Andy founded The Roller Coaster Club of Great Britain in August 1988 with the aim to unite coaster enthusiasts and promote amusement parks as fun, safe places. He has also spent decades encouraging parks and manufacturers to create and install new, exciting and daring rides. Membership has grown to well over 1000 members in around 15 countries and, this year, the RCCGB celebrates its 30th Anniversary.
With the arrival of Wicker Man at Alton Towers Resort in Spring 2018, we caught up with Andy to ask him what it is about wooden coasters that he loves so much, and what he’s most looking forward to about Wicker Man.
What is it about wooden rollercoasters that you love so much?
Well, it’s actually quite hard to explain, but they give you a very different feeling. When compared with a modern steel rollercoaster, there’s just that little bit more ‘shake, rattle and roll’.
In the UK, we haven’t had a new one this century. The public demand just hasn’t been there and I can see why if you’ve only experienced a woodie built decades ago. Modern-day wooden coasters are as thrilling as their steel counterparts because technology has moved on so far. It has taken up to now to convince the UK public that it’s what the landscape needs.
The RCCGB has been lobbying for a wooden rollercoaster in the UK for many years. Why?
Just over 20 years ago I started a campaign called ‘Wood is Good’. At the time, resorts like Alton Towers and many others were adding incredible attractions with ever more inversions, twists and technical wizardry, like Nemesis and Oblivion. I wanted to remind people that there was also another side to the coaster coin. Steel coasters are fantastic, but there really was a gap in the UK for a brand new wooden coaster. Ultimately, Alton Towers were the only ones that were going to be able to do it.
It became a bit of a tradition that at every opportunity we would harass Alton Towers’ management to ‘get some wood’ Over the years we kept on pushing, and eventually I got an e-mail a couple of years ago saying that it was going to happen. I was overjoyed. It’s something completely new for Alton and will be the perfect compliment to the other great rides at the park. And if that wasn’t enough, I knew that the 2018 launch would tie in with RCCGB’s anniversary. It really makes me feel like the past 30 years have all been worthwhile, and it couldn’t be a better way to mark our 30th Anniversary year.
What do you say to people who haven’t experienced a wooden coaster before?
There tends to be a difference in language when talking about different types of rides. If I took a ‘novice’ to Alton Towers I might say “I dare you to ride Nemesis”, because visually it looks scary and I almost have to challenge them to ride. At the end of it they’ll say “Yes! I did it! What’s next?”. With a wooden rollercoaster, it may feel a little more accessible, and there isn’t that initial ‘fear barrier’ to overcome. It’s genuinely fun from start to finish and they’ll want to ride it again and again.
What can you tell us about the team behind Wicker Man, Great Coasters International?
GCI really are the best at what they do. They know how to pack a punch into a ride. They’re particularly great at the little air-time elements they introduce into many of their rides – and I hope we’ll get some of them on Wicker Man. It’s when you get that ‘stomach in your mouth’ feeling, that genuine feeling of weightlessness. With a GCI coaster, you get to the end and instantly want to ride again. That is exactly what I think Wicker Man will do.
What are your top tips for riding a woodie?
Thrill-ride enthusiasts choose very carefully where they sit on a train. Often people want to sit at the front because they can see where they’re going. There you’ll feel more positive G-Force as it’s the first bit of the train that hits the banking, so you’re forced into your seats. If you want more of a whip effect, that extra feeling of airtime, you’ll sit at the back of the train. When it comes to a woodie, the ‘back is where it’s at’.
Are there any safety issues with rides of this nature?
The materials on modern wooden rollercoasters are treated so well. When Wicker Man was announced, people asked me “How could wood and fire together possibly work?!” The materials on modern wooden rollercoasters are so carefully treated. And of course, I explained that the structure itself won’t actually be set on fire! It’s all about the effect it creates for the ride. As everyone will realise when they see the ride in all its glory, you may feel like you’re going through the flames but you won’t be anywhere near them. You’ll feel the impending danger, but you’ll actually be completely safe.