Lost Coasters of California – Part 3: Tidal Wave

As we discussed in the last article on the Whizzer the Marriott’s Great America parks were bold designs that applied many lessons learned at other regional parks.  Part of this was a plan and specific plots designated for expansion.  In 1977, a year after its opening, the Santa Clara park was the first to receive a major coaster addition, the Tidal Wave.


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It seems we are currently in a golden age of launch coasters.  Another set of launched coaster concepts are announced each year. It’s easy to forget that this concept has now been with us for over 40 years.  Following the success of their looping models both Arrow and Schwarzkopf unveiled launched shuttle coasters.  Arrow’s Launched Loop (which, like the corkscrew, started as a full size prototype in their California plant) consists of two elevated platforms with electric winch launches and a loop in the valley of track between them.  Schwarzkopf utilized a more sophisticated drop-weight system with a 40 ton weight being dropped in a tower under the vertical spike at the end of the ride.  A series of pulleys transfer the energy from the weight dropping to a catch car that launches the train from the station directly into the vertical loop, up a spike, then backward through the loop, through the station, and up another spike before returning to the station.  At 137 ft tall and reaching a top speed of 57 miles per hour the Schwarzkopf shuttle loops were among the tallest and fastest in the world when they premiered.

A television ad for the Tidal Wave played off of the ride’s German origins by casting it as the creation of a mad German scientist. The shuttle loop seen in the ad is White Lightnin’ which opened at Carowinds earlier in 1977.

Including the two Marriott Tidal Waves, only four of these weight drop shuttle loops were opened before Schwarzkopf introduced the more common flywheel launch system.  The Santa Clara Tidal Wave also holds the distinction of being the first Schwarzkopf designs to feature his streamlined loop support structure.  This all in one design moved away from the scaffolding supports introduced on the vertical loop of Magic Mountain’s Revolution. This streamlined loop system became a signature part of Schwarzkopf’s looping coasters. 

King Kobra opened at Kings Dominion 1977 and featured the scaffolding-style loop support originally seen on Magic Mountain’s Revolution. Photo from Dale Brumfield (https://www.dalebrumfield.net/single-post/2014/10/30/part-14-thunderblooper-kings-dominion-s-king-kobra)
Tidal Wave featured a simplified loop support system that was integrated into the track. Photo from Great America Parks(https://www.greatamericaparks.com/great-america-rides/tidal-wave/)

Located in the Yankee Harbor area of the park Tidal Wave was situated in a purpose built “beach” complete with nautical details like a beached boat.  The most distinguished feature was a cutout of waves that ran along the entire launch track.  This cutout was lined with chaser lights that would simulate the movement of waves as the train launched down the track. 

In 1999 now owner Paramount Parks renamed Tidal Wave Greased Lightnin’ and gave the coaster a loose hot rod theme.  This was in direct reference to the 1977 movie Grease, a Paramount property.  The ride was closed in 2002, sold, and stored at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom before becoming a parts donor for it’s Gurnee twin, now renamed Greazed Lightnin’ (with a z), which operated at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom from 2003-2009 after a stint as Viper at Six Flags Over Georgia from 1995-2001.  If you’d like to experience a Schwarzkopf shuttle loop California is home to the only remaining one in America, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Montezooma’s Revenge.  This later flywheel model remains a fan favorite and recently made our California Top 20 list The two weight drop models that opened in 1977 with Tidal Wave have continued thrilling guests.  Golden Loop at South Africa’s Gold Reef City and Katapul at Brazil’s Hopi Hari have been relocated but remain in operation over 40 years after they opened at Carowinds and Kings Dominion respectively.

Montezooma’s Revenge opened in 1978 at Knott’s Berry Farm. It is the only Schwarzkopf shuttle loop that continues to operate in the United States.

Marketed as the world’s tallest thrill ride Tidal Wave proved a popular attraction.  During its time at California’s Great America it reigned supreme as the tallest and fastest coaster in the park.  In fact if Tidal Wave was still at the park it would continue to hold these records.  Unlike it’s Gurnee counterpart which was replaced by the groundbreaking Batman: The Ride, Santa Clara’s Tidal Wave has yet to be replaced by a coaster.  Multiple concrete support columns still stand as a reminder of the groundbreaking coaster that once spanned the heart of Great America.


Next week’s lost coaster was designed to be its park’s signature roller coaster. It fell victim to its own poor design, aging , and the financial limitations of its owners.  Come back next week for the story of Magic Mountain’s Colossus.  

One Reply to “Lost Coasters of California – Part 3: Tidal Wave”

  1. Another great article!

    I miss the Tidal Wave!
    I once rode it 57 times in a row!
    I really wish they would have kept it. I just might have to run down to Knotts to ride Montezooma’s Revenge… though not 57 times in a row again!

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