The way Steve Huff sees it, he “returned to the waters that gave him birth.”
Huff, who was born in Oak Harbor and graduated from South Whidbey High School, provided Hydros for Heroes a local flavor last weekend.
Huff was born in the old Seaplane Base Hospital that overlooked Oak Harbor Bay, site of the hydro races.
“It was surreal looking up at the building I was born in 50 years ago as I crossed the finish line,” he said.
“I used to sit in the Flintstone car eating ice cream cones. This weekend our pit area was right there — it brought back a lot of memories.”
Huff, who went by Steve Othberg when he lived in Oak Harbor, is new to hydroplaning but not to speed racing.
“First it was cars, then it was motorcycles and now it is boats,” he said. “Racing is racing. Racers don’t favor one sport over the other — it is the competition — man and machine.”
Huff set records in each of his previous racing endeavors, including five motorcycle land speed marks established at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
Now he hopes to put his stamp on hydroplane racing.
“I always wanted to race hydros,” he said. “How could you not, growing up in the Northwest.”
He noted his youth was during the heyday of unlimited racing, the major league of the sport.
He recently purchased Agitator, a five-liter boat, from Wally Johnston, a highly respected and longtime hydroplane driver.
Agitator holds the current world speed record.
“I feel real fortunate to purchase it,” Huff said. “Wally was really picky on who he was going to sell it to.”
Johnston joined Huff in Eastern Washington recently to help out in Huff’s first hydroplane venture.
Hydros for Heroes was only the third time Huff hit the water in Agitator.
Huff was challenged on the Oak Harbor course by Jeff Bernard, the current world champion, who is breaking in a new boat.
“I had a lot of nerves,” Huff said. “We had the fastest driver with a new boat and the newest driver with the fastest boat. He gave me a a driving clinic, but we held our own. My team was incredible.”
Huff finished second to Bernard in their class this weekend.
“I reached 108 mph,” Huff said. “That’s the slowest of anything I race, but on the water it felt like I was going twice as fast.”
Huff’s grandfather, Lou Welch, developed property throughout Oak Harbor, including Oak Bowl and much of the Navy housing.
Huff, who attend Olympic View Elementary, moved to Camano Island in the fourth grade with his mother, Pamela Huff. In the eighth grade, he moved to South Whidbey.
Coming back to his birthplace to race was a special moment.
“Thanks to all my friends for coming out to support me,” he said. “And thanks to Oak Harbor for the great show. It was the best I had ever seen.”
“On behalf of all the other boats, Oak Harbor is at the top of the list. All the racers are looking forward to coming back.”
Huff added that it was “great to come back home and see a town that still has a sense of community.”
Besides competing, Huff, owner of Steve Huff Motorsports in Sea-Tac, has earned fame as an award-winning designer of custom motorcycles.
“To get to this point in my career,” he said, “I have to thank my friends and teachers who mentored me. When I was growing up and working on farms on the island, there weren’t a lot of stores, so if you needed something, you made it yourself.”
Thus, his designing career blossomed.
“Boat racing is just a bonus,” he said.
Coming back to Oak Harbor rekindled memories of his youth, Huff said.
“The hospital on the hill is where I took my first breath of life.”
Now he races at speeds that take that breath away.