Were they actually riots, or merely overzealous cops cracking down on drunken summertime shenanigans? More than four decades after the heyday of the Diamond Cup hydroplane races in Coeur d'Alene devolved into flying tear gas, fire hoses trained on teenagers and multiple arrests, that question remains.
What is clear is that the nighttime scene following the Diamond Cup races in the 1960s got a little testy. Former Coeur d'Alene City Council member Dave Walker recalled the action in a highly entertaining 2010 blog post aiming to separate the "hydroplane riots" facts from fiction (theoldkoot.blogspot.com), and the Coeur d'Alene Press newspaper did the same in a 2013 story headlined "Riots: Setting The Record Straight." From all accounts, people — particularly visitors in town for the boat races — loved to party in Sherman Avenue's many bars on those summer nights.
In 1961, police were surprised when the partying got a little out of hand. Some fights and broken windows downtown led to fire hoses, tear gas, even "some National Guard muscle," according to the Press. The police were ready in 1962 when word of a disturbance came in. Police blocked off a chunk of Sherman and got the 500 or so party people to move on. The next year, police used similar tactics to disperse about 1,000 folks raging on the same stretch of Sherman. In 1964, the "disturbance" shrank and one Spokane teen was charged with inciting a riot from among "the 300-400 young people who tried to start something," the Press reported.
The 1965 hydroplane races were blessedly riot-free, and no one reportedly started something in the festival's ensuing years.