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Never a Dull Moment, Boardwalk History Blog; Photo: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk 1976

Never A Dull Moment

Ted Whiting III shares fun stories about your favorite Boardwalk rides, games, and people from the past.

Recollecting the Heyday of Skee Roll

March 12, 2020

Skee RollRemember Skee Roll? Many Boardwalk guests do! It's sometimes called Skee Ball, but either name describes the same game. Hi-tech versions still reside at the Boardwalk. But for this blog, I'm recalling the bank of Skee Roll alleys that filled a concession 40-plus years ago near where our Pirate Ship ride sits today.

Skee Ball appeared on the American scene in 1909 after receiving a US Patent for its design and construction. Its popularity was immense, so much so, that competitors of every stripe copied the fun over the next twenty years with just enough difference to avoid patent infringement.

In 1932, the Skee Ball company produced a new version of the popular game with a much shorter alley – about 15-feet long. Dubbing this version of the game Skee Roll, many smaller venues began to incorporate it into their premises, sparking more popularity.

As best as I can piece together, Skee Roll appeared on the Boardwalk in 1934 – over 80 years ago. Concessionaire Ed Reicher brought ten alleys from New York's Coney Island. He opened them at Santa Cruz Beach –  the first ones on the West Coast, by Reicher's assertion. A March 1935 newspaper article announced a Skee Roll tournament at the Boardwalk "designed to introduce the new sport to Santa Cruz."  

Skee Roll TicketsFor decades, guests played 15 popular alleys in one concession which boldly proclaimed "SKEE ROLL" above its entrance. Initially, a nickel triggered a row of nine surprisingly weighty, small balls for game play. Later, a dime did the trick! Remember the string of "One Win" tickets those machines would spit out as your score went higher and higher, game after game? If memories of the Plunge, Turnover Pies, and the Wild Mouse evoke fond Boardwalk nostalgia, surely Skee Roll fits in there, too.

I admit I had not played the game in quite some time. Recently, the Boardwalk's Vice President of Operations, Omid Aminifard, challenged me to a set of Skee Ball. The state-of-the-art electronic machines we played are not the original mechanical marvels I remember playing in my younger years. Lots of bells, whistles, and lights mesmerize today's player. The lanes seem shorter, too. Today our machines tally points on a MyBoardwalk Play Card and no longer spit out a row of winning tickets. Yet, that impromptu occasion did bring back many more of my own memories playing Skee Roll way back when. 

Skee Roll What was that game's appeal back in the day? Well, glass-enclosed shelves rimmed the alleys and covered the concession walls full of all the prizes I could win. It was good merchandise, too – that had a useful place at home, something my mom would like! Usually, one item would draw my attention and spark my gameplay. The perforated strip of tickets never expired, so anyone could save them until enough were in hand for a desired prize. I'm told some players returned after a sojourn of some time with garbage-sized bags full of those "One Win" coupons.

There was an art to playing Skee Roll. You propelled a wooden ball up a "skee-like" ramp to a "ball hop" that launched it into holes of varying point values. Sometimes you took a straight shot. Other times, you'd bank a ball toward an intended hole. Getting a handle on ball speed took a little adjustment, too. I remember the grip of the hard, wood-like ball, the sound it made in contact with the alley, and the triumph when the ball hit its target hole. Then came the thrill of watching tickets spitting out at the side of the lane in a strip stretching longer as I played on, game after game. 

Skee RollElectronics began to work their way into the Boardwalk's alleys in the late 1980s. Several smaller Skee Roll locations were added, one in the Boardwalk's colonnade area and the other where our Jungle Climb game is today. In the 2000s, Skee Roll was not attracting the up-and-coming generation as it did their predecessors. So, in 2008, The Boardwalk introduced Desperado into space formerly filled with the original Skee Roll games. We divvied up a few of those alleys into the Casino Arcade.  

Skee RollRegretfully, the old, mechanical, ticket-spitting games can no longer be found at the Boardwalk. They've been replaced by newer electronic versions of the same game, but it's just not the "real thing" I remember playing.

What memories do you have about playing Skee Roll at the Boardwalk?  Let us know in the comments below.

'till next time –


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