Hydro race to decide best in the West

Hydro racers are returning to Oak Harbor bay for the eighth Hydros for Heroes event.

Hydro racers are returning to Oak Harbor bay for the eighth Hydros for Heroes event, but there’s news: this year, they will compete to be the best in the West.

For the first time, Oak Harbor was selected to host the American Power Boat Association’s Western Divisional championship, a race where boat racers from all over the western half of the country compete in their boat class.

According to Organizer Jim Woessner, racers voted Oak Harbor as the ideal place to host this important championship, which will take place Saturday and Sunday July 13-14.

“This is the race — if you live in the Western United States — that you’re going to want to race at,” he said. “Being the champion in your division is a pretty big deal.”

The races will take place in front of Bayshore Drive and the Oak Harbor Marina, where viewers can bring their own chairs or sit at the beer garden and enjoy the view of the boats.

This year’s spectacle will kick off at 10 a.m. on Saturday, with vendor booths — 53, according to Woessner — open to the public. The opening ceremony starts at 11 a.m. with the National Anthem and two Growlers from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island flying over the event, followed by a vintage hydro demonstration run at 11:15 a.m. and the races starting at 11:35 a.m.

Woessner expects there will be between 30 to 40 teams in attendance. Each team includes a pilot and the pit crew.

The break at 1:30 p.m. will feature a search and rescue demonstration brought by the Navy’s Search and Rescue team, followed by an opportunity to get the pilots’ autographs in front of the pit area. The races continue through 5:45 p.m., culminating with an awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. and live music at the beer garden until 9 p.m.

Sunday follows a similar schedule except the event ends with a final race at 4:30 p.m., according to a schedule posted on the event’s Facebook page.

Hydros for Heroes was born in 2016 with the mission to support Whidbey’s heroes, such as military members, law enforcement, teachers, health care professionals, firefighters and paramedics.

The event is free to the community and participants enter by making a donation, with all proceeds devoted to supporting these heroes with scholarships and support.

“It’s the only charity hydroplane race in the country that we’re aware of,” said Woessner, who comes from a family of hydro racing enthusiasts. In the 1970s, when he was 13 years old, he joined the Whidbey Roostertails — a local hydroplane racing club — and drove an eight-and-a-half-foot-long boat that could go 40 miles per hour, he said.

The Seattle area is home to many legendary hydroplane racers and a “tight” hydroplane racing community, Woessner said. Many of them found in Whidbey’s waters the ideal place to dash through the waves and feel the adrenaline rush.

About a decade ago, Rhonda Severns — wife of former Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns — asked Woessner why the hydros were no longer racing in Oak Harbor, suggesting him to bring back the races.

In 2016, after two years of being a for-profit event, Woessner and Co-Organizer Craig McKenzie decided to create an event that was free to the public and that honored local heroes.

On top of reigniting many’s passion for the sport, Hydros for Heroes has donated $175,000, according to McKenzie, who is a retired Navy veteran. Last year, the event raised over $30,000, Woessner said.

For more information and updates, visit Hydros for Heroes on Facebook or at hydrosforheroes.com.