GCII supplies North America’s newest wooden coaster
Texas Stingray debuts, excites riders at SeaWorld San Antonio
AT: Tim Baldwin
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In a year of dynamic coaster installations, SeaWorld San Antonio was one of the first out of the gate with the debut of Texas Stingray. Bringing the park’s coaster count to six, it is also the park’s first wooden coaster.
The park is marketing the new attraction as Texas’ tallest, longest and fastest wooden roller coaster. Of note, it is also the first project for Great Coasters International, Inc. in the Lone Star State.
“We’re so elated to hear all the wonderful comments from people who have ridden Stingray so far!” said Clair Hain, president, CGII. “We are really very proud of how smooth of a ride experience we are able to create, and part of that comes from the years and years of experience and skill that our trackers have under their belts.”
Part of the smoothness is attributed to GCII’s handiwork with ipe wood, a much harder and denser wood than found on numerous typical coasters. GCII’s construction team confirm that ipe was used extensively on Texas Stingray, notably in all of the pull-outs and turns. Ipe wood is strong and naturally resistant to rot, abrasion and insects. It is five times harder than most woods and nears twice the density.
"The choice to begin using ipe was not just a shot in the dark,” said GCII Project Manager John Snyder. “Many years ago, our company conducted extensive research on every aspect of ipe lumber and how it could be adapted to the track laying process. We experimented not only with different track shapes, but also had to figure out what specialized saws, drills and screws were necessary and what effects heat and moisture would have over time. Great Coasters is very proud to say that we played a large part in popularizing this durable lumber for wooden coaster track."
“Once you take into account how much extra footage is needed to blend it into the rest of the straights, you end up with quite a bit of ipe, which is a great asset for a wooden coaster of this size,” said Hunter Lawrence, engineer and project manager, GCII. “It’s no secret that wooden coasters take a lot of care and attention to maintain, but outfitting the top two plies in ipe will significantly reduce the amount of track stack lumber that needs replaced over the course of the ride’s operating life.”
Byron Surrett, park president for SeaWorld San Antonio, has been with the chain for 44 years, but has just stepped into his role in Texas just as 2020 was beginning. He feels having this sensational new ride is an incredible moment. “This is an exciting ride. Everyone who comes to the park is just thrilled with it. The coaster enthusiasts are loving it. We think we’re going to have a fantastic year.”
Ray Gonzalez, director of loyalty, SeaWorld San Antonio, said, “We wanted to make sure that we catered not only to the thrill seeker but also the families. That’s why the height requirement of 46 inches was so imperative. We had a small child at a recent event that this was his first big coaster — and he rode like 25 times! It’s awesome to see so many smiles come out and people getting right back in line to ride again.
“This coaster is totally different than the rest of our lineup,” said Surrett. “It goes back to the old days of the wooden coasters. It’s really going to surprise people how fast it is and, really, how long it is. It’s high energy.”
Following a 90-degree turn, Texas Stingray delivers a 100-foot, straight first drop, a rarity for GCII. Following the crowd-pleasing dive, the layout swoops through a series of curving drops for which Great Coasters International is known, almost mimicking the undulating fins of a stingray. The second act of the ride is action packed. Curves and dips maintain consistent speed and the layout dives in, around and through itself. A surprise tunnel on the backside elicits cheers as does enthusiastic reaction once on the brake run. Track length is 3,379 feet.
Hain likes the interaction with the park’s rapids ride. “The special touch is definitely the quick zip out and back over Rio Loco. Anytime you have the opportunity to construct a new attraction that interacts with one of the park’s existing rides, it creates a unique draw for both of those attractions. For example, tons of parks have rapids rides, but not many can tell their guests that they might see a wooden coaster flying above their raft!” he said.
Working around the rapids ride didn’t come without its challenges. According to the GCII team, it required some extra attention during both the initial construction scheduling and the on-site construction phase. The ride was broken into 16 different zones that GCII used to systematically plan the construction order. The portion of Stingray that crosses Rio Loco was planned as one of the last to be built to allow the rapids to remain open during the summer and early fall. Construction workers had to cooperate extensively with park operations once the park went to weekend operation, because work by the rapids during the week had to ensure the area was clean and secure before there were rafts of guests floating through the next weekend.
SeaWorld provided input while Texas Stingray was being designed, GCII reps told AT. In collaboration with the park’s requests and what the designers could do, statistics state that there are 16 moments of airtime during the ride.
“GCII worked with Skyline Attractions on this project, and those kinds of specifics really come alive when the centerline is being tweaked and perfected,” said Lawrence. “SeaWorld wanted the tallest, fastest, and longest wooden coaster in Texas, which we delivered, and then the designer’s creativity took it the rest of the way to result in the fabulous layout that you can experience today.”
Bringing the attraction home to SeaWorld’s core message of conservation and preservation, the park partnered with Harte Research Institute. HRI seeks science-driven solutions for Gulf of Mexico problems in order to advance its long-term sustainable use and conservation. The institute was named after conservationist Ed Harte, following his generous donation. It has grown from an idea to a $15 million international research institute supporting six diverse research programs and 135 students, staff and researchers. HRI provided their knowledge to help create the signage in and around Texas Stingray, particularly within the queue. Supporting this partnership, five percent of select Texas Stingray merchandise is donated to HRI.
San Antonio has had very few wooden roller coasters in is history. Until Texas Stingray’s opening on Feb. 29, there were none in operation. That void has now been filled with a dynamic new thriller garnering rave reviews.
“It is always a sad day when another wooden coaster is demolished due to a rough ride experience, and Great Coasters is doing our part to create traditional wooden coasters that people love but with a modern durability that will keep them smooth for an extended period of time,” said Hain.
GCII is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2020.