By the Way

OWA roller coaster requirements spark online outrage

Rollin' Thunder at The Park at OWA on Media Day, Thursday, July 20, 2017.
Rollin' Thunder at The Park at OWA on Media Day, Thursday, July 20, 2017. lwalck@sunherald.com

The internet is outraged again.

This time it’s over the height and weight restrictions of the roller coaster at the Gulf Coast’s new amusement park, The Park at OWA.

And as is the trend lately, there may be more people outraged over the outrage than people initially outraged. Make sense?

Rollin’ Thunder is the main attraction. It’s compact, steel coaster with three 9-seat cars (three rows of three seats) that run one at a time. Each seat has a pull-down, over-the-shoulder harness that fits close to the chest and legs.

That’s a good thing, because the high-speed coaster has “sudden drops, accelerations, inversions, banking, tilting and corkscrew movement,” according to the park website.

General restrictions were listed on the website last week for all rides: “Due to rider restraint system requirements, guests of certain body proportions may not be able to be accommodated on some of our rides. This may apply, but is not limited to, guests who exceed 6’2” or those who exceed 225 pounds, have a 40” waist line or 52” chest, or females who exceed 200 pounds or wear a size 18 or larger.”

On Monday, OWA posted about the requirements on Facebook, saying that it had “received inquiries today regarding the posted rider safety restrictions” and citing manufacturer requirements.

People seem to have taken issue with two things: 1. Putting a specific number limits on people instead of more vague wording, and 2. Putting different limits on men and women.

Said one Facebook commenter: “I am 6’2”, 260lbs. I have rode every single roller coaster in the Southeast with ZERO issues...and now a park opens a mile from my house and I can’t ride anything there? OWA will not get a dime of my money. Enjoy.”

Of course, at least half of the more than 350 comments are on OWA’s side and think arguing with safety restrictions is ridiculous.

Said another commenter: “People will find any reason to complain. Here’s an idea, if you don’t like it, don’t go! EVERY amusement park/carnival ride has restrictions for its riders.”

I rode the coaster last week, and can attest to the need for security. Because the track isn’t very long, they pack as much speed and twists and turns into it as possible. It is a very quick and disorienting experience, compared to other roller coasters.

I am about average height and weight for American women (5’7, 150 pounds), and there wasn’t much wiggle room in that seat. As I wrote in my review last week, a larger woman in my row had to leave the ride because her harness wouldn’t secure after several tries. (And let me just say, the girls yanking down those harnesses all day were the hardest-working people in the park.)

Several comments asked if OWA’s restrictions are different from other parks’ restrictions. They are not. Most parks have similar numbers in fine print somewhere accessible to guests, usually online. And several commenters pointed out that OWA’s were word-for-word the same as that of Cedar Point in Ohio, one of the highest-rated amusement parks in the country.

Also, as Jack Sparrow says, the requirements are more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. The numbers are an estimation of who would and would not fit. The harnesses are tightest around the knees and chest, so depending on your specific body shape, you may be able to fit in the seat if above those specified limits. I would assume that’s why the weight limits are different based on gender, as many larger women have larger chests that would prevent the harness from securing, while a larger man may not.

But as the cat meme goes, “if I fits, I sits.”

There a couple things OWA could do to improve the situation. When I went on Thursday, there were no signs on Rollin’ Thunder about ride requirements, just an employee with a height stick at the front of the line. More signage would help. Also, at a lot of larger parks such as Disney, a sample seat is available to try out before getting in line. That prevents people from wasting their time.

The park has since removed the specific height and weight limits from its website, changing it to more vague wording.

But ultimately, it is the ride manufacturer and not the park who decide the restrictions. The ride was designed by Italian company Zamperla, and it apparently did not take into account that OWA was surrounded by states with the highest levels of obesity in the country.

As one commenter said, “These are Italian made rides! We are fat Americans!”

Lauren Walck: 228-896-2393, @laurenwalck

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