‘Why Do I Do This Stupid Hobby?’ The Ups and Downs of Riding Every Roller Coaster

Megafobia in Wales is still on Rick Mathews’s bucket list.
Megafobia in Wales is still on Rick Mathews’s bucket list.


Burnout, kiddie-ride restrictions and squabbles over the definition of a coaster weigh on die-hards. The pastime ‘gets really nuts.’

Rick Mathews’s big vacation this year was a 23-day jaunt across Europe and North Africa, during which he rode 131 roller coasters.

“By the time I got home, I was like, why do I do this stupid hobby?" says Mathews, who is 36 and lives in Manassas, Va.

That weariness quickly faded and he’s already talking about a return trip, because Megafobia—a wooden roller coaster in Wales—was closed during his visit. It is one of just four wooden coasters in the world he hasn’t ridden.

Mathews, a professional event strategist, is among a cadre of “coaster counters," enthusiasts obsessed with riding as many roller coasters as they can. The pastime can be a real scream but also has its lows.

There is the struggle to keep up with the breakneck pace of coaster openings in places with rapidly growing middle classes, such as rural China. More coasters are on the way, too, as companies including Disney pour billions into expanding theme parks. Motion sickness, of course, can come with the territory. And on top of that, not everyone in the coaster-counter community agrees on which rides actually count, sparking squabbles.

Devotees will even brave kiddie coasters to pad their tallies. George Greenway, a 63-year-old retired automotive engineer, says he had to convince a park owner in Uzbekistan to let him go on a children’s ride that looked like a caterpillar and traveled through an apple-shaped sculpture. Greenway had to duck to get through the apple.

“This hobby gets really nuts," says Greenway, who ranks No. 1 on, a site widely used by aficionados to track their progress.

(Coaster-Count also conducts votes on the world’s best steel and wooden roller coasters. Steel Vengeance at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, has ranked No. 1 for years.)

Greenway, from a village in West Midlands, England, ascended the ranks during a six-year stint in China as an engineer for automaker Geely. His count is up to 3,100 coasters at over 1,500 parks in 79 countries, and he has taken weekend trips around the globe to check out new coasters with Richard Bannister, who is ranked No. 2 on

“That was at the height of our stupidity," Greenway says.

Relative newbies to coaster culture include Pam Falcioni, a 60-year-old retired motorcycle technician and vintage-motorcycle collector from Terrebonne, Ore. She got into coaster-counting after her husband, Mike, died in a motorcycle accident in 2019. She still rides motorcycles—her longtime passion—but decided to find another outlet as well.

Some parks require adults to be accompanied by a child on certain coasters, so Falcioni, whose tally clocks in at 289, has on a few occasions worked up the courage to ask to borrow a tween from a set of wide-eyed parents.

“The parents were kind of standoffish," she says, “but the kids were like, ‘Yeah let’s do it!’"

Groups such as the American Coaster Enthusiasts and the European Coaster Club organize coaster outings in theme parks worldwide.

“They become more like social events than riding events," says Steve O’Donnell, a 64-year-old retired carpenter who has worked on wooden roller coasters, including the Coney Island Cyclone in New York. His coaster-riding count stands at 447.

After a long day coastering, O’Donnell says, he and other buffs trade tales and laughs and compare their bruises. He says old wooden roller coasters tend to be rougher, but he doesn’t mind. He even leaves some extra space between himself and the safety restraint so he gets more “airtime"—that feeling when a rider’s butt leaves the seat.

O’Donnell says his non-coaster friends think he’s crazy, and won’t even go on kiddie rides like spinning tea cups with him because he will spin the tea cup as much as possible.

Fortunately, he can connect with like-minded coaster buddies at regular hangouts.

A recent Zoom meeting of the Defunctors Roller Coaster Group, a club for people who enjoy discussing now-defunct wooden roller coasters, stretched well past midnight and included some two dozen participants.

One attendee, Randal Strong-Wallace, of Wichita, Kan., showed the group his latest work-in-progress, a model roller coaster he’s crafting at home, where he also has a “coaster cave" filled with souvenirs from his hobby.

Strong-Wallace, who is 55 and who has worked various jobs, including at Kinko’s and as a flight attendant, traces that passion to when he was three years old and his aunt took him on a ride called Roller Coaster at Joyland Amusement Park.

“It took away my stomach and it kind of scared me," he recalls, “but I liked it instantly."

His coaster count now stands at 426, and he deploys the clever tips of a veteran. He usually takes a Dramamine the morning of a big park day to keep his stomach calm, and puts on his coaster uniform: a thin wallet just for essentials and “park pants" that have zip pockets to prevent items from flying out mid-ride. He upped his sartorial game after losing a cellphone around 2013.

During the recent meeting of the Defunctors Roller Coaster Group, members debated what roller coasters actually qualify for an official coaster credit.

Traditionalists say a roller coaster should have wheels and be powered by gravity—in other words, must be rolling and coasting. Others embrace a looser definition, one that includes increasingly popular water rides and others.

Jeff Pike, president of Skyline Attractions, which has made amusements for Six Flags, SeaWorld and others, says the company’s first-generation Skywarp ride generated much quibbling. The figure-8-shaped attraction rocked passengers back-and-forth and left them suspended upside-down six stories high.

Some parks marketed it as a roller coaster, but hard-core coaster counters disputed that claim because the ride was powered by an engine. Pike says even his son, himself a coaster counter, argued Skywarp wasn’t a coaster.

“I told him to drop it," Pike says.

Write to Will Feuer at

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