Andrenaline quick fix?

Climb aboard as we put Myrtle Beach thrill rides to the test

For Weekly SurgeJune 27, 2012 

If you are an adrenaline junkie, who says you have to invest thousands of dollars in a hobby and travel to remote locales? You can get a quick fix right here on the Grand Strand. Whether it’s racing around on wheels, flying through the air or slicing through the waves – we have the answer.

But it’s impossible – and downright misleading - for us to recommend a way to get your kicks if we don’t test them out first, right?

So come along as we push ourselves to the limits of Surgesanity to see where our local attractions rank on The Surge-Oh!-Meter, in the first ever Surge Adrenaline Test.

The Surge-Oh!-Meter:

Hiccup = Child’s play

Churner = Gets the blood pumping but no big deal

Tingler = Makes every cell in your body feel alive

Barf Blaster = Pushes the adrenaline levels over the limit and leads to a seizing stomach and total upchuck.

The Test | NASCAR Racing Experience

The Site | Myrtle Beach Speedway, 455 Hospitality Lane, Myrtle Beach; 1-877-RACE-LAP (722-3527),

www.nascarracingexperience.com/myrtlebeach

The Cost | Starts at $70 for a ride-along and $200 to drive

The Experience | Waiting for the training session to start, a man wears one of the driver fire-suits up to his waist, the torso portion dangles like a Cardigan sweater around his waist. He says, “It’s very exciting. You get more adrenaline flowing on the smaller tracks. It’s real speed because you accelerate so quick before you go into the turns and the turns are tight. You’ll see.” The man’s name is Michael Slay, the Manager of Masters Gentleman’s Club and he looks relaxed, very comfortable for someone about to strap himself into a powerful race car and drive 100 mph. You ask, “How many times have you done this?” And Slay answers, “Six.”

It’s easy to see the draw, whether you’re a NASCAR fan or you have a need for speed or you just like to play dress-up. Once you’ve gone through the training session which consists of watching a video and listening to the track trainer give you the run of the rules and the lay of the land – you get to suit-up. You pull on the fire-suit. It fits you like a glove. You put the headphones in your ears which will keep you in constant contact with your spotter (Pit Manager). You pull your helmet over your head. You feel like a superhero.

Joseph Cunningham, Sales Manager for Myrtle Beach Speedway, says, “It’s all really exciting with your helmet on, strapped into one of these ride cars that came straight from the Cup Series.” For those NASCAR-novices out there – Cup Series means, the pros. Currently on site, there’s a Jimmie Johnson car used for ride-alongs which means you ride as a passenger beside a professional driver. Also, there’s a Jeff Gordon car for solo drives but there’s a host of other NASCAR-ready cars.

You climb though the window Bo and Luke Duke-style, the doors are welded shut. A member of the crew adjusts your five-point seat harness. Check! Someone pops on the detachable steering wheel. Check! Your headphones are plugged into the two-way radio that serves as your lifeline to your spotter. Check! And with the signal – you hit the gas.

Shifting out onto the track, you stay high and gun the gas on the straightaway. You ease off the gas and drop low in the turns. You are wearing two layers of clothes in the summer. You don’t feel a thing. No, you’re listening to the loud hum of this powerful beast you’re controlling. During the training session, someone said, “Everyone will want more speed by the second lap.” They were right.

When you started, your hands were white-knuckled on the steering wheel. They relax after a couple of minutes. Even though you’re smashed into the tight-fitting car, you feel free and fast. Another car comes on the course in front on you and your first instinct is to catch it, to pass it, to leave it in your dust. But as you head into the turn, you hear your spotter in your helmet, “Back off the gas…Back off it…You’re not going to catch him.”

The minutes fly by in the extreme thump of a heartbeat. Before you max out the 5000-rpm regulator for the eighth time, your spotter says, “Time to bring it in.” But you don’t want to take a left into pit row. You want to open it up one more time, 10 more times.

The Result | Tingler – When you get out of the car, you think: this is why people pay to do this six times. It’s a true rush. You receive the certificate that states your name and your top speed and it reads, “90 MPH.” And you think – I can go faster.

The Test | Soar + Explore’s Zipline

The Site | Wonderworks at Broadway at the Beach, 1313 Celebrity Circle, Myrtle Beach; 448-SOAR(7627), www.wonderworksonline.com/myrtle-beach/experience/soar-explore

The Cost | $21.50

The Experience | If you’ve ever been in a zipline harness, odds are you’ve never said, “Boy, these harnesses are comfortable!” Because they’re not – they’re one extended wedgie. But once you’re up on the platform, all the discomfort fades. As the attendant tells you to sit down, right before they shove you out onto the line, all you’re thinking about is the water 50 feet beneath you and making it to the other tower standing 1,000 feet across the water.

