July 29, 2010 

On my fourth trip through the whirlwind of Water Follies weekend, I did my best to deviate from the formula I've followed since my internship year. After kicking it off the same way I always have, by covering Art in the Park on Friday, I spent the majority of my Saturday focused on a specific story angle as opposed to my usual amorphous feature hunting.

Having seen the raucous house parties that line the Pasco shore, I wanted to see what the races looked like from their perspective. After a few introductions to apprehensive homeowners, I felt I had found a good variety and spent my day bouncing between four homes.

Most interesting was Bob Greenwell's home, which his father built 51 years ago. "It's kinda like Christmas," he told me of their annual boat race gatherings.

Sandy and Don Smith have lived in their riverfront home for nine years, and their large, flat backyard had been utilized in past air shows when paratroopers used it as a landing pad.

Surrounding their house was Greg and Jan Bowers' home and one that Nolan Clark shared with Peter Lampson, and all three backyards were connected.

Clark was very welcoming and their setup included a slip 'n' slide, dunk tank, volleyball net and an ever-increasing stockpile of booze. The Bowers weren't home while I was going for access, but I figured they’d be easy to get a hold of later in the day. And aside from one other home that was very wishy washy about letting me hang with them, I was pleasantly surprised with how smoothly I had been able to find a good cross-section.

My main goal was to get photos that showed the house parties in relation to the river, the boat races and the air show. Early on, I was able to get cute shot of Alec Reitz, 5, helping Dirk Edmiston with his earbuds at Greenwell's home:

And the C-17 Globemaster's size helped in photographing Robert Soulia as he watered the slip 'n' slide at Lampson and Clark's house:

The Smiths' beautiful pool helped provide contrast with their setup:

especially compared with the twentysomethings hanging in an inflatable island they plopped in the Bowers' yard next door:

These were all shot throughout the day, as I looked for ways to layer the homes with the river, trying to keep an ongoing mental inventory of my images. Besides that, I looked for moments to help capture the mood and personality of the respective parties. This was toughest at Greenwell's home since they were pretty sedate, hanging in the shade or on the porch quietly. I had to rely on the kids playing around with a big hamster ball:

But this shot of Mary Bingman spreading some double cream cheese on fig and olive crackers while Preston Reitz, 8, stuck with just the crackers:

provided a nice Follies food foil to the taco buffet at the party house:

Most of the moments at the Smiths' were around the pool:

but Madisyn Smith, 16, left, and Sam Pearson, 16, keeping their heads and iPod in the shade while sunbathing helped tell the story of those less interested in the races:

Back at the Bowers', somebody was egged into showing off his 11th toe:

But I seemed to only catch them at down times.

Partly to blame was the raucus party going on two doors down. It was hard not to spend a lot of time there, photographing the silliness on the slip 'n' slide:

They even tried their hand at some amateur waterboarding:

As well as loading up some whiskey squirt guns:

Kevin Roach gave his sister Michelle a taste

before she asked me to take a picture of her and Nick Conley. As I was taking their photo, however, I caught some movement from Kevin with my left eye. Sloppily recomposing, I cut Nick out as he took an 80-proof blast to the eyes:

It was fantastic photographing these parties, but tough to abstain from going Gonzo and joining in the fun — especially when every house was offering me drinks as they tried to convince me that they could keep a secret. Having to repeatedly say "thanks, but no thanks" was even tougher when hot girls in bikinis were offering. And by the end of the day, a combination of all my stomping up and down the riverbank, the sun and expending every last bit of willpower made me most envious of one of the grandmothers at the Smiths' house:

We did get one complaint of acknowledging alcohol consumption at Water Follies (gasp!) in the paper.

To whom it may concern

I am appalled at the lack of concern that a reputable news paper should have for our youth. When I opened the paper this morning and found that you "the tricities herald" are glamorizing the alcohol being served to young (barely of age) people.

I will never bring your paper into my home again. I have children that do not need that kind of view of this subject.

One of the problems in today's society is that our children are experimenting at a younger and younger age. And we as people are condoning it. I just felt that I had to say something. I hope that you, as a paper, will be more concerned with OUR YOUTH, as they will be our leaders as we grow old.

Thank you, A concerned former reader Sent from my iPhone


Ordinarily, I would take great joy in being snarky and adding a (sic) after every misspelling or grammatical error, but it's been a busy week and I don’t have time to do all that, so a collective notation of my snobbery will have to suffice.

