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July 15, 2011

Thrill seekers' habitat

The countdown goes on many times a day, once riders are pulled on a cable 109 feet to the top of the newly reopened Skycoaster, an A-frame tower at NASCAR SpeedPark in Myrtle Beach.

The countdown goes on many times a day, once riders are pulled on a cable 109 feet to the top of the newly reopened Skycoaster, an A-frame tower at NASCAR SpeedPark in Myrtle Beach.

"3, 2, 1 - Fly!"

Bryan Thomas, operations manager at the park, explained the simple routine: "You pull the ripcord and you're off."

He said this thrill ride differs from other bungee attractions in that the riders "have at least three seconds of free fall" before a pendulum swinging motion takes effect to steady their descent.

Thrill seekers have a number of area playgrounds in the form of amusement and theme parks to choose from.

Summertime brings throngs out to Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Broadway at the Beach's Pavilion Nostalgia Park in Myrtle Beach, and the Ocean Drive Pavilion and Slick Track Family amusement parks occupy the hubs of North Myrtle Beach and Garden City Beach, respectively.

Newer, longer, taller attractions such as the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel and the Sling Shot and SkyScraper also have added to Myrtle Beach's downtown allure.

Thomas said individuals ages 6-7 up to folks in their 50s and 60s, especially boys and girls ages 12-16, have kept the Skycoaster busy.

Seeing the masses of youngsters line up surprised him, especially with the ride's height and speed.

"They're fearless," Thomas said. "They hop right on there."

At NASCAR SpeedPark, owned by PARC Management of Jacksonville, Fla., along with Pavilion Nostalgia Park, Thomas said the Skycoaster had been used by previous owners.

Officials began work in February on bringing the ride back on line, a project that paid off on June 28.

He called it "the tallest, fastest thing we have here," and added that there are plans to add lights to the Skycoaster to turn on at night.

As many as three people, each at least 42 inches tall, can ride the Skycoaster at once.

"It's nice to see the families go," Thomas said. "A mom and dad with a little kid."

After running a report on Skycoaster usage from last week, Thomas noticed that few solo flights take place.

He figures a popular scenario emerges; people say, "I'm not going to ride it unless you ride with me."

Thomas said attendance at the park, open almost daily year round, has stayed pretty steady so far this summer, a busy season that stretches from after spring break "all the way through Thanksgiving weekend."

Black Friday and the week between Christmas and New Year's also turn the turnstiles, often with patrons who come back for fewer crowds than they encountered during the summer.

A new batting cage attraction at the park gives guests the opportunity to step up to the plate and take a swing at the game.

The two cages offer slow- and fast-pitch softball or baseball. Guests can hit the softball-style pitches with four different options, 30, 40, 50 or 60 miles per hour and baseball-style pitches at 40, 50, 60 or 70 miles per hour. Bats and helmets are provided with purchase, and close-toed shoes are required.

"The new batting cages add another great family attraction to NASCAR SpeedPark in Myrtle Beach, and we're excited that this is now open for our guests to enjoy," said Bryan Thomas, operations manager at NASCAR SpeedPark.

Thrill rides

Sharon Simmons, manager of Myrtle Beach Thrill Rides, which includes The SkyScraper and The Sling Shot, pointed across Ocean Boulevard to the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel and new city boardwalk for perking that whole scene up.

"The SkyWheel has really helped in bringing families back down to the boulevard," she said. "In our particular area, now we have extra children's rides. On both ends of the boulevard, that helps a lot."

Simmons finds "seeing people return to this area to enjoy clean, fun entertainment for the entire family" as refreshing.

The Sling Shot, which she said has been in use for six years and requires riders a minimum height of 44 inches at the shoulder for a ride that reaches 300 feet into the air, fetches people from the teens to the mid-20s, but that's not limited.

"I ride it every day, and I'm 47," Simmons said.

She also credited the city and Oceanfront Merchants Association for its "Hot Summer Nights" events and concerts for spicing up life in downtown Myrtle Beach.

Simmons sees the variety of activities, "from air brushing to thrill rides," as a collective effort to offer a night of family entertainment, with one other key element that stands by itself.

"The beach is always an attraction," she said, "and there's always a breeze."

O.D. in NMB

Mark Lazarus said this marks his second full summer - from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day - with the Ocean Drive Pavilion at the Horseshoe of North Myrtle Beach, by the site of the former Grand Prix amusement park that closed more than three decades ago.

Since the O.D.'s inaugural run for all of August 2009, Lazarus, who lists 35 years of experience in the amusement park industry - including his ownership of Wild Water & Wheels in Surfside Beach - said the park has helped bring "a lot of energy" downtown.

For Lazarus, a merry-go-round and Ferris wheel make an amusement park complete, and having plenty of cotton candy and popcorn make up other vital elements, because worrying about calories might not matter for vacationers or local residents out for a couple of hours.

Since last summer, Lazarus has delayed the nightly opening of the O.D. an hour until 5 p.m., mainly because the summertime heat and the draw of the beach takes over the daytime.

"It's more of a nighttime activity," he said, stressing the opportunity for people "to spend some family time."

The O.D. also won't get too grand in size, but will rather stay a small, neighborhood park.

"A lot of people have big amusement parks near their hometowns," Lazarus said. "Here we have the beach, and we're not trying to compete against the beach."

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