Chasing the storm at the Gold Reef City

Practicing core ass-kicking!  Kick their asses in every angle.

The imploration (in a mixture of Zulu and English) emblazoned onto a fellow member of the Fourth Estate’s T-shirt could well have been directed at Jozi’s notable amusement location, Gold Reef City Theme Park’s newest thrill ride, the Storm Chaser – that, ahead of the public’s very first experiencing of the fairground addition’s adrenalin wiles!

The exclusive media invite read:  Imagine the rush of land and sky meshing into one as you fly head over heels through the dual swinging and spinning motions?  The twists and turns will put even the most seasoned thrill seekers to the test, and with an undisputed fear factor of 9/10, you’ll truly earn your badge of bravery!  A rider read in red letterings: please be advised that no persons under 1.3m tall, will be permitted on.

The mere tone of the invitation’s pitch causing my frail heart to skip a beat, I nonetheless decide to honour the invite, after all, with two Soweto Towers bungee jumping certificates, in addition to an equal number of such as evidence of having executed 68 metre reverse freefalls at 180 kilometres per hour in under three seconds alongside the scenic Panorama Falls’ Graskop Cable Gorge Swing, I had by now inculcated a spirit of bravado into my DNA!  No yet another unknown venture was going to impede a personal resume which reads fairly decent for one’s age. 

Thus on a Johannesburg Saturday morning with the weather’s prism seemingly adopting the cue of the host venue’s payoff promise of, Pure Jozi, Pure Gold, I showed up at the fairground’s designated entrance to be duly registered, strapped with the all-important wristband and handed a paper bag containing a high definition camera, a raincoat and an umbrella!  Promising start, I mouth under my tad nervous breath – they always numb you before the torture, I reckoned, knowingly!

After a short walk and a left turn from the entrance, I soon found my person being ushered into the section of the park where the new ride was situated. 

Officials and visitors milling around, the handsome, friendly and smiling face of one of the officials, Mpho Khumalo ushered me past a picket fence entrance and a very observant security detail whose prying eyes made certain that any person passing through had the requisite armband on. 

But not before an unavoidable noticeboard to my left caught a corner of my eye’s attention, and inscribed: New Thrill Ride Storm Chaser – this ride will open at 13h00 to the public. Spoilt brats members of the Fourth Estate be, our exclusive corner within the amusement park caused some members of the general public passing-by to repeatedly pause and observe on-goings enviously!

That sorted, my legs carried me to a snacks and drinks station where a hot beverage machine of my namesake brand, Jacob’s, awaited in its appealing appearance. 

Opting to forego its offering, I instead beat a path to the also friendly and smiling person of the theme park’s senior Sous Chef, Tebogo Mathabela.  She and her team were already at their stations with a breakfast of vegetarian and meat cones, sausage plates of chicken and cheese grillers, hot off-the-fry pan meatballs garnished with coleslaw and mustard sauce, chocolate brownies and whipped cream with chocolate shavings.  If a caffeine fix disagreed with one’s palate, tea, water and fresh apple and orange juices featured on the menu, in addition to potato twisters and candyfloss!

Whilst fraternizing, nibbling of snacks and heightening of anxieties played out amongst the gathered, a huge LCD screen positioned adjacent to the new ride tick-tocked onto a 30 minute countdown to the commencement of accompanying razzmatazz and eventually, the very first public experiencing of ‘the new kid on the .’

The countdown winded up, media cameras got treated to impressive effects of the gushing of smoke, blowing of air bubbles accompanied by sound blast before the huge screen suddenly flashed a news bulletin courtesy of the Gold Reef City news channel duo of ’newsreaders’, Kiran Singh (actually the Director of Operations and Complex General Manager) and Andre’    Hudson (the theme park’s designated General Manager).

Conjuring a show of grimacing and gesticulating in delivering the ‘breaking news weather report’, Singh’s antics were meant to drive home the effect of what lay in store for thrill seekers’ engagement with the Storm Chaser!

The storm before the storm script also featured a team of the park’s mascot, Digger Joe, manoeuvring around the location of the ride and carrying ‘meteorological gadgets’ whilst purporting to being overwhelmed by the unusual readings registered in the confluence of the ‘storm’s’ path!

“Don’t be scared!” assured Singh to the attendees in a tone I couldn’t help but suspect, was tainted with mischievous daring for the first-timers, as it was with encouragement for the faint of heart! 

The complex’ general manager’s tangible excitement could be excused given that the ride’s launch was belated as it were due to a host of factors amongst which numbered the unceremonious power-cuts.  In fact, the theme park’s communications manager, Danelle Coulson pointed out that the launch was finally being realized on the back of rigorous tests (50 in total) since “safety comes first!”       

As the first group of invited media personnel braced to file through the area leading to the boarding point, some of the Gold Reef City Theme Park’s senior Sous Chef’s catering team voiced concern regarding the amount of edibles curious riders were helping themselves to ahead of embarking on the ride, making me to evoke the memory of a cartoon strip featured the day before the ride’s launch in a Joburg daily newspaper which had perennial loser, Andy Capp haranguing his long-suffering spouse for making him go on a ride named The Big Dipper, and whose upside down antics caused his beer to go everywhere!  Coughing up of one’s cookies (vomiting, that is) was a likelihood!

Not surprisingly, as I’ve repeatedly noted pending my achievement of previous feats, die bangbroeke (the faint-hearted) conveniently excused themselves from the steady procession of thrill seekers queuing up, opting to remain rooted to the seats of a replica tram stationed not far from the new attraction.  Amongst them was she of, practising core ass-kicking fame!

