Working at Oakwood is a real rollercoaster ride

So does the guy who runs the rollercoaster ever get bored of riding it himself? No chance, says ride operator Sam Maddick, who reveals what goes on behind the scenes at Wales’s biggest theme park: marriage proposals, rollercoaster obsessives – and why he loves rainy days.

Oakwood is a great place to work. Every day is different, and you meet new people every single day. The day begins with a briefing from the rides manager, and they call out what rides we’re on. I’m on Vertigo today, which is like a giant bungee swing.

Without a hitch

Sam Maddicks standing in front of Megafobia

Sam Maddicks in front of Megafobia by Oakwood
I was working on Vertigo once when a guy came up to me and said, ‘Can I have a word? Is it okay if I propose to my girlfriend at the top of Vertigo?’ So we winched them up, and when they got to the top, he popped to question. As soon as she’d said yes, he pulled the release cord and they went flying!

At Oakwood we’ve got 30 rides, some of which are world-class. My favourite is Megafobia, which is ranked as one of the best wooden rollercoasters in the world. We get lots of enthusiasts who travel here from all over the world to ride it. I’ve had people from as far afield as California, New Zealand and South Africa. You can tell the hardcore fans because they always ask you lots of questions about the ride, and they wear all their badges to show which rides they’ve been on.

There’s a guy who’s ridden Megafobia 3,500 times, and he’s coming back for a week in July to ride it for eight hours a day - that’s 40 hours over five days – to raise money for charity.

Even faster when wet

The Drenched rollercoaster at Oakwood Theme Park

The Drenched ride at Oakwood, Pembrokeshire by Myk
He always likes to sit in the front, but personally, I prefer sitting in the back. It feels faster, and it shakes you like mad. What most people don’t know is that it goes even faster in the rain. On a dry day it goes at 48mph but on a rainy day it can hit 55mph. I like rainy days – there’s less queuing, and the rides go quicker.

I still get a thrill from going on Megafobia. When I get the chance I try and go on it twice a day. If it’s a quiet day, and they’ve got time off, some of the staff might throw on a hoodie and stroll around the park, and they’ll usually end up on Megafobia.

It’s not always that quiet, though. In our busy periods, during the summer holidays, the park can hold up to 10,000 people in a day, and on Wednesday and Saturdays we have late nights where we have bands performing, and fireworks and lasers, so that’s a really popular time.

Beyond vertical

Speed rollercoaster at Oakwood

Speed at Oakwood, Pembrokeshire by Jinxsi1960
Although Megafobia is my favourite, I do like the other rides. There’s another coaster called Speed which, when it was built, had the steepest drop in the UK at 97 degrees. That’s beyond vertical, and you pull 4.5G at the bottom of the drop, before doing a series of twists. I like it because it’s a nice, smooth ride, and because it’s got hollow steels it’s also really loud, which is part of the experience. I also like Drench, which is the UK’s tallest watercoaster and has a top speed of 65mph. You do get a bit soaked on that one, though.

You always have to invest in new rides and attractions, to keep ahead of the game. Last year we invested £4.5m in a Neverland area for families, which has 10 new rides that children as young as two can go on.  This summer we’ve just opened up a big new soft play area which is going down well with parents, and we’ve got a new bar and grill which serves locally-sourced food from Pembrokeshire and Wales. There’s also a new indoor entertainment centre with amusements, games, and ten-pin bowing. We’ve also got a major new investment coming soon, which I can’t talk about yet. All I’m saying is that it may feature a new ride!

Find out more about Oakwood