Then, you’re moving and the blood rushes through your veins and you’re a kid on a swing for the first time. The ride’s only limitations are height and weight – you have to be taller than 54 inches and between 80 and 300 pounds. We ask the ride attendant, Dakota Brainard, if anyone ever cock-a-doodle-doos and chickens out. She says, “Yeah, and it’s usually adults.”

But you won’t chicken out will you? No, you’ll dive out over the waters of Lake Broadway. Spinning on the line with legs swaying, you’ll have a great view. Watching the Beach Rider Jet-Boat twirl beneath your shoes, you let the laws of physics zip you across the divide. And once you’re on the other side, you’re only halfway home, because you turn around and go back – 1,000 feet in a minute and 15 seconds, give or take. You’re moving 25-to-30 mph but it feels faster as you get closer to the towers.

Brainard says the usual response of the riders after they’re done is, “I want to do it again!” And the feeling is euphoric. When Brainard was asked about the most unusual rider she’s had, she says, “We had an 86-year-old woman do it…She said it was on her bucket list.”

The Result | Churner – There are ebbs and flows to the ride. Sometimes, it’s really exciting but there are also times, in between towers, when it’s tranquil. The first time, the adrenaline is pumping out of pores and everything is a blur. But on the second go-around, you can freestyle a little and look for faces in the crowd of people you know.

For those of you who want to test your balance and dexterity there’s also a rope maze tower that looms over the water where you link your harness into a set of guidelines and navigate a series of rope bridges and beam catwalks overlooking the water of Broadway and the Beach.

The Test | Myrtle Beach Adrenaline Adventures – Zipline and Freefall Express

The Site | Myrtle Beach Zipline Adventures, 321 Ninth Ave. N., Myrtle Beach; 839-9477, www.mbziplines.com

The Cost | $25 for Zipline and $25 for Freefall Express

The Experience | If you’ve lived here awhile or if you’re a longtime visitor to the Grand Strand, you can probably remember a time when Ninth Avenue North in Myrtle Beach was crawling with families, teens were cruising the Boulevard, the tourists riding the rides and eating funnel cakes. Those days are gone. The Pavilion is dead, long live Adrenaline Adventures.

If you’ve ziplined before, you know what to expect – a harness stuck up your crack, bunching up your male and female privies. Ride attendant, Brandon Hegi says, “If it’s comfortable, then it’s not on right.” He’s been working there since the attraction opened three months ago and tells you he ziplines about 20 times a day – which should prove that the zip is always worth the discomfort. Hegi tells you the reaction of most people ziplining and freefalling is, “nervous at first, but after, they’re always glad they did it.”

The tower is different from the Soar and Explore Zipline, it’s taller at 60 feet than Soar and Explore’s 50 feet. There’s 600 feet between the towers and Soar and Ezplore’s zip distance is 1,000 feet. And instead of zipping over the water, you zip towards the ocean in your horizon. Soar and Explore also has a zipline that goes both ways, adding up to 2,000 feet of zipping. But the difference in distance is made up for with speed. You can travel up to 40 mph depending on weight and wind.

The speed is immediately felt, as you drop into sitting position and get the nudge that sends you flying down the line, it’s also very obvious that you are skating above the hard earth instead of the water. It increases the sense of fear which increases the adrenaline – there’s no tranquil meditation here, it’s balls-to-the-wall until you brake at the other tower which happens with a bang and a stop.

But it’s not over. Not for you, because ziplining isn’t enough for you. You have to amp it up and go for the freefall as well. So, you head upstairs after they unhook you from the zipline. On your way up, you see a teenage girl coming back down the stairs toward you, shaking her head, tears in her eyes, saying over and over, “No fucking way!”

You push on to the top, to the platform that gives you a great view of the new Boardwalk and the waves calmly rolling onto the beach. The attendant, Troy Hugie, connects your harness to the winch above your head. Leading you to the edge of the platform, 60 feet above the world, the tip of your shoes dangling over the edge, you don’t see the secure line behind your back, so it feels like you’re stepping to your death. Hugie says, “Just look out at the ocean and step off.” You’re taking deep breaths, damn-near hyperventilating and he continues, “Yeah, no one ever listens to that advice, but it does make it easier.”

You back away from the edge and say, “I can’t do it.” Hugie says, “You want me to take off the harness?” And you say, “No, I want you to push me.” He puts a hand on your back and says, “OK, in five. 5…4…” And he pushes, your heart drops into your gut, you glide to the ground, the world is a fuzzy mess but you feel amazing – all from simply taking a step.

