Manor opened Shockwave as the first stand up roller
coaster inside Europe in 1994.
coaster helped unearth a treasure of a park, family
owned and a labour of love for over fifty years. Since
opening, the Shockwave has enjoyed a prosperous life,
and remains one of the most popular rides in Drayton
It wasn't all
that long ago that most British parks relied solely on off-the-shelf
model coasters. With the exception of the seaside parks, nobody had a
coaster that couldn't be found in an identical form elsewhere.
That was all
to change in 1994. Blackpool Pleasure Beach had been proudly telling
anyone who would listen that they were to build the world's tallest and
fastest coaster, The Pepsi Max Big One. Meanwhile, Alton Towers was
preparing to excavate a large chunk of land, ready for Europe's first
inverted coaster, Nemesis.
This was all
very well, but it meant potential disaster for smaller parks, and
particularly Drayton Manor. Being close to Alton Towers had always meant
that the park had played second fiddle in the mind of the public, and
with their rivals now spending vast fortunes on unique new rides,
something had to be done to show people that Drayton Manor wasn't about
to give in to Tussaud's financial might.
contract was signed with Intamin, the Swiss firm well known for being
able to build practically any type of ride a park could possibly want.
Not only would the park get a new and unique coaster, but also an
Intamin rapids ride, "Splash Canyon". Splash Canyon would open
in 1993, and would be designed in such a way as to allow part of the
coaster to be built directly above it. Very neat. Very Swiss.
But what would
make the coaster marketable? Blackpool had the gimmick of their ride's
sheer size. Alton had the fact that Nemesis would be the first inverter
the UK public would have seen (in fact it's a tribute to the quality of
B&M's rides that we no longer think of an inverted coaster as a
gimmick). Drayton's novelty would be the use of stand-up trains. With
startling unoriginality, the ride was christened Shockwave (or "7up
Shockwave" to be precise - later changed to "Npower
Shockwave"), and Drayton Manor were justifiably proud at the
prospect of taking on the richer, big name parks at their own game.
The idea of
the stand-up coaster was hardly new. Japanese manufacturer Togo had been
building them in the Far East and the USA a decade earlier, but with
little success. Their notoriously rough rides, with their uncomfortable
restraints, had such a bad reputation that riding them would often be
compared to taking part in Japan's most infamous cultural export,
Endurance. As Drayton Manor opened their doors for the 1994 season, they
could only hope that Intamin's version would not be seen in the same
enter Drayton Manor and drive around to the car parks, it can't be
denied that Shockwave looks magnificent. Viewed across the lake, the
lift hill and first drop tower majestically above the tree line, while a
gap in the greenery proudly displays the first inversion, the vertical
loop. In terms of visual impact, the park has played a blinder here, and
it's easy to imagine the inspirational effect this view has on the
hordes of visitors as they stream into the park. In a nice little twist,
the stream of cars will soon find themselves on the other side of the
lake, and heading straight under the final inversion, the corkscrew.
First impressions of the ride really are tremendous.
you go through the gates and head toward the ride, things start to turn
a little odd. Rather than an inviting entrance plaza, you are confronted
with an expanse of wooden fencing, with Splash Canyon's entrance to the
left, and Shockwave's to the right. For first time visitors, neither
entrance is exactly obvious. Stranger still, above you sits probably the
least impressive piece of coaster track in the world - as straight a
Roman road, and as flat as a Dutch snooker table. If first impressions
were outstanding, second impressions are distinctly ... unusual.
One thing you
may well notice is that the ride has a very different look to Intamin's
later coasters, and could easily be mistaken for a B&M ride. Why?
Well, Shockwave predates the firm's adoption of the very fluid track
system used to create rides like Thorpe Park's Colossus and Holiday
Park's Expedition Ge-Force. Back in 1994, Intamin was using track from
Giovanola, who also supplied the track for B&M's rides. In a way,
this is a shame, as having an Intamin rapids and a B&M-looking
coaster does not help the park very much in their quest to prove that
they can provide something completely separate from their illustrious
As with any
roller coaster, if you want to ride, you have to negotiate the queue. I
hate to say it, but the queue for Shockwave is truly abysmal. It starts
with a long outdoor zigzag, marked out by nothing more poles joined by
chains, allowing Tamworth's tearaways every opportunity to queue jump.
Think it can't get any worse? Oh dear, don't be so optimistic...
queue ventures into a wooden building. It's dark, it's very
claustrophobic, and if it's warm day outside, it is unbearably hot
inside. In fact, it's not unknown for the queue to be held outside and
admitted to the building in groups, due to the risk of people passing
out from the heat. Worse still, the queue STILL zigzags along, never
going more than a few feet without turning back on itself. Frankly,
given that Drayton Manor is home to one of the best queue lines around
(Storm Force 10), Shockwave's is ... er ... shocking.
path leads into the large station. The Front row queue is to the left,
the other five rows to the right. The front is always worth trying once,
although as with most coasters that use 4-abreast trains, the best
places to go are the outside "seats" of the back row.
the stand-up cars on Apocalypse, the restraint system is positively
archaic. Rather than the usual "U" shaped overhead restraints,
Shockwave riders must put one arm through a fixed bar, before pulling
down an "L" shaped restraint. Before this, riders must
straddle a highly uncomfortable saddle, pulling the entire heavy
mechanism downward to adjust it to their height.
ten years of the Shockwave, we have the following
features for your enjoyment:
Kingdom celebrates ten years of the Shockwave by
investigating the impact the ride has had on the
park, and how Drayton Manor compared pre-Shockwave
to the Drayton Manor post-Shockwave.
Years of Shockwave
Sheen looks at the history of Shockwave, how the
ride evolved from sketches to reality and the
impact it has had on Drayton Manor.
warning, the restraints lock, invariably leaving some people squatting
too low down, and others with at least one foot dangling in mid-air,
leading to the restraints often being locked and unlocked several times.
