to Coney Island's newest ride.

"Actually," he said, "the original Thunderbolt was the first ride my grandfather put me on."

Built in 1925 and torn down in 2000, the original wooden Thunderbolt featured none of the upside-down time riders of its successor must endure.

"Just hypothetically speaking," I said to Knapp, "if one didn't like riding roller coasters, what advice would you give them?"

"Well, don't ride this one," he said. "Because it is intense." 

That wasn't terribly encouraging. When I woke up Saturday morning, I hadn't been on a roller coaster since I was about 11. I had cried for the entirety of that, my first and only ride, and felt like I might react similarly were I to climb aboard the Thunderbolt. But I also couldn't have my coworkers and viewers questioning my manhood or my dedication to the story, so I brought Megan, our roller coaster-fanatic intern, with me for moral support.

"Just keep your eyes closed," Knapp said.

I needed no such encouragement. I didn't open my eyes once. But I did need a beer after disembarking the Thunderbolt, shaky, sweaty and disgruntled. Megan the intern, meanwhile, wanted to ride it again. "Once they're here," Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, "they'll shop, they'll eat, they'll walk the boardwalk and they'll swim in our water."

Adams is banking on the Thunderbolt revitalizing Coney Island, with every face-clenching grimace the coaster welcomes aboard.


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