Shockwave (Drayton Manor)
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.
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,
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
a 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.
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.
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 light.
visitors 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
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
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...
the 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.
the 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.
to 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
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.
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 view.
over 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
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.
the 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.
longer 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.
the 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.
four 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
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.
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.
onto 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
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.
is 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
3/5 John Phillips