Quick Take:

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel was aboard the first ride of the Giant Dipper in 2021 — the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s nod to her work amid the pandemic. The amusement park opened Thursday at 25% capacity.

Every 15 minutes, a cheerful male voice reminded everyone to socially distance and to wear masks, with sky blue banners of a gull with a mask around its beak reinforcing that point.

Operating at only 25% capacity, many of the horses on the carousel sat empty.

But there was at least one familiar sign of pre-pandemic times at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s reopening on Thursday — the whistle of The Giant Dipper as it resumed operations along with other select rides for the first time in months.

As Santa Cruz County inches out of the pandemic, Lookout is chronicling the changes in our lives and the accomplishments of everyday people. “People in the Pandemic” is one of eight Lookout initiatives documenting all aspects of life amid COVID. For more, go to our COVID 2021 section, and sign up for COVID Text Alerts and our COVID PM newsletter here.

Santa Cruz County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel was aboard the first ride of the Dipper in 2021 — the Boardwalk’s nod to her and her staff’s work to put life on a path toward normal. Joining her — socially distanced away — was Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci.

“I feel like a kid again” Newel, seated in the first car, said before the voyage.

Afterward, she noted the parallels between the ride and the whirlwind of a year amid the pandemic. “It’s a perfect symbol for all of the ups and downs we’ve worked through” said Newel, her smile hidden by a black face mask.

As of Wednesday, Santa Cruz County officially moved into the orange tier of COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the Boardwalk to move forward with its long-awaited reopening. As Lookout reported this week, the amusement park plans to have eight to 12 rides open per day, with a mix of thrill rides and kiddie rides, along with some games and concessions.

Most of the famous attractions will be open, like the Pirate Ship pendulum ride, the Undertow spinning roller coaster, and of course, the Giant Dipper.

The Casino Arcade, however, will stay closed until the county reaches the yellow tier at least. As vaccination eligibility reaches many more people this month, the potential for the Boardwalk to return to near normalcy grows.

The scene at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwark on Thursday, April 1.
The scene at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwark on Thursday, April 1 — the first day of 2021 that rides at the Boardwalk were open. Credit: Max Chun / Lookout Santa Cruz

Even with the laundry list of rules and requirements, people still showed up for tickets and day passes well before the park officially opened its doors.

Jeannie Chan and her children, Tyler and Olivia, said that it was purely coincidental that they came on the Boardwalk’s reopening day. “They’re on spring break, and we usually go on vacation around this time, but there’s nowhere to go” said Chan as the three waited in line for the Giant Dipper.

The San Francisco residents decided to come down to Santa Cruz for the day, and just so happened to be in town just as the Boardwalk was set to reopen. “We’re only here for three hours, so we’re doing the top three things on their Boardwalk list.”

Tyler and Olivia appeared to be the ideal Boardwalk clients for the day. As much as they were excited about being whipped around on the Giant Dipper, they were equally as enthusiastic to eat pretzels and funnel cakes.