The Result | Churner/Tingler – The zipline is a fun ride for kids and adults alike and the speed adds to the excitement but your fear levels never send you near cardiac overload. The freefall is a Tingler that almost reaches Barf Blaster status. Another Adrenaline Adventures employee, Malisa Shepperd, describes the freefall as, “a mind-game, the fall is not bad, it’s that step that your mind has trouble with.” Or as Megan Nunley, a Charleston resident and assistant bank manager, rambled, “I knew what was coming, but I couldn’t, then I tried and I couldn’t. I looked out and I froze and I told everyone I can’t. I had to be pushed and I was like ‘woo!’”

The Test | The Slingshot

The Site | Myrtle Beach Thrill Rides, 12th Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard, Myrtle Beach; 444-8255, www.myrtlebeachthrillrides.com

The Cost | $27 and discounts rates on the second Ride

The Experience | The ride attendant, Donnie Rose, says, “People usually freak-out before they ride. They ask if it’s safe. They check to make sure their harness is tight.” As he straps you in, you ask if it’s safe, you make sure your harness is tight and you freak-out a little bit.

The two-seater pod you’re sitting in pivots back. You’re looking straight up at the sky. There’s the sound of a hydraulic release. Wham, you’re rocketed toward space at a 100 mph. Just as you think you’re going to be blasted out to a crash-landing at sea, the bungees catch and you’re hovering. Maybe you’re there for a half-second – it feels like forever, 300 feet in the air, if you open your eyes, you’re looking out past the hotels, at the tourists, tiny as insects, splashing in the surf.

“Every ride is different,” Rose had said. “Weight considerations, wind, movement, all factor in to your ride outcome.” But all the equations in the world don’t make sense as you toss and turn, flipping over and plunging toward the ground, only to zoom back into the air, over and over. A comment from Rose echoes in your head, “It’s a lot smoother than most rollercoasters.” And it is. You whirl and bounce through the air seamlessly, free of any herky-jerky movements that may snap your spine out of place.

After the ride, as you try to regain your footing, Rose tells you, “The oldest people we’ve had on the ride was a couple celebrating their 35th anniversary, they had to be in their late 60s or early 70s. You have to be 44 inches at the shoulder to ride. The youngest we’ve had was a freakishly tall six-year-old.” As far as the weight considerations, Rose says, “We could lift a Honda Civic.”

The Result | Barf-Blaster – “People usually want to ride over and over again,” Rose says. “We have a lot of return riders.” In its 7th season on the boulevard, you can see the attraction. There is a feeling of intense euphoria that overrides the nausea when it’s all over.

The Test | The Skyscaper

The Site | Myrtle Beach Thrill Rides, 3rd Avenue South and Ocean Boulevard; 444-8244, www.myrtlebeachthrillrides.com

The Cost | $20 and discounts rates on the second ride

The Experience | In order to travel at a speed of 4Gs, you have to move at four times the force of gravity. In other words, it’s really fast – you hear the wind whistle in your ears, your eyes water, your stomach turns and chances are…your lungs push out a throat-ripping scream.

The ride attendant, Glenn Fowble says, “I guess it’s pretty smooth but after you ride, you still feel it.” It looks simple enough, two cars with two seats, each on the ends of a 160-foot propeller. Fowble hits a button and the car moves forward, slowly picking up speed. Fowble’s description is also simple: “You’re going to do five rotations forward, you’ll stop at the top, take in the view which is great, and then you’ll do five rotations counterclockwise. The whole thing takes about two minutes.” Easy-peasy.

Wrong, there’s nothing simple or easy about this ride. By the time you hit the first crest and your speed increases, gravity does all the dirty work. Traveling anywhere between 55 and 60 mph, you tumble and flip and almost flip and whip the opposite way, your weight turning the car over and over as the propeller spins over and over.

You stop at the apex. Legs dangle 16 stories up. Fowble had said, “Rarely does anyone back out but I’ve had to cut the ride short plenty of times.” You can see why. When the ride reverses, it’s the same chaos of motion as before, only you don’t see it coming. Your feet are slung over your head, again and again, propelling toward the earth on your back, spun toward the sky, until you can’t decipher which way is up or when you’ll ever touch the ground again. It is a revolution of screams.

The Result | Barf-Blaster – As long as you can fit into the harness and you’re 52 inches in height, you’re ready to ride. But you have to have a strong stomach. Fowble says, “We’ve only had one person throw up in three years. But most people have to stand up and regroup before they start to walk.” You agree, the whole thing is a beautiful combination of nausea and exhilaration.

