‘A cool, history throwback for one day a year’ | 4th annual Kenmore Hydroplane Cup returns to Northshore

The reincarnation of an old classic will soon bring the nostalgic sounds of hydroplanes back to the shores of Kenmore.

The fourth annual Kenmore Hydroplane Cup “Slough Race” will return to north Lake Washington on April 8. Sponsored by Seattle Water Sports, 192 Brewery and the Seattle Outboard Association, the vintage inboard and 45SS tunnel boat exhibition races will take place in front of the North Lake Marina and Kenmore Air Harbor.

Some 25 boats are expected to compete at this year’s event. The two- and three-cylinder outboard boats will leave the Kenmore Boat Launch for a timed upriver race on the Sammamish River “Slough,” with one boat running at a time. Opening ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. with races starting at noon and running until 4 p.m. Admission for the event is free.

The day before the event, slough race organizers will hold a “Hydro Happy Hour” at the 192 Brewery. Hydroplanes will be on display and drivers from races past and present will be in attendance.

The slough race, which dates back to 1933, returned after a 38-year hiatus in 2014. It was discontinued after a boat accident in 1976 and as permitting and insurance costs became a burden for organizers. Prior to its hiatus, the event drew crowds of spectators between 40,000 and 80,000.

The idea to reintroduce the event came after local artist, Amberly “Gaul” Culley, organized the Sammamish Slough race exhibit at Kenmore City Hall in 2013.

Though no longer drawing crowds in the tens of thousands, race co-chair Jan Shaw said last year’s event saw its largest turnout since it returned. She estimated a crowd of more than 3,000, which she attributed to favorable weather conditions.

Shaw, 66, said continuing the event holds significant importance for those, such as herself, who remember the slough race’s previous incarnation.

“I think people in the Seattle area are so familiar with Seafair and the big hydroplanes. Seattle Outboard puts out 14 events throughout the year, though we don’t have anything in King County except this. That’s why we’ve kept it going,” she said.

Kenmore resident J.W. “J-Dub” Myers, 43, will be racing in the April 8 event and has competed in the previous three slough races since the cup returned in 2014. This year, Myers plans to race in his father’s C Stock Runabout, a boat which he said his father ran in the final slough race in 1976.

“I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to the history of the sport of boat racing,” he said.

Myers, who competes in eight to 10 races a year, is entering his 35th year of boat racing. He took up the sport as a 9-year-old and called the slough race “a cool part of outboard racing history.” As a child, Myers recalled hearing his boat-racing father talk about the event with his buddies and said he always wanted to relive their racing experiences on his own. The slough race had discontinued by the time Myers took up the sport.

“Mainly, most of the competitors, myself included, got into racing as the family sport that it is,” he said. “I’m personally a third-generation racer. I’ll get some of my other buddies into racing and I try and promote the sport as best I can. I’ll give guys the opportunity to run the boat and then if they want to do it, can compete on their own. It’s like being a drug dealer: you always give them the first one free.”

Myers said he believes the slough race draws boat racers partly because of the history behind it as well as for the opportunity to race on the river, noting river-racing isn’t as common these days. For the general public, he said the slough race provides a chance for people to witness an event that until four years ago, they had only heard about.

“People in Kenmore or Bothell that have been there for any duration of time, they all knew about [the race] and they used to go down to the slough and watch it,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a cool history throwback for one day a year.”

When asked what he’s looking forward to most about this year’s Kenmore Hydroplane Cup, Myers doesn’t hesitate with a response.

“Just doing it. Just simply doing it,” he said. “There’s no $10,000 prize money check that I’m aware of, so it’s just reliving the experience. That’s my big thing: to have the experience that a lot of my racing heroes had. Growing up in the sport, every old-school racer always talked about the slough race. I’m just into it for the nostalgia part of it and I won’t miss it for anything.”