Hydro Racing

With spills, chills and memories - final day of Water Follies had something for everyone

Desiree Cameron cried Sunday looking at the makeshift memorial for her father in Columbia Park created by his boat-race buddies of more than 30 years.

"It means a lot to me," said Cameron of Graham, who has tons of memories of Pat Austin's favorite hydroplane watching spot in the Kennewick park.

This year, it was the place for Austin's friends to share memories of their longtime friend, who died in December of pancreatic cancer at age 52.

"It was a tiny sapling when we began gathering here," said Mike Barber of Bellingham.

"He talked me into coming (to the spot) in 1983," said Barber, who previously sat at the finish line.

He said he soon realized the spot offered the best close views of boats as they turned on the course. "My films of boat races turned out to be much better," he said.

Most of the rest of the tens of thousands of racing fans who lined the Columbia River on Sunday were an orderly lot who came for the hydros, the heat, the cheer and the beer. But apparently not so much of the beer this year.

Police reported few arrests, first-aid volunteers mainly treated blisters and stubbed toes, and some vendors said the crowd looked larger than last year.

Observers gave mixed estimates of the crowd size this year. Last year, Follies officials said about 60,000 attended the event over three days.

Kennewick police Sgt. Ken Lattin said fewer arrests were made Sunday than Saturday, when 14 people were arrested at the event. DUIs, domestic assaults and alcohol violations accounted for most of the 20 arrests Sunday, Lattin said.

Pasco Police Sgt. Brent Cook said Pasco police made no arrests Sunday at the races.

"We've just been having a great crowd," he said. "I've never seen so many families with kids."

Water Follies attendees on the Franklin County side agreed.

"This is the place to be," said Jorge Velasco, a Pasco resident tossing horseshoes with friends. "(In Kennewick) there's too much concrete," he said, pointing out that the grass and open spaces in Pasco make for a family-oriented atmosphere.

Eleazar Salinas watched his kids, Haley and Mason, glide down the slide of a giant inflatable toy between race heats.

It's the first year Salinas brought his children to watch the Follies because he remembers what a "drunk fest" it was when he was growing up. "It's a lot nicer now, and they have stuff like this," he said. "It keeps the kids busy because they're only interested in the boats for so long."

Riley Leonard began setting up the inflatables at the Follies a couple of years ago because he started seeing more and more families.

"There are hundreds of kids, and they all end up here," he said, pointing to a young group all clutching their money for laser tag. "I'm the big baby sitter."

Although some Water Follies fans frolicked in the water to keep cool, many needed other refreshment.

Some of the longest lines could be found trailing from snow cone and ice cream booths.

Beatriz Miranda of Miranda's Treats Sno Shack estimated she'd sell 700 snow cones Sunday. She's been in the snow cone business for 18 years and said the boat races are her annual cash cow. "It looks good," she said, surveying the crowd.

Over at Tropical Snow Hawaiian Shave Ice, 17-year-old Aleisha Sorensen said snow cone sales would likely be 400 to 500.

"We're actually the slow hut," she said, adding that the Tropical Snow hut by the golf course was busier. Still, as a line of about a half-dozen people snaked from her booth, Sorensen conceded that the term "slow" was relative. "Slow is not slow."

Tropical Snow's golf course hut looked to be the day's biggest snow cone seller. Denise Decicio, 21, estimated they'd sell about 900 snow cones Sunday. "This is definitely the best event," she said.

The Knights of Columbus, who were selling ice cream, may have satisfied more sweet tooths than all the snow cone booths combined. Larry Cleveland estimated they sold about 40 tubs of ice cream, each of which held three gallons. That works out to about 2,800 people served.

Sugar and treats aside, the races were the real reason the thousands gathered along the Columbia.

John Smith, who moved to the Tri-Cities about three weeks ago from Denver, was trying to catch the action sitting in the shade in Columbia Park. "They don't look like they're going 200 mph," Smith said.

Speeding boats are thrilling, said Adam Goodnight, who came to the races with his work colleague Tina Mendez. There's always some excitement at the races, he said.

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