The Test | The Skycoaster

The Site | NASCAR Speedpark, 1820 21st Ave. North Ext., Myrtle Beach; 918-8725, www.nascarspeedpark.com

The Cost | $13 without a park wristband / $11 with a park wristband

The Experience | Do you ever dream of flying, floating above the ground, soaring through the sky? This is the next best thing. The demographic for the ride is pretty vast. As long as you’re taller than 42 inches, ages 4 to 80 and don’t have any mental or physical health problems, you’re good to go.

Let’s take it step by step. First, you get harnessed up, complete with what appears to be a full-body, Kevlar vomit apron that holds all your particulars in place. Next, you climb the loading platform which is not unlike a gallows. Ride attendant, Whitney DeCerbo, says, “This is where most of the people chicken out.”

On the gallows/platform, you’re laid flat on your belly as the platform is taken out from under you. You hold your breath, close your eyes, none of it works as you’re hoisted 109 feet in the air. You’re up there, all by yourself, with your thoughts (of death) for the longest three seconds of your life. DeCerbo counts it down, “Three…two…one…fly!”

You reach back and pull your ripcord…Then, the plunge, swinging for what feels like inches above the platform, there’s actually about six feet distance. Ride attendant Roland Crooms says he’s heard enough curses from people on the first plunge to, “Fill a swear jar.”

You swing back and forward again and again, propelled by your weight. With the rigging strapping you in, it’s like a bondage trapeze. DeCerbo told us before the ride that, “The speed of the ride depends on weight and wind speed, the speed of the ride can vary from 25 mph to 75 mph.”

The whole thing lasts about two minutes but it is two exhilarating minutes. DeCerbo says the typical response after the ride is, “That was awesome!” And although it’s a typical response, you’re kind of dumbfounded when the whole thing is over.

The Result | Tingler - This one is not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights. Before the ride, it’s nerve-racking. Palms pour sweat while watching the riders in front of you. But afterwards, your body is humming and all your hair is on end – an amazing rush.

The Test | Banana Boat Rides

The Site | Express Watersports, 4042 U.S. 17 Business, Murrells Inlet; 357-7777, www.expresswatersports.com.

The Cost | $25

The Experience | You may ask, how much adrenaline can you produce on something called a Banana Boat? Captain Bryan Jones is a lifetime resident of the Grand Strand and the owner/operator of the Banana Boats at Express Watersports says, “It’s like white water rafting and bull riding wrapped up in one ride.” He should know, this is his fifth year running these Banana Boats and his 15th year in the water sports business.

You come prepared to get wet in a bathing suit. Jones fits you for a life-jacket and asks you if you want the goggles – you definitely want the goggles. They also offer wetsuits in case you decide to go out in the early spring. Out on the docks, you load on the Banana Boat, which is actually a double-banana that can accommodate six people.

As the boat pulls out onto the water, through the inlet, there are islands with goats grazing. The waters are littered with boats and jet skis, making wake after wake as you pick up speed. The goggles come in handy as the water sprays in your face. Your body lifts off the banana as you bash the crests. You clutch the hand grip with one hand while the other hand whips in the air like you’re riding an ornery porpoise.

The view of the inlet is great, splashing down the alleyways of islands filled with duckweed or soft sand, cruising past the docks jutting off of the Marshwalk on one side and the houses on the other side, blasting beside the jetties where Captain Bryan says, “On a nice day, when the ocean is not so rough, I can take it out to see the dolphins and porpoise and the turtles.” But today, the ocean bashes against the rocks of the jetties and the Banana Boat spins around and rushes back into the Inlet. Captain Bryan says, “That’s what makes us different. We are the longest ride in town at 35 minutes and we go in the Inlet and the ocean so when it’s too rough in the ocean, we don’t have to stop like the others do.”

You don’t stop. You zoom across the water and twist and turn some more. You stop and readjust and then you go some more. You’re tossed around the boat but you don’t go in the drink. But a lot of people do. A lot of people want to – the extremes of the ride are up to the rider. Stewart Harrelson, another captain of the Banana Boats at Express, tells you, “By the time we take the first curve, we know what the ride is going to be like. Whether we are going to throw them off or keep it tame.”

The Result | From a Hiccup to a Tingler, it depends on what the participants are looking for – you can go with your friends and test your limits or you can have a great time with your conservative family on the water. Express also offers parasailing, scuba lessons, jet ski rentals, kayaks and paddle boards. But this ride encompasses climbing on and bouncing around on a giant banana, slung behind a jet ski going 15 to 20 mph while taking in the awesome vistas of the inlet and the ocean – how could you not enjoy telling that story later?

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