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Thrills, Chills (and spills) on new 70 mph Wonder Woman ride

“Dude! Way to go!”

Don McCoy, Park President of Six Flags’ Discovery Kingdom, had just learned that a visiting reporter from Petaluma was a recent passenger on the park’s brand new Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth ride – not just once, but twice in a row. It certainly says something that the same guy who greenlit the attraction’s recent installation would actually be impressed that any sane adult would willingly experience Lasso of Truth more than once within the same 15 minute period.

“I just rode it myself, a few minutes ago,” McCoy says, gesturing with pride at the glistening new attraction, into which a new crop of nervously giggling recruits is now being loaded. “It’s amazing! But you did it twice? That’s impressive, man. I’ve seen kids go on it over and over - but once is enough for me. For today, anyway.”

The delightfully equilibrium-adjusting attraction officially opened to the public on Saturday, May 28, with a grand ribbon cutting and an appearance by Wonder Woman herself (well, an impressive impersonator, anyway). It’s the latest DC Comics-themed ride in a gradually expanding corner of the park, where Superman and the Joker already have roller coasters bearing their names. The new attraction – versions of which have been in use at other Six Flags parks for the last few years, is essentially a giant swing.

It starts out gently, eventually propelling riders to heights of 24 stories, at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. Lasting about four-minutes from start to finish, Lasso of Truth’s capacity is 40 riders, who sit around a large ring with their legs dangling into space, a surprisingly secure restraint system locking each guest into place as they plummet into the air, the ring gradually rotating so riders can see out across the area in every possible direction.

As if to emphasize the gravity-challenging risks of Lasso of Truth, a quick-acting attendant can now be seen hosing off one of the ride’s shiny plastic seats. Evidently, one of McCoy’s fellow riders experienced a bit of surprise reverse-peristalsis.

Perhaps that’s why the park sells Dramamine in so many of its gift shops.

“Weightlessness affects everybody differently,” McCoy explains.

Among Lasso of Truth’s other first riders was the Bay Area blogger known as Twisted Coaster Girl, whose professional assessment, after completing her own first ride on the thing, was, “It was a lot colder than I thought it would be.”

Talk about ‘thrills and chills.’ For the record, Twisted Coaster Girl also rode Lasso of Truth twice in a row.

“It was so awesome,” she says.

Awesomeness aside, Coaster Girl does make an astute point. Part of the experience is the rapidly shifting temperature change, as riders rise up into the air, where it’s noticeably chiller than it was on the ground. That’s a factor that is emphasized by careening forwards and backwards at 70 mph. All of that is part of the fun of such thrill-ride experiences, says McCoy.

“With some thrill rides, you clench up and close your eyes, and stay that way, scared to death, the whole time,” he says. “But this one actually invites you to open your eyes, stretch out your legs, and look around. The views are amazing and the wind – when this thing gets going the wind is intense.”

Currently the largest regional theme park in the North Bay area, and easily the closest to Petaluma (Six Flags Great America 90 minutes to the south), Discovery Kingdom – still affectionately known to locals by its original name of Marin World-Africa USA – draws thousands of Sonoma County families, scouting troupes, grad night parties and other adrenaline junkies. Though the park does not provide specific statistics, McCoy says that a healthy percentage of the park’s average attendance is from Petaluma.

Says McCoy, “We have a large core market that draws from all over the Bay Area, but a pretty significant amount of them come from Sonoma County, and especially Petaluma and Sonoma, which are technically in closest proximity to the park.”

He adds that a good number of the park’s small army of employees reside in Petaluma as well.

Asked how the Discovery Kingdom – which would seem to already hold as many rollercoasters and pendulums and twisty-turner machines as one could possibly squeeze onto its 135-acre lot – ever found room for Lasso of Truth, McCoy laughs.

“It was quite an exercise,” he allows. “Our Director of Maintenance sat there with the map of the park, and a little scale puzzle piece representing the ride, and he’d just move it around and turn it different ways till he found a space it would fit.”

Asked to explain the appeal of such stomach-churning thrill-rides - and why thousands of people line up every year to experience sensations they spend the rest of their lives avoiding - McCoy grins and shugs.

“Thrills come in all kinds of forms,” he says. “For some of us, it’s a thrill to see a walrus or a penguin up close. For a small kid, the biggest thrill might be getting a hug from Wonder Woman or Bugs Bunny. But for others, it doesn’t really count as a thrill unless you’re being thrown into the air at speeds you’d normally have to be an astronaut to experience.”

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)