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VALLEY WEEKEND | CENTERPIECE

Dare to Dive

The hoopla has focused on Magic Mountain's Superman coaster. Meanwhile, an odd-looking ride is raising goose bumps.

July 11, 1996|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While engineers continue to debug the much-anticipated and much-delayed Superman roller coaster, Six Flags Magic Mountain has quietly added some sheer terror to its collection of thrill rides.

Dive Devil is not the usual amusement-park fare. There are no aerodynamic cars, no twisting tracks and no lap belts.

This new attraction resembles hell's own swing set. Riders are hooked to thin steel cables that dangle from a towering arch. They are pulled backward and up like children on a swing--but to a dizzying height of 153 feet. The yank of a "rip cord" sets them loose.

The first 50 feet are pure free fall. Then riders swoop into a 60 mph arc. They swing back and forth, making long passes beneath the arch, until they have slowed enough to grab hold of a padded loop.

"That's the most stupid thing I have ever done in my life," said Paulo Breitenvieser Filho, a 19-year-old student from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who recently braved the Dive Devil. "It was really good."

The attraction is designed to accommodate up to three riders, their arms linked together. Breitenvieser chose to fly solo.

"When you are with somebody, there is some security," he said. "But when you are alone, nobody can do nothing for you."

Courage is not the only commitment necessary. Visitors must pay an additional admission. And because Dive Devil accommodates only 24 riders per hour--the park's Batman coaster, by comparison, handles 1,800 in the same period--reservations are required.

With all the hoopla over Superman, touted as the world's first 100-mph coaster, Dive Devil has not been widely advertised. But the smaller and far less technologically advanced ride appears to attract crowds on its own.

Its 173-foot blue steel arch and twin launch towers rise above the landscape at the back corner of the grounds.

"When people walk to this part of the park, they start gathering around and watching," said Palmer Moody, a Magic Mountain spokesman. "By early afternoon, the rest of the day is booked."

On a recent morning, dozens of visitors congregated outside the front gate, screaming and laughing as the day's first riders pulled their rip cords.

"Oh my God," someone yelled. "They're diving."

James Thompson, of San Diego, looked at his kids. "You guys really want to do this?"

They did.

Fourteen-year-old Heather, Matt, 15, and their cousin Tamara Smith, 15, visiting from Shreveport, La., quickly made a reservation. Within minutes, the trio climbed into apron-like harnesses and waddled to a hydraulic platform that lifted them 6 feet above the ground.

There, they were hooked to the arch's cables and left dangling face down. A third cable pulled them back and up, to the top of a launch tower that stood far behind them.

Anticipation is half the scare. On the way up, riders watch as the people below shrink to the size of insects. They see all of the park, then all of the Santa Clarita Valley and then into the San Gabriel Mountains.

"The ride up," Matt shook his head. "That's real slow."

The countdown, however, is mercifully brief. A park attendant calls "3-2-1. Fly!" And the designated rider yanks the fateful orange handle.

"Scary," Heather said. "A total adrenaline rush."

Blood rushes to the head. Wind rushes past the ears.

The plunge is rapid and surprisingly smooth. Riders swoop to within 6 feet of the ground, then swing upward as high as 100 feet above the walkway and shops outside the attraction.

There is another free fall at the end of the first pass. Each additional swing is shorter and slower.

Tamara screamed her way through at least three complete arcs. Back on solid ground, she had little to say as she and her cousins wriggled out of their harnesses.

The next riders were already set to go.

"It looks pretty quick," Matt said. "But it seems like it takes forever."

DETAILS

* WHAT: Dive Devil.

* WHERE: Six Flags Magic Mountain, 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia.

* WHEN: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, through August.

* HOW MUCH: $25 for solo flights, $20 per person for tandem, $15 per person for trios.

* CALL: (805) 255-4111.

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