The first load securely boarded, the yellow and orange coloured engineering vehicle took not much of expectant time to reveal its long-awaited nastiness, immediately forcing an airborne chorus of ahhhhhhh!!!!!!, from the fun-chasers. 

It responded with its mechanical retorts of whooooshh!!!!  And just as its momentum was warming up and its riders were getting into its swing – it suddenly came to a halt at its initial starting position.  The reason, offered Khumalo, being that a safety mechanism flashed and prompting the operational staff to attend to a precaution which turned out not to be serious.

Photographing and scribbling notes from the ground as my curiosity awaited its turn on the illusion-propeller, the season and moment reminded me of an Internet post describing summer fun to the effect of being a hell of a time when others utter incoherence at the top of their voices within a craze where they can be swayed by the season’s seductions in the heat of the moment, whilst taking rash and unwise actions!

Of course the preceding observation would read like hieroglyphics to the bangbroeke refuged inside the tram, with their captive state-of-being evoking the ridicule contained in the wisecrack of the great American baseball player, Satchel Paige when he threw down the gauntlet thus: how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are, or this parallel post in a vein akin in context to his: don’t be afraid to fall… how can you test your limits if you’re afraid to test them.

My turn eventually came, marking me in the third group after a preceding one graced by the presence of the current Miss Soweto, Nokukhanya Kunene.

With snobbish vociferousness from young bloods swirling my immediate hammer-anvil-and-stirrup’s range, we were shortly being secured into the monstrosity-in-waiting’s ass-seats, which constitute a sextuple arrangement with each row containing four seats.  

Finding my mortal coil residenced next to a fellow lensman, my mind wondered out loud as to why a 24-seater only, at this instance, accommodated 12 of us?  I recalled Khumalo mouthing something about, “for visuals” as a member of the launch’s documenting crew pointed his camera our way – that is, the duo photographers way. 

Which also reminded me, the high definition cameras we were earlier given at the entrance were nowhere around our persons for the recording of the epoch-making experience.  The reason being, and which was an oversight on the part of the organizers of the launch, that the equipment and its accessories happened to be the sort supposed to be mounted on helmets – which weren’t provided!  And in any case, a member of the venue’s out-in-force’s marketing crew dissuaded us from taking them with for the anticipated ‘turbulent’ ride!    

Then played out the nasty of man versus the machine.  With 24 legs suspended well clear of the base, the initial act of the experience had the metallic platform opening up from underneath us in any which direction the ride’s Italian engineer conceptualized it. 

Unseen mechanics then proceeded jerking our bodies upwards to a level the robotics dictated.  The man-made creation now gripping a load of Fourth Industrial Revolution denizenry in its computerised fangs, as of a Venus-fly-catcher, we could now feel and hear it priming to bring to bear its opening gambit!

When the Storm Chaser’s nature became revealed, it appeared like the riders’ mouths dropped open simultaneously as their lungs surrendered to a collective screaming reaction, all the while twists and turns swayed hapless anatomies along as of brain matter bobbling inside skeletal casings! 

This is now reminiscent of a scenario envisioned by a flying instructor in a Tinseltown flick I once laid my eyes on promising that he would flip academy intakes like pancakes up in the sky!  Direct opposite us, one of a pair of young ladies already had her eyes wide shut whilst the hard-to-focus-on sphere of my immediate interest somehow becomes gradually and then expeditedly disposed from the spectating horde below!

At this very moment – despite the incoherent froth mouthed all about – vocabulary injunctions such as why-is-my head-over-heals, what’s-with-the-fast heart-pounding, when-is-this-harassment-going-to-end and what-not, telephone themselves mid-sky, gratis!

But it becomes rather all too-soon done with as gravity commanded its hold when the havoc wreaked by the ‘storm’ eventually resolved to revert to its peace upon terra firma by returning earthlings back to familiar habitat.  All of that, occupying a whirlwind-esque duration lasting all of some three brief minutes which whilst they held the fort, gave the illusion of perpetuity!

Upon disembarkation, a photo op with the wide-grin flashing mascot, Digger Joe awaited right in front of the emotions-harassing yellow and orange dame, Storm Chaser.  A souvenir in the form of a photograph bearing the text, Live Breaking News: I survived the Storm Chaser (replete with the amusement park’s logo) – got handed over to every visitor invited to the launch.

Seeking to gauge other thrill seekers opinions regarding the new ride, I then beat my path to Soweto’s queen’s company, where over yet some more refreshments courtesy of chef Mathabela’s team, she had the following to say: “Yoohh, ‘it was exceptional, I enjoyed it – actually it’s now my favourite one!” 

The University of Johannesburg Linguistics and Sociology final-year student offered whilst revealing that prior to the latest of the park’s thirty rides, the nearby Flying Maverick previously captured her heart.  That with the rider that for all her prowling of the amusement park located on an old gold mine rendered redundant way back in 1971, she was yet to discover the ride which would scare her the most!

As for me, my assertion that the ride’s brief duration was rather inadequate, got met with astonished expressions from fellow thrill-seekers. 

And despite having apportioned Storm Chaser a 10/10 on the provided scorecard, I’m convinced that the experience I got from the theme park’s Anaconda ride on a previous media junket, is to date, the one worthy of a: shiver me timbers!

(Miss Soweto, Nokukhanya Kunene posed in front of Gold Reef City’s new thrill ride, Storm Chaser, after having experienced its wiles)! Image Jacob MAWELA.

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