H1 Unlimited Hydroplane races to possibly come to Vancouver in 2023

Event coordinators of the May Hydroplane exhibition in Vancouver are looking into what a larger race event might look like

About 5,000-7,000 people gathered on the shore of the Columbia River to watch the May 20 H1 Unlimited Hydroplane race exhibition. Courtesy of Chris Denslow, Digital Roostertails/H1 Unlimited

When Nelson Holmberg was a young boy back in 1979, he said there were three Unlimited Hydroplane races that ran in Vancouver.

“My dad took me and told me that these boats were going to change my life,” Holmberg said. “I told my dad ‘yeah right,’ and now here I am 43 years later and I’m the guy who brought the hydroplanes back to Vancouver again.”

Back in May, Holmberg helped organize and bring an H1 Unlimited Hydroplane practice exhibition to Vancouver on the Columbia River. After his dad took him to see those Unlimited Hydroplane races in 1979, Holmberg has been heavily involved with Hydroplanes ever since. He has worked on a racing team, has been an official for the sport and raced radio-controlled Hydroplanes. Now, Holmberg has set his sights on bringing an actual race here to the Columbia River.

“We did that exhibition back on May 20 and we had between 5,000-7,000 people on the shore watching, there was a lot of interest,” Holmberg said. “The new AC Hotel by Marriott was a sponsor, Opsahl Dawson, Visit Vancouver Washington … we had a lot of really cool support for a one-day, first-time event. It gives us hope that we can actually put together a real race here in Vancouver as early as next summer.”

An H1 Unlimited Hydroplane race exhibition was held in Vancouver on May 20. Courtesy of Chris Denslow, Digital Roostertails/H1 Unlimited

In order to set up an actual Hydroplane race, Holmberg said there are 27 agencies that they have to get permits from. However, they had to go through that in order to just set up the exhibition in May, so he said that now the next steps will be to take some of the lessons they learned and the process from the exhibition event and make some tweaks and corrections. Holmberg said they worked closely with the City of Vancouver during the process of bringing the exhibition there, and he said city staff was excited about bringing an event like this to Vancouver and they had a lot of positive feedback about how the event went.

Although Holmberg said he couldn’t speak specifically about the economic impacts that bringing a Hydroplane race to Vancouver would have on the area, he did share an example of how another recent race in Guntersville, Ala., impacted that area’s local economy. He said that three-day event brought in about $4.5 million to the community, bringing people to hotels, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and more.

Christine Whitney, senior group sales manager, Vancouver USA Sports, with Visit Vancouver Washington, said that Visit Vancouver Washington doesn’t currently have tourism impact numbers to share regarding the Hydroplane exhibition event as they are currently in preliminary discussions and planning to what a larger event may even look like.

Pit stops for those participating in the May 20 H1 Unlimited Hydroplane race exhibition were along the Columbia River. Courtesy of Chris Denslow, Digital Roostertails/H1 Unlimited

“We are very excited about the prospect to bring this race to Vancouver in a larger capacity,” Whitney said. “The exhibition event in May was a great success with the teams and drivers that participated. It was a small event and there is much to consider and work to do as we look forward to options in 2023.”

“Back in 1979, the idea was to do this exhibition and see if Vancouver was a community that can support a real race, so very similar to this event (in May),” Holmberg said. “Back then, folks decided we weren’t big enough, but today we’re a huge city and I think Vancouver would support this. The Tri-Cities area has been doing this for a while, they hold the Gold Cup in Guntersville, Ala., and we’re bigger than both of those places. We have what it takes here, and one thing that’s really cool is that we would be the only state that has three races.”

Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.

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