Kemah is a small bayside community about halfway between Houston and Galveston. Other than fishing, there wasn't much to see or do there until the Boardwalk turned it into a must-visit day trip for the big city to the north. It's mostly a showcase for the various restaurants under the Landry's umbrella with a handful of family-friendly rides. But when the Boardwalk added a coaster, Kemah suddenly appeared on enthusiasts' radars as well.
Granted, from the ground it doesn't look like much: One large drop, one mid-sized drop, one smallish drop, lots of turns. Most of the track is hidden inside the dense structure, making it impossible to predict the layout before you step on board. In fact, a ride on the nearby observation tower is really the only way to make any sense of it.
Even from up here, it's still impossible to tell what you're in for with any level of detail. Track disappears into the structure, then reappears someplace else, completely obscuring any hope of figuring out how you get from Point A to Point B. The one thing you do notice, however, is that the first drop is considerably higher than any other part of the ride. This thing is staying low to the ground after that, unlikely to slow down much, if at all. Considering that it was designed by The Gravity Group, designers of some of the most insane wood coasters on earth, this should be something special. The queue line affords several close calls with the ride and the entire structure shakes as the trains go by at ridiculous speeds. Then you notice the faces of the riders...
You might expect the young girl (4th row) to be afraid, and perhaps her dad as well. But when you see the bald bruiser in the second row, gritting his teeth and gripping the bar in fear, you know you're in for a wild ride. Also, notice the wristbands they're all wearing - these aren't folks who bought a single-ride ticket on a dare, these are people who came down here intending to ride stuff and got the all-day wristband. Anticipation builds as you step into the car.
Climbing the lift hill, you notice that the coaster sits on less than an acre of land on an L-shaped plot, surrounded on every side by an immovable object. This thing is longer, taller, faster, and wilder than the old Texas Cyclone coaster at the now-closed Astroworld in Houston - but it's crammed into half the amount of area. At the top of the lift, you've no place to go but around to face a different direction.
As the train picks up speed around the corner, you can quickly get a glimpse of Galveston Bay.
But wait... is there enough clearance under the lift hill? The serenity of the bay view becomes an "OMG, duck!" moment as speed increases and you hurtle toward the big drop.
That's when all hell breaks loose and the smallish-looking coaster becomes a force to be reckoned with. The next fifteen or so seconds are possibly the most intense of any wooden coaster on earth.
This (above picture) is what the beginning of it looks like from the ground - positively tame-looking, nothing to be afraid of...
...but this is what it looks like from on the ride. You approach this drop with a running start, thanks to the speedy turn just before it. The track jogs left as it descends, which is particularly effective in the back seats because you're launched up into the lap bar with a serious jolt of ejector airtime and while you're up and looking over everyone's heads, the train has gone damn near sideways. Oh, and you can't see where it goes from there, either. That turn at the bottom of the drop hides its secrets well.
The train races into the structure, laying over on its side, deep into the maze of supports, everything just a blur of speed. The lattice-like tunnel keeps you from seeing around the corner, and all of this is hidden from view from outside the ride, so what happens next is a complete surprise.
Without warning, the turn flattens, throws in a tiny bunny hop hill, then reverses banking and turns left. Your body goes from hugging the left side of the train to a strong jolt straight up out of your seat, followed by a change in direction. All of this happens in less than a second. Have a good look at the picture above, because when you're on the ride, you will never see it this plainly. Everything is a total maelstrom of speed blur and even after multiple rides, you're unlikely to get beyond "dafuq was THAT?" Want proof of the craziness? Have a look at the right-hand track rail. Notice the stripe in the middle of the rail where the wheels have rubbed the steel rail free of dirt, rust, whatever. Now notice the two-foot gap with NO STRIPE. Yep. Wheels have never touched that bit of track... the entire train launches into the air here, riding the underside wheels, not coming back down for a couple of feet. Even crazier is riding in the front seat and noticing that this ride is chock full of places like that.
Racing up into the sunlight, the train screams into the Upper Bay Turn filled with undulations, right next to the waters of the bay - which you absolutely won't even notice. Seriously, you're still reeling from that little zig-zag and you're still hauling serious ass and you probably haven't even taken a breath since the first drop. A smallish dip brings you around to a curving double-up.
Lap, meet bar. If you're in the front of the train, you're going to feel like the ride is trying to catapult you to the moon here with a jolt of quick but strong ejector airtime. Somehow, the train manages to stay on the track and butts return to seats as you race around another hairpin turn and the second big drop.
This one, like the first, hides what happens at the bottom. At night, this is particularly effective since there are no lights on this portion of the ride. Back into the structure you go, a surprise bunny hop awaits you at the bottom of the drop, then you head into the Middle Bay Turn.
Almost a full 90 degree banking on this turn and if you look carefully between the rails, you can see the bay. Who am I kidding, this thing is going so fast at this point, you aren't seeing anything. Another race into the sunlight, a quick hop over the queue line, and a rising lefthand turn leads to the third drop.
What, you didn't really expect to see beyond the bottom of the drop, did you? Like the ones before it, this one hides what happens next. Like the ones before it, there's a bit of airtime, some direction changes, and it's all so goddamned fast that you won't see any of it coming. Zipping under the loading station, you see a flash of light as they take your souvenir photo just before you rocket into the Lower Bay Turn.
Everything from here to the end is buried inside the structure, all turns and hops and craziness until you hit the brake run, breathless and dazed. It all happens so fast - just 60 seconds from the top of the lift to the brake. It takes many, many rides to figure it all out and even after more than 750 rides on this thing, it can still surprise me with its all-out intensity. The best part, though, is watching first-timers hop on board with a look of gleeful anticipation, then seeing them pull back into the station obviously shaken, completely caught off-guard by the power and insanity of this little coaster by the bay. Behold, the before/after of my friend Mike's first ride:
One final note: the Boardwalk Bullet is temperamental, especially so in its first few years. Some days are fantastic, other days are downright brutal. To the Boardwalk's credit, they seem to be doing the opposite of many wood coaster owners: lots of TLC and routine upkeep mean the Bullet is getting better with age, not worse. If you rode it before and wrote it off as too rough, give it another shot. When it's bringing its "A-game," it's a top ten ride.