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Columbia Cup ‘superfans’ usher in Tri-City 2023 boat races

A woman watches a hydroplane boat race at the 2023 Columbia Cup.
Tracci Dial
Northwest Public Broadcasting
A woman watches a hydroplane boat race at the 2023 Columbia Cup.

This weekend fans will flood the Tri-Cities to watch the hydroplanes race for the 2023 Columbia Cup. For some fans, it’s not just a weekend event. They’ve been camping out in anticipation of the horsepower-heavy event.

On Friday afternoon, tents lined the Columbia River as music played from food trucks in the background. Airplanes danced overhead as part of the 2023 Water Follies Columbia Cup & STCU Over the River Air Show to kick off day one of the 57th Water Follies in the Tri-Cities.

It’s a massive, three-day hydroplane race, think Nascar on the water. They’re basically boats that fly, traveling the distance of a football field in one second.

David Ramirez dubbed himself “The Mayor of Hydro Town.” He camped out for a week to reserve a site at the edge of the river. Ramirez said everyone at this event eventually becomes family – attendees who traveled from Seattle, hydroplane racers and referees.

“To be a superfan, you just have to come and that's it. Just hit it one time, and you'll become a fan. And once you become a fan, you're hooked. And once you're hooked, we're all family,” he said.

Ramirez, who runs the Hydro Town Virtual Museum in Pasco, said he wants to spread his love of the boat races to others who have never heard of the event.

“I’ve got boat parts, historical parts and crew shirts, and so we have a little mini museum,” he said. He said he hopes to eventually build a brick-and-mortar museum.

This superfan tent welcomed newbies and others who have followed the sport for years. Take Ron Hartley. He recounted his first hydroplane race – 1950 at what was then known as the Gold Cup.

“We ended up in Seattle for the very first unlimited hydroplane race and kind of been doing it ever since. So it’s been a few years,” the 79-year-old Hartley said.

A few years later, at what he called the most exciting race he had ever seen, Hartley said he witnessed a boat crash, flying out of the water into a woman’s rose garden. Everyone was OK, he said, but the woman wanted the 7,000-pound boat removed immediately.

In the Tri-Cities, superfan Kyle Wolfer said he moved to Richland in big part because of the races.

“We used to have a tent on the (Pasco) side of the river. Our whole family was there and the races just got me hooked,” Wolfer said. “I came up here to visit for the races, and then I just never left in 2009.”

Next weekend, the hydroplanes will travel to Seattle for this year’s Seafair Weekend.

Courtney Flatt is a Richland-based multi-media correspondent for Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network focusing on environmental, natural resources and energy issues in the Northwest.