Local Coaster Fanatic Surpasses the 200 Mark on ‘El Toro’
When Ryan Freund first stepped foot inside the gates of Six Flags Great Adventure earlier this year, he set out on a mission. He didn’t want to ride “El Toro” 10 or 15 times. He wanted to – as an old radio ad for the theme park in Jackson states – go big.
“El Toro debuted in 2006 and since it was the 10th year I figured I’d make a milestone for myself as well,” said the 25-year-old who graduated from Pinelands Regional High School in 2009. “At first, I just wanted to ride it as many times as I could. But in June, my friend Adam passed away. So I set the goal at 200 as a way of honoring him.”
Well, El Toro ride No. 200 occurred on Sept. 3, and after Ryan spent most of his day at the park’s special “Riding of the Day” day, during which he mostly toured behind the scenes of other thrill rides within it, the number now stands at 202.
“The number has evolved, so now that I’m past 200 I may go for 300,” he said. “I’m going to keep riding El Toro until the season ends on Jan. 3. As long as they have it open, I’ll keep riding it.”
After getting his start on roller coasters at about 10 years old, when his father sent him onto the former Great Adventure thriller “Medusa,” which later was converted to the current feature ride “Bizarro,” Freund originally was apprehensive about the thrill he might get from going on the ride.
“It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t really care that much about it,” he said. “Then when I was about 12, I went on Rolling Thunder and I really enjoyed that one.”
However, up until about five years ago, Freund hadn’t returned much to the 510-acre theme park. But eventually, with more time to visit after graduating high school, Freund started a new hobby: regularly riding roller coasters.
Simply meaning “The Bull” in Spanish, El Toro is “one of the fastest and tallest wooden runs on Earth,” according to the Great Adventure website. After climbing 19 stories up the opening hill, the first drop is 176 feet at an insane 76-degree angle. From there, El Toro is packed with nine hills and a multitude of hard banks to the right and left along the way – yes, the coaster is designed to make it feel as if you’re on the back of a bull trying to hang on for dear life.
And that’s part of the reason Freund continues to ride it.
“It’s just a great ride,” he said. “I probably have been on it 600 times during the past four or five years. But I do enjoy other rides when El Toro is having problems. But El Toro is easier to get on than most of the other rides in the park.”
Freund estimates he’s ridden “Kingda Ka” about 50 times, “Nitro” about 40 times, and Bizarro and “Batman” about 30 times each. Interestingly, he’s only been on “Viper” – no longer part of the thrill-ride lineup at Great Adventure – once.
And despite once getting stuck on El Toro, as it made its way back into the station, Freund doesn’t concern himself much with the possibility of being injured or worse.
“It doesn’t really faze me,” he said. “I live life to the fullest, and that’s what you have to do. So I just go on for the hell of it and don’t worry about what might happen.”
Freund is even part of a Facebook group for “Great Adventure Connoisseurs” and regularly meets up with friends from throughout the New Jersey-New York region at the park. Whether it’s Vinnie, Mary Ann and Vinnie Jr. from Staten Island or Jim from North Jersey, Freund has been on El Toro with them many times.
Some people, however, don’t find his enthusiasm for riding El Toro too enthralling.
“I’ve been criticized by some people,” he said. “They ask, ‘Why keep count? Why not stop going on it?’ And I just say, ‘I’ll do my thing and you go ride the tea cups and bumper cars in the kids’ section of the park.’ Riding El Toro is my thing, a hobby I enjoy. You can’t beat that breeze on the first drop when you’re going 70 mph.”