Dating back to the 1940s, the venerable Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California is known for its Old West Ghost Town and classic themed attractions such as the Timber Mountain Log Ride (one of the earliest log flumes) and the Calico Mine Ride. But the park is also home to some wild thrill rides, including a posse of fearsome roller coasters. For the latest addition to its midway, Knott’s embraced its wild side and debuted HangTime. The 150-foot-tall “dive” coaster pays homage to SoCal’s surfing culture and offers features not found on any of the state’s other thrill machines.
With its bright teal color and surfboard-inspired trains, HangTime makes a bold statement in the park’s Boardwalk area. Its designers were able to wedge all 2,200 feet of track into a relatively tight footprint by incorporating a vertical lift hill. Riders had better empty everything—and I mean everything—out of their pockets prior to boarding, because the 90-degree climb will dislodge anything that remains and send it hurtling to the ground.
The ride straight up is disarming, but it’s what happens at the apex of the lift hill that truly makes HangTime unique. The wide-body, 16-passenger trains crest the top, slowly glide forward as they tilt down the other side, and gradually come to a halt. And hang there. And then hang some more.
Thrill seekers will drool over this exclusive peek at Knott’s Berry Farm’s new HangTime coaster.
Stalled out some 150 feet in the air, riders express their apprehension in sometimes, er, colorful fashion. “This sucks!” one adolescent passenger fretfully screamed, to the amusement of the rest of the rattled riders aboard my train. What makes the hold at the top of the hill—the only California coaster to include such a diabolical feature—all the more intimidating is that passengers can’t see what comes next. That’s because the first drop is 96 degrees, and from the vantage point of the stalled train, the track appears to disappear. HangTime is also the only coaster in California to feature a drop greater than 90 degrees.
Combined, the stall and the beyond-vertical drop gives Knott’s additional bragging rights as the home of the state’s only “dive” coaster. After passengers stew for a few anxious moments, they dive down the other side and accelerate to 57 mph. A fair amount of thought went into just how long the train should be held before the dive, according to Jeff Gahagan, the park’s VP of construction and maintenance. Initially, the stall lasted four seconds.
“That just seemed like a weird stop,” he says. After reducing it to two seconds, it felt more like a momentary pause. Bumping it up to seven seconds turned out to be the magic number. “Now you get to the stop, and the anticipation builds. It’s the ideal time.”
Most coasters play on passengers’ innate fears as the train click-clacks up their lift hills. Grinding everything to a halt at the top bumps up already racing pulses, increased respiration rates, and surging adrenaline. Even the most experienced coaster fans (guilty as charged) can’t help but succumb to some knee-knocking nervousness. Mercifully, HangTime finally dives down.
What follows is a blur of five inversions punctuated by some brief pops of out-of-your-seat airtime. (Unlike most coasters that incorporate upside-down elements, HangTime does not include cumbersome over-the-shoulder restraints.) Through it all, the ride remains fairly smooth. Mostly, though, it’s all about the stalled dive.
To help launch HangTime, pro skateboarder Tony Hawk was at Knott’s on the coaster’s opening night. He said the ride experience was like dropping in on a half pipe. Befitting the coaster’s theme, a comparison could be made to surfing as well—with some major differences. “It’s completely safe, and there’s no learning curve,” Gahagan notes. “You get the same exhilaration, but anybody can do it.” Speaking of which, despite the inversions and relatively extreme height and speed, HangTime has a fairly low height requirement of 48 inches.
The coaster looks sharp during the day. But at night, it really glows. A sophisticated lighting package, which includes spots that bathe the columns and track lighting that is designed to chase the trains as they race through the course, makes HangTime quite a spectacle. The park can access a library of programs to change the lights’ colors, including red and green for Knott’s Merry Farm holiday event and deep purple for its Boysenberry Festival.
As we unloaded, one of the teens on my train fist-bumped his buddy and repeated his assessment of HangTime. “That sucked,” he excitedly proclaimed. “But it was the good kind of suck.”