Sunday meant a new day, a new riverbank and a new theme. Settling on Follies first-timers, we tried to find a variety subjects to illustrate this, from the Felicetti family's first time at the races

to Wendell Unrau's first try at peddling Vietnamese woodcarvings at the races

or the first time the air show demonstrations featured a friendly race around the course

and 21-year-olds Casandra Romero and Jesus Alquicira enjoying the beer garden for the first time.

Toward the end of the day, I found a nice closer to the first-timer photo gallery as Francisco Gomez pulled his sleeping son, Aidan, 2. It was the Gomezes first time at the races after moving back to the area:

Although I had specific story angles to shoot for, that didn't mean I wasn’t grabbing other random features, as well. Here are my favorites from the weekend:

Plus, I got to chat with a couple of Follies characters:

Craig Shaw, 62, of Kennewick, turns heads as he checks out Water Follies action in Columbia Park. The competitive swimmer, bodybuilder, marathon runner and triathlete doesn't let the snickers passing by bother him. "I pretty much ignore it," he says. "To me, this is normal. OK, the styles have changed. You guys aren't comfortable with it, but I am." Shaw has made it to the majority of races since 1973, and he says back then, everybody was wearing Speedos.

Rufus Peterson of Aloha, Ore., wears his watermelon hat. "It's the only way to keep your melon cool," he says. He's made versions of the hat for 20 years, but this year, he added a nose guard for sunburn protection and ear holes for better hearing.

which is always interesting, especially with people like Shaw, who most people seem to think is just a freak. Peterson's sheer delight that I had taken his picture was also fun as he excitedly told me that he had been hoping to end up in the Herald for 20 years.

But of all the fun I had at this year's Water Follies, none can compare to the brief stint I had up in the air. In fitting form, it was the first time I'd shot the boat races from a helicopter and the first time the Herald has had the opportunity during the Unlimited final. While I was disappointed we weren't swooping around following the action at butt-clenching speeds and angles, I was happy that we were at least positioned with the light instead of having to shoot everything backlit.

It wasn't tough to get a pretty shot for our front page as the final race started:

And during our post race loop, I managed to get a new angle on the Pasco dock party that continued after many had started heading toward their cars:

What was most serendipitous was being in the right spot to capture some of Dave Villwock's penalized turn during the final lap. From the chopper, all I had was radio communication with Steve, the pilot. With only moderate knowledge of hydro racing, I was confused when I saw Villwock's Spirit of Qatar at a standstill near the pits.

"What happened to Villwock?" I asked. He wasn't sure either, but based on the exiting by other boats, it seemed he had won.

I asked if Villwock was celebrating a win or if his boat had spun out. Steve said he had won, but then Villwock took off again.

"Damn...he's hauling ass for a victory lap," I thought as we made our loop up and down the shore before landing in the golf course. It was then that I heard over the P.A. system that Villwock had been penalized a lap and Steve David had completed his three-peat. After getting back to my desk, looking at my take and conferring with sports editor Jeff Morrow, I realized I had shots of the turn in question. Villwock had been penalized for an illegal lane change during Turn 3 of the final lap:

I got a call a couple days later from a race official asking if I had more photos of the turn. I pointed him to the photo gallery, but he said I didn't have any shots of the apex of the turn, where the penalty was actually assessed. I told him that what I had in the gallery was what I got from the scene. He turned it around onto me, saying that he thought all our cameras had motor drives and how he figured I would have just clicked my way through every turn. I told him that while our cameras can do that, I’m a still photographer, so I press the shutter when I think it will make a good frame. It was a strange conversation full of polite accusations and annoyed pleasantries. I wanted to fire back with my assumption that such a large racing organization would film its races for review, but decided to hold back. It was another example of how helping officials, be it law or sports, is not part of a photojournalist's job.

Three days, 1,500 pictures, a notebook full of scribbled names and quotes, a few miles of walking and a hell of a good time. Follies board member Kay Metz, who has been to every boat race told me, "This year is probably the best organized year we’ve had in the history of Water Follies." And while my four years of attendance can't touch his 45, I'd have agree. Still, next year can take its sweet time getting here.

Want more?

Front-row seats for Water Follies
First-timers at the Follies

See Photos:
Art in the Park
Best Seats in the House
Follies First-Timers
Kai in the Sky
Villwock Penalized
Water Follies Day 1
Water Follies Day 2
Water Follies Day 3

And if that’s not enough, visit hydroracing.com for our complete coverage.


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