Niles: Can SeaWorld’s Pipeline inspire a new wave of coaster innovation?

Can stand-up roller coasters make a comeback?

More than a dozen stand-up roller coasters once ran at theme parks across the United States. But no parks have installed a new model since Six Flags Over Georgia’s Georgia Scorcher in 1999. Six Flags Magic Mountain continues to run its Riddler’s Revenge, but California’s Great America converted its Vortex from stand-up trains to sit-down floorless ones in 2017, renaming the coaster Patriot.

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That was just one of several examples of parks abandoning stand-up train designs over the years. Why? Ultimately it’s just easier — and more comfortable — to accommodate roller coaster riders of varying heights and builds in some form of a seated position. When guests no longer want to ride something, parks are going to follow the market and make changes.

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SeaWorld and coaster manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard are trying to bring back the stand-up, starting in Orlando. Pipeline: The Surf Coaster is a next-generation stand-up coaster, with a unique bouncing seat design intended to address the discomfort that many, most often male, riders felt on the old stand-ups. Can Pipeline create a new wave of popularity for this once common roller coaster design?

I got to ride Pipeline during its media preview last week. If anything, the new restraint design was less comfortable for me than the one on Riddler’s Revenge, as Pipeline’s vest restraint pinched my shoulders. But the springing seats helped turn what would have been pops of airtime into literal jumps. Pipeline’s specs won’t overwhelm anyone — 110 feet tall with a top speed of 60 mph — but the novelty of its airtime experience should put this on many coaster fans’ to-do lists.

SeaWorld is promoting Pipeline as the world’s first surf coaster. I am not your surfing columnist, but I know that most surfers don’t hang ten facing forward on a longboard these days. Yet that’s the form that Pipeline’s face-forward, stand-up positioning evokes.

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Granted, my best attempt at a surfing position has been face down in the water, arms flailing, as I try to climb back up on the board. But I would love to ride a version of Pipeline where riders stood in a more common surfing position — maybe regular on the right side of the train and goofy on the left, so that they rode back to back with the restraints ran down the middle of the “board,” giving everyone a clearer view of the “waves,” i.e. the track, ahead.

With its unique airtime, Pipeline not only rewards its riders but also should reward SeaWorld and Bolliger & Mabillard for revisiting the stand-up design. That it inspired me to imagine new rider configurations is not a knock on Pipeline’s design, but a testament to how one step of innovation in this business ought to lead toward even more.

As fans come back to parks across the country, the industry will need new and innovative attractions to win and keep their business. I hope that Pipeline inspires more parks not just to gives stand-ups another try, but to be open to new takes on other attraction concepts as well.


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