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Where is Pipeline Paradise? Why Kings Island closed its surfing ride

Aug 01, 2023Aug 01, 2023

A passionate surfing community in Cincinnati is in limbo after the closure of a popular Kings Island ride.

Pipeline Paradise, a two-pump retro FlowRider that simulates ocean waves, remained closed Memorial Day weekend while Kings Island's Soak City Water Park opened for the 2023 season. Mike Koontz, vice president of the Mason amusement park, said in a letter that the ride had "reached the end of its service life" and would be decommissioned and removed from the park this year.

Pipeline Paradise first opened in 1998, making it one of the longest-operating FlowRiders in the world, Koontz said in his letter. Soon after its launch, a group of people dedicated to the sport, called flowriders, formed the Tsunami Surf Club, which now has over 200 members.

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"The Tsunami Surf Club is an eclectic group," Mike Maynard, a Mason resident and avid flowrider since 2010, said. "We have (members with) Ph.D.s., we have people that work for logistics companies, truck drivers who come through. A wide variety – all walks of life have really enjoyed this ride."

Members range in age from 6 years old to 80. Maynard said he's made "lifelong friendships" in the group.

"There is community and home in this group for people who haven't found it anywhere else in this life," Sara Walker, whose 12-year-old son, Jameson, is a flowrider, said.

People came from other cities and states to ride Pipeline Paradise and meet with club members, Maynard said.

Ron Zambarrano, who moved from Hawaii to Ohio in 1994, spent summers driving from Chillicothe to Mason, where he was able to recreate his love of surfing at Kings Island.

"For three months out of a year, life stalled and I feel like I’m back in the islands once again, and it's all because of this amazing ride," he wrote in an email.

For many flowriders, Pipeline Paradise was much more than a water park ride. It changed Jameson's life, his mom said.

Jameson, who was diagnosed with ADHD and a sensory processing disorder, was first introduced to Pipeline Paradise at age 6 in 2017. At the time, he suffered from a lot of "negative self-talk," his mom said, and through occupational therapy, the family learned water was deeply stimulating for him.

He also had an inherent knack for flowriding.

"He turned loose on this wave and all of a sudden it was like, 'Oh snap, he's really good at this,'" she said. "Now he takes that tenacity and determination and applies it wholeheartedly to other aspects in his life, which I don't think he would have done without the lessons he learned from the Pipeline."

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Rumors about Pipleine Paradise's closure started circling on social media this spring, Walker said, and Tsunami Surf Club jumped into action. Walker prompted friends to write letters to Kings Island and its owner, Cedar Fair, and said hundreds were sent on Jameson's behalf. Maynard reached out to reporters to find out if the rumors were true. A petition was launched on to save the ride.

Walker said calls and letters went unanswered. On April 27, Koontz confirmed the ride's closure in a letter to fans.

"I have read every plea to keep the ride open and understand that many are going to be disappointed with this final decision," he wrote.

Kings Island sent The Enquirer a copy of Koontz's letter, but declined to comment further. The park also did not address The Enquirer's questions about what specifically led to the ride being closed or what might replace it.

Flowriders were upset by the news and unsure of what it meant for the future of the Tsuami Surf Club.

"When they closed the rollercoasters (Flying Eagles and Vortex), fans of that ride I’m sure were disappointed, but when they decided to close this ride, they killed one of the more unique and rare cultures here in the Midwest," Zambarrano wrote.

The announcement also came a little over one week after Kings Island opened for the 2023 season.

Walker said her family had already decided to invest in the sport – $1,200 on Kings Island passes and meal plans, plus expensive flowriding equipment, after receiving assurances last year when the park repaired a damaged pump on the ride.

"Our club was told that Kings Island was 'in it for the long haul' and 'knew what they had,' meaning the last Retro FlowRider in the world, so people didn't hesitate to invest," she said. "... As passholders, we're assuming when we buy in that you're gonna notify us about changes coming to the park. And they knew – they had to have known (it was closing)."

Kings Island did not say when the decision to close the ride was reached.

Maynard hopes members of the Tsunami Surf Club will stay in touch and that Kings Island will replace or someday reopen Pipeline Paradise. The petition to save the wave simulator remains open.

"Without the activity, it'll just disband," Walker said about the club. "Everybody will lose their village."

Jameson was crushed by Pipeline Paradise's closing, Walker said, and the family now drives to the Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Sandusky, Ohio, so he can ride that park's FlowRider. Jameson also joined Flow Dogs, a flowriding group, and will compete this year in the Flowboarding League of the World Tour, a touring flowriding championship, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

"We wear our #FlowDogs4Life shirts as much as possible when we go to Kings Island now," Walker wrote in an email. "It's our little act of rebellion, I suppose."

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