The determination of a 12-year-old knows no bounds, especially when it comes to roller coasters.
Just ask David Ho, a father who rode one 75 times in a row Monday on National Roller Coaster Day with his daughter, Sarah. The father-daughter duo racked up the rides over the course of 4 hours and 45 minutes. After the 75th ride, they were treated with an official ceremony that found Dutch Wonderland employees gifting an official certificate, as well as a coaster car frame panel from a decommissioned coaster car.
Ho says that fellow coaster riders cheered them on and offered warm wishes during the tough middle stretch.
In 2016, the Hos were at Dutch Wonderland waiting in line to ride the Kingdom Coaster when they overheard another park patron talking about someone who had ridden the coaster 15 times in a row.
“Sarah says, 'Oh, we can beat that record.' Ho says, with the now 12-year-old Sarah beside him, beaming. “I'm a parent, thinking about riding a roller coaster 15 times in a row, not really looking forward to it, thinking, 'Uhh...maybe not.' But she insists, so we go ride it 15, 16 times, and I'm exhausted. I'm asking her, can we stop? But she wants to go to 20. So, in 2016, we did that, totally unplanned, no preparation, just did it.”
With each consecutive year, the stakes got higher – 30 rides, 40 rides then 50. Last year, the Hos, who live in the Staten Island area, skipped the trip and trained at home instead.
“We did a Dutch Wonderland Day in our basement,” Ho says. “I got a VR headset and we did a virtual Kingdom Coaster ride. So, she's there with the headset on, I'm kind of rocking her chair back and forth...”
"And I rocked YOUR chair,” Sarah interjects, laughing. “But it wasn't as easy..."
First two seats, fourth car
To account for the time off, father and daughter settled on a crisp 75 trips on the Kingdom Coaster. In the first few years, the pair would have to actually get up, leave the ride and queue up again, eventually ballooning their quest to nearly four hours.
Built in 1992, Kingdom Coaster is a wooden roller coaster that takes roughly 90 seconds to travel 2,200 feet, beginning to end.
In 2019, Ho reached out to the park in advance for the first time, to see if there was a way to lessen the time between rides. This put not just them, but also the entire concept of riding records on the radar of Dutch Wonderland director of marketing Jeffrey Eisenberg.
“I started asking around, to people who have history of the park — and we have tenured team members that have been here for 35 and 39 years, respectively — and nobody had record of this,” Eisenberg says. “And we know that people do their own marathons, but there's been nothing like this here. Not on Kingdom Coaster, not on Joust, certainly not Merlin's Mayhem, because that's new. So, this might be the start of something bigger, I don't know.”
Of course, father and daughter don’t do it for the glory. Their preparations and traditions reflect years of coaster rides — among other things, Ho packs fruit snacks for the pair to share every 10 rides, and a right kneepad for himself, after years of banging it on the last turns of the ride.
“I've found that core body training is really important to survive,” Ho says. “Not so much for Sarah, whose youth protects her. I've been in my 40s through this whole thing, so it takes a little work.”
The pair, shepherded in by Eisenberg at 8 a.m., arrives two hours before the park’s regular opening on Monday to start riding by 8:30. They pick their favorite spot, the first two seats of the fourth car, because “it seems like that is the seat that shakes you the least,” they say. Each year, their commemorative t-shirts get a little more meta, as the photos on the front feature the Hos, smiling and posing in previous incarnations of the t-shirts.
And how does one celebrate nearly five straight hours of roller coaster riding?
“After recovering a little bit, we Skyride ourselves to the other side of the park and get two giant ice cream cones when we're done from the Dole Shack," Ho says. “Vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles.”
Ho says that as long as his daughter wants to come back, they’ll continue notching up the record in the coming years, one ride at a time.
“For me, what we're doing is pretty crazy, but as crazy as this is … you know, Sarah is growing up really fast," Ho says. “I'm going to blink and she'll be grown up, so I want her to have this memory of this crazy thing that she and her dad did on the roller coaster.”