By Carlye Wisel
May 22, 2018
Courtesy of Knott's Berry Farm

There’s a new kind of gravity-defying fun coming to the West Coast.

Hang Time, the new “infinity coaster” at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California boasts much more than the steepest drop in the state. Most of Knott’s thrill rides offer their own terror-inducing caveats, like launch takeoffs or record-setting heights, but this one introduces a new level of fear — one that’s as physical as it is mental.

As the first-ever dive coaster in California, Hang Time’s “beyond-vertical” drop is worth getting anxious for. During the day, it’s a pastel-colored tower of fear; at night it comes alive, taunting park goers with pulsating blue lights. No other coaster in the park — nor the state of California — features its plunging format, which dips inwards for an extreme 96-degree drop. It’s not the negative-g stall loop or 15-story perpendicular ascent that’ll get you. It’s those endless seconds you’ll spend hovering up top, waiting knowingly for what comes next.

The brand new coaster doesn’t have the eye-popping terror of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Xcelerator the Ride, standing so tall on the property’s northern corner that you’ll nearly cause a fender-bender driving past, but Hang Time’s intricate nest of loops and twists make it impossible to see where one begins, where another ends, and which will be scariest of all.

Some will bestow the honor of California’s most frightening coaster elsewhere, but for me, it starts and ends here. Challenging both in mind and body with its 150-foot arch, Hang Time is the only ride of its kind in the Golden State and officially my worst nightmare. Anxious for days on end, I approached the record-setting ride shakily from apprehension or evening chill, possibly both. I’ve been on coasters with similar vertical lifts — Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Universal Studios Florida, whose ascension feels like an elevator ride to one’s own funeral and Mall of America’s smaller-scale SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge, made by the same manufacturers as Hang Time — but something about this towering within the Berry Farm’s laid-back beach boardwalk renders it impossible.

The seating, too, is guttural; upon sending a photo to a friend, she remarked “There’s only a lap bar? And you go upside down?” No over-the-shoulder restraints, no calf guards — fitted like heavyweight championship belts, Hang Time’s ingeniously freaky seats are safe but not intended to emphasize it, keep you secured with only a belt and wide waist harness.

Shoeless, sight-impaired and shivering with fear — I was required to remove both my glasses and Birkenstocks prior to boarding — we curled upwards onto Hang Time’s vertical lift, a sensation that feels like nothing else until you've endured it. Being pulled chest-first into the sky is typically reserved for alien abductions, not pastel-colored surfing-themed attractions, and it triggers your mind in a primal way that something is about to be very, very wrong.

Once hoisted towards the heavens, you’ll be unceremoniously perched atop its 150-foot-high crux and remain there in infinite pause, luxuriating in the fear to come. The six-or-so second suspension at the top feels endless, in the the way a slow driver in a highway's left lane or pokey customer transaction when you’re next in line always tends to fill more time than need be, and then it begins. A free fall not far enough to be incomprehensible, but just enough to let that little jag inwards — a remarkable effect — get you in your gut.

From there, Hang Time becomes a breeze, quite literally. With five inversions and negative-g forces — that’s coaster speak for “you’ll feel suspended in air” — each twist upwards feels smoother and bigger and more full of air than the last, only reinforcing how dead-on its surfing theme really is. When you pull into its end, surrounded by 15 other survivors, you’ll feel overwhelming accomplishment and an urge to brave it all yet again.

Knott’s Berry Farm’s newest thrill may not death-defying in practice, but where others are big and fast, this one takes it slow, stretching out every moment of anticipation for a mental test unlike any other. Whether you’re floating through the air, soaring straight upwards or surveying the vast surroundings, the cascade of effects packed into Hang Time will give you the most multi-faceted thrills California has to offer — if you’re brave enough to take it on, that is.

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