By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Thunderbolt rides again.
For years the biggest attraction at Coney Island was the famous Cyclone -- but it now has company. The Thunderbolt, a steel roller coaster that reaches speeds of up to 55 miles per hour and has four inversions, was introduced to the People's Playground Saturday.
“It was amazing,” said Mike Coleman, one of the coaster’s very first riders. “The vertical and the drop are crazy -- the barrel roll is awesome. It's exhilarating, the whole thing. It's a top-notch roller coaster.”
The ride also got a big endorsement from Erik Knapp, who is better known as Mr. Cyclone.
“It was absolutely amazing -- 55 miles per hour doesn't look that crazy when you are looking at it from the ground, but when you are up there you can feel it all the way,” he said. “That drop is the best part and after that you're just spinning and being taken on this crazy ride.”
Knapp -- who has tattoos on both arms, one of the Cyclone and a new one of the original Thunderbolt -- waited on the boardwalk all night long for a chance to be one of the first riders. He said the new roller coaster compared favorably to the Cyclone, but explained that he wouldn’t be changing his moniker from Mr. Cyclone to Mr. Thunderbolt. After all, he has ridden the Cyclone more than 2,000 times.
Amos Wengler, from Gravesend, was on hand to play his new song, “The Thunderbolt,” on his acoustic guitar that he wrote to mark the occasion. He didn’t ride the new roller coaster, but was on hand to support it anyway. He said it is a sign that local activists, who fought to keep Coney Island from becoming nothing but luxury condos, have won their fight.
“I’ve been living here since the 60s and it’s great to finally see something big like this opening up here,” Wengler said. “For years Coney Island was headed in the wrong direction, but the Zamperla family has done a really great job in seeing its potential and letting it live up to that. We have enough condos in this borough.
“People need a place like this where they can come and have some fun otherwise they’ll just go to Jersey.”
The local politicians on hand for the grand opening, Borough President Eric Adams and State Senator Diane Savino, agreed with Wengler’s sentiments and noted that it is more than just a new roller coaster, but instead a sign that Coney Island is on its way up again.
“This is a fabulous day for Coney Island,” Savino said. “We've all been part of this renaissance of Coney Island over the past 8 years. First with the rezoning and then when Luna Park and the Zamperlas came in it just changed everything.
“The Thunderbolt helps to restore Coney Island as America’s Playground.”
Adams said the arrival of the Thunderbolt will bring more tourists out of midtown Manhattan and into Brooklyn.
“It was years ago that we saw the roller coaster in the background of Woody Allen's ‘Annie Hall’ sliding by in the back. The Thunderbolt shows that Coney Island is back.”
The Thunderbolt has more than 2,000 feet of track which reaches from the Boardwalk to Surf Avenue. It is 115-feet tall at its tallest point, features a 90-degree vertical drop, four inversions including a 100-foot loop, a zero-G roll and a corkscrew. It was built by the Zamperla family from Italy for the cost of roughly $10 million. It will be open all summer and costs $10 to ride.