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Coastal festival rekindles Lebanon’s love of water sports

BEIRUT: The inaugural Lebanon Water Festival concludes this weekend with water ski performances and competitions along the Lebanese coast after 20 days of events promoting water sports.

The three weeks of diverse events included an international underwater photography competition, sailing competitions in Jounieh and Batroun, and four water ski performances.

“The first objective is to revive water sports in Lebanon, get the Lebanese involved again,” the festival’s vice president Annette Khoury, told The Daily Star.

Khoury is co-founder of the nonprofit organization with her father, Lebanese world champion water skier Simon Khoury.

“The second [objective] is to promote tourism and make water sports a reason for people to travel abroad to Lebanon,” said Khoury, who praised the support of the Tourism Ministry and local municipalities in executing the event.

The first of the series of water ski exhibitions was held Sunday in Tyre, where more than 12,000 spectators gathered along the beach and corniche – some even hanging from balconies – to enjoy the spectacle.

The crowd was treated to a choreographed program featuring international water ski champions who mostly traveled from the United States. Lebanese water skiers will take part in the upcoming performances.

In Sunday’s show, performers skied in various formations, such as the pyramid which calls for the skiers to nimbly climb onto the shoulders of those at the base of the pyramid, making up to four or five levels. Other tricks included freestyle jumps, flip turns on water skis and ballet movements while traveling across the water at high speeds.

“It’s a bigger success than we could have predicted. People were so enthusiastic. There’s something at the root of this that is so positive,” Khoury said of Sunday’s event, which drew a surprisingly large crowd of people from villages around the south when organizers were only initially anticipating about 1,000 spectators.

The water ski shows will be repeated in Dbayyeh this Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m., as well as in front of Beirut’s BIEL on Oct. 14 also at 3 p.m. These shows will be accompanied by jet ski competitions.

While the festival focused on fun for its first edition, there was also a strong environmental component to the project.

Khoury emphasized the importance of encouraging the Lebanese to enjoy their coastline.

The underwater photography competition aimed to raise awareness about preservation. Municipalities also played a big role in getting the coast ready for events.

“Wherever we did an event we were cleaning. We’re asking for changes. It’s one step at a time and the momentum is building,” said Khoury, who is keen to make next year’s festival a platform for environmental NGOs in Lebanon.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 11, 2012, on page 2.

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