If you are new to Seattle and the Eastside, a natural reaction would be, “Man, you guys really have an irrational attraction to hydroplanes.”
So for all of our new Puget Sounders, and for those young enough to not quite understand the obsession, here’s what you need to know about Seafair.
1) How it Started
Seafair goes back to 1950, and according to Seafair.com, the first one “featured parades, boat races on Green Lake, amateur athletic events, royalty, community festivals like West Seattle Hi-Yu Days, Rainier District Pow-wow, Wallingford Pirate Days, the University District Kid’s Parade, and the Ballard Festival, and were highlighted by the nightly Aqua Follies performances. Seafair was deemed a success and the festival would grow the next summer with the addition of the unlimited hydroplane racing class on Lake Washington.”
If you’ve been to Green Lake, you will have seen an oddly placed amphitheatre situated at the south end of the lake. According to Seafair.com, “the 5,000 seat Aqua Theater (built specifically for Seafair) on the southwest shores of Green Lake was home to a dazzling “swimusical” known as the Aqua Follies. Aqua Follies included a diving show with breathtaking high dives as well as comedy skits and diving. The Aqua Dears, 30 female synchronized swimmers, performed ballet in the water while the Aqua Darlings, 24 dancers presented the stage ballet. The nightly shows, including moonlight matinees that started at 11:15 p.m., were the entertainment highlight of the world’s greatest water carnival. Bob Hope, Bert Parks and a number of Olympic divers were just some of the famous performers at this unique outdoor venue. The Aqua Follies played a significant role in the Seafair festival between 1950 and 1965.”
So yes, not only did Bob Hope perform at Green Lake, professional swimmers actually dared enter the water at one point in time. And there was such a thing as a “swimusical” which we can’t believe doesn’t exist anymore.
2) What’s the deal with the Blue Angels?
Early on, the U.S. Navy and Seafair started working together. Before the Blue Angels were the main draw, gigantic Navy ships docked in Elliot Bay, giving civilians the opportunity to tour them. So while Seattle men were touring the ships, the Navy sailors were touring Seattle and joining in the summer celebration. There are no published reports of Seattle women lodging any protests about this.
While the Blue Angels were formed in 1946, it wasn’t until 1972 that they became a fixture at Seafair. They now perform full shows on Seafair Saturday and Sunday, but also practice over Lake Washington on Thursday and Friday, giving everyone a chance to check out their maneuvers. If you are planning on crossing I-90, here are the times to avoid, since it will be closed. (Source: WSDOT)
- Thursday, July 31: 9:45 a.m. – noon; 1:15 – 2:40 p.m. (Practice)
- Friday, Aug. 1: 12:15 p.m. – 2:40 p.m., (Practice)
- Saturday, Aug. 2: 12:15 p.m. – 2:40 p.m., (Full show)
- Sunday, Aug. 3: 12:15 p.m. – 2:40 p.m., (Full show)
3) So What’s The Obsession With the Hydros?
According to the SeattleP-i.com, “It’s been said that the hydroplane racing boat called Slo Mo Shun IV invented summer in Seattle. In 1950, (Stan) Sayres and the Slo Mo captured the Gold Cup at Detroit — the hydroplane equivalent of winning the Super Bowl. That brought the race out West for the first time since 1904, and started the tradition of hydroplane races in Seattle.”
So it started with civic pride in 1950. But let’s be realistic for a second. 64 years later, Seafair fans are not necessarily enthralled with the race itself. The race is simply an excuse for everyone with a boat to congregate in one general area, tie up to the log boom, and engage in one of the world’s largest cocktail parties on a lake.
4) That sounds fun. How do I get to do that?
Every Seafair weekend, boat owners become the most popular people in the Puget Sound. If your friend lives anywhere on Lake Washington, they’ll have their pick of friends and acquaintances to invite to the party. If you really want to be part of the Seafair experience next year, it’s good to mix in a question like, “So do you like boats?” in any conversation with new potential friends.
5) So if I don’t have one of those friends, what can I do?
If you don’t have access to a boat, your best bet is to head down to Genesee Park for all the events through the weekend. There will be beer gardens, exhibits, and things for the kids. You don’t exactly get to just drive down, park and walk in the same way you would a Seahawks game, so plan accordingly. Shuttles and Light Rail run from several locations.
To wrap it all up
The bottom line is that Seafair goes back 3 generations now. Most people don’t have any idea why we love it, but it’s our tradition. New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Milwaukee has Summerfest, Nevada has Burning Man, and we have Seafair.
Bob Hope, supersonic jets, crazy fast boats that flip over, a giant water based party and even crazy clowns. It’s uniquely Seattle, and couldn’t be more localicious.