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6,000 dunk in Willamette River for the 'Big Float 8'
Splish splash! Portland's taking a bath.
The Rose City's floaters, boaters, kayakers and doggy paddlers converged on the Willamette River on Saturday, July 14 for the eighth-annual Big Float, a beach-blanket party that gets everyday citizens all wet as they glide from bridge to beach.
Organizers said some 4,000 people had pre-registered, with another 2,000 expected to lather on sunscreen and grab a life jacket for the event that ran from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
"By getting on the water on the regular, it makes it tougher for us to treat the river poorly," said Ryan Rush while balancing a family-sized purple dragon inflatable on his head. The Portland resident has been coming to the Big Float for years.
Why? "I don't have a boat."
Rush is a bit of an anomaly. The Human Access Project — which runs the Big Float and the River Hugger swim team — estimates that 75 percent of attendees have never swam in the Willamette before.
Willie Levenson is trying to be the change. The Human Access Project ringleader calls the Big Float "a manifesto" to transform the average person's relationship with the water. He see the river as roughly 4,000 acres of parkland, albeit without that leafy green hue.
"This is our city's blue space — and it's completely unactivated," he said. "Today, our river is swimmable. This is something we should celebrate."
Many people at the Big Float hop in the water as soon as they clear the gates surrounding Tom McCall Waterfront Park's "Bowl Beach." But there's also a landlocked afternoon parade that takes attendees south to Poet's Beach, where hundreds took the plunge before enjoying the leisurely 90-minute trip back to the waterfront.
There's also a slip-n-slide, bouncy slide, a masseur, reps educating locals about nearby watersheds and a floating stage where bands perform (and one man proposed).
Oh yeah, and pirates.
"We're here to help people into the river. As pirates, that means we grab them by the belt and throw them in," said Capt. Mark "Topknot" Axton, who leads the pirate crew of the Outrageous Fortune.
Marlee Reese drove with a friend to Portland from Prosser, Washington — a town of 6,000 that sits on the Yakima River — to participate in the Big Float. In ag country, you sometimes see dead cows floating by, so a little muddy runoff was hardly a deterrent for her.
"It's not like it's one big pool, it's constantly flowing," the 23-year-old said. "I don't think it's gross."
Our reporter forgot to apply sunscreen before taking these photos:
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