As the staff check the individual restraints, they inform everyone that
they MUST have their feet on the floor, and not the myriad of ledges
that the cars have scattered around. Frankly, the cars are in desperate
needed of updating. Across the park, Apocalypse demonstrates that
Intamin have now mastered the art of making stand-up restraints
comfortable, and makes a total mockery of Shockwave's overly-complicated
and highly uncomfortable system.
The lift hill
gives a great view of Staffordshire's countryside (the hills, the
fields, the Sutton Coldfield television transmitter), while riders on
the left side of the train will be able to look over their shoulders and
get a good view of the park and the array of other Intamin rides that
followed in Shockwave's wake. Slowly the train turns downward into the
first drop, consisting of two small straight drops joined by a
180-degree turn. This is a nice start to the ride, helped by the fact
that you are directly over the rapids, leaving riders with a rather odd
the Splash Canyon river, the train pulls up into the large vertical
loop. This is the very loop that looked so stunning as you drove into
the park, but looks can be deceiving, and this loop hides a nasty
surprise in the form a vicious rough spot that causes a bout of
ear-bashing as you begin to turn upwards.
the ride improves greatly at this point. The rest of the loop is great,
particularly during early morning rides when the train seemingly spends
an eternity hanging upside down. Back on terra firma, the train
immediately charges up into the in-line twist, the undoubted highlight
of the ride.
in-line twist is more in the B&M style (a la Dragon Khan) than the
modern Intamin rides (Colossus, Lethal Weapon). After skimming across
the rapids once more, the train rises and spins 360 degrees sideways.
Riders on the ends of each row are in for a treat as they are thrown
through the inversion, limbs flailing as they go. Surprisingly, this
inversion is fairly smooth and highly enjoyable. It's certainly no
surprise that B&M seem to use this element on practically every
multi-looper they ever build.
overlapping the rapids, the train bursts out over the entrance
"plaza", where riders are given a few seconds respite along
the straight, flat track. This section is truly bizarre. If it were at
least bent into a bit of a curve, or a rise and drop, it would be fine,
but it seems quite baffling that the piece of track that runs across the
ride's entrance, and should therefore be the most spectacular section of
the ride, in fact offers as much action and excitement as the first
round of the World Chess Championship.
crossover point of the ride's figure-of-8 design, the track curls to the
left and into a large double corkscrew. Again this is done reasonably
smoothly and is very enjoyable. As with most of the ride, the only
discomfort is caused by the train, which by now seems to be slowly
digesting your clothes.
inversions done and dusted, the train climbs through a long sweeping
turn back to the station, hitting the brakes right under the first
corkscrew. If two trains are in operation, the chances are that the
other train will still be going through the laborious loading process,
so there'll be a wait before you can enjoy the moment when the
restraints are released and you can stand normally again.
I'm going to
split my opinion of Shockwave into three sections. The track, the
trains, and the presentation. The track only has one real bad spot, the
moment of ear-bashing roughness as you enter the loop, other than that
it is more than up to scratch. The only other niggles are the facts that
the first drop is not as thrilling as it really could have been, and
that it is simply too short. With the station so high in the air, the
ride needs to end while there is still enough energy in the train to do
a few nice twists or helices, which seems a shame. Other than that,
there are very few complaints.
As for the
trains, where do I start? The restraints are clumsy, heavy, and
downright horrible affairs, contorting your body into the kind of
posture only ever adopted by the cast of Thunderbirds. Frankly, whoever
came up with the idea that one side of the overhead restraint should be
fixed into place while the rest should really have known better. Worse
still, the ledges and ridges mean that riders could easily trip as they
board or leave the train. Tut tut, Intamin.
the presentation of the ride, I find it odd that a ride that looks so
stunning as you enter the park should shepherd people through one of the
most unpleasant queue lines imaginable. While Nemesis pioneered the art
of letting queue lines drift all around the ride, Shockwave's policy of
shutting people into a dark, dingy, hot wooden building with only one or
two porthole sized windows, is way beyond anything I would consider
acceptable, never mind pleasant.
for the ride has ranged from minimal (at the time of opening) to zero
(now), while the souvenir photo system seems to use a rather cynical
ploy to relieve riders of more money. Want a nice picture to remember
the time you ride Shockwave with your three best friends? Tough. You'll
have to buy one photo depicting the two on the left-hand side of the
train, and one for the two on the right. Never mind the fact that it
would be easy to get all four riders in one shot simply by having a
higher camera position
overall, is a thoroughly respectable coaster let down by a few too many
niggles. The prospect of having to wait in such an uncomfortable
environment would put me off the idea of queuing for the ride, while the
trains can often turn what should be a fun coaster into an uncomfortable
ordeal that only gets worse as the ride goes on. In all honesty, the
ride would be far better off if the trains ditched the stand up idea and
adopted some nice comfy sit down trains, or at least fitted with
stand-up restraints more like those on Apocalypse.
unfortunate is that Shockwave should open in the same year as Nemesis
and The Big One. While the other two succeeded brilliantly in capturing
the public's imagination, Shockwave never really managed to achieve such
nation-wide fame and prestige. Stand in the Shockwave queue and you will
often hear people brag that they've ridden The Big One - a compliment
seldom returned by those in The Big One queue.
So, we can add Shockwave to the list of coasters
that are pretty good, but not spectacularly so. It lacks Nemesis'
ability to create drama, or The Big One's ability to make people feel
(rightly or wrongly) that riding it is some sort of milestone in their
life. Taken for what it is, Shockwave is a decent ride, but it is
difficult to shake off the feeling that it could be revamped into a much
6 February 2004