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Lebanon Water Festival makes a splash

  • Divers plunge in the water off the coast of Beirut, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The countrywide water sports event, Lebanon Water Festival, will get local and international enthusiasts diving, surfing, skiing and sailing starting Sept. 3.

The festival will last through the month of September and aims to promote water sports in the country and the importance of preserving Lebanon’s coastline. Discounted classes in various aquatic activities will carry on throughout the month, as will a sprinkling of competitions and free shows by professional water skiers.

Creators Annette Khoury and her father, world water-ski champion Simon Khoury, launched the first Lebanon Water Festival last summer, drawing more than 14,000 people to watch and participate in events at several of the country’s major beaches.

The organizers have expanded this year’s program to include three new locations: Batroun’s rocky beach, Anfeh in the north, and Jiyyeh south of Beirut.

The festival’s creators hope to raise awareness about which parts of the country are best for particular water sports, Annette Khoury told The Daily Star. The new locations bring the festival’s coverage to six cities in total, including last year’s spots of Kaslik, Dbayyeh and Tyre.

“What we’re trying to do is to label each city as the best place to do this or to do that – and slowly, slowly we’re going to map out the coast,” she said.

For example, Jounieh has a reputation as the country’s hotspot for water skiing all summer long. But few know that this time of year, the calm waters of Tyre are better suited for a late-summer sea jaunt, she explained.

Khoury and her father have also expanded the water sport offerings this year, adding surf and stand-up paddle boarding, kite boarding and apnea – or free diving.

There will also be a free nighttime international water ski performance Sept. 14 in the Dbayyeh marina with fireworks and other fanfare.

The first edition of Lebanon Water Festival sought to boost local and international interest in water sports in the country. And that goal was certainly met, Khoury said.

During the past year, people interested in water sports have bombarded the festival’s Facebook page and Khoury herself with inquiries about the best place or person with whom to do their favorite water sports.

“It’s clear we are answering to a need,” she said. “The demand is incredible, people are asking can you give me the name of so and so or the number of this place – answering these questions is basically what I’ve been doing all year long.”

Khoury and her father had played with the idea of doing mountain sports, but the demand for more water activities kept them looking seaward.

In the spirit of accessibility, Lebanon Water Festival will open all of its competitions and shows for free to the public, Khoury was quick to explain, even those locations that ordinarily require membership. For example, people will have access to locations like the exclusive Dbayyeh marina via its public corniche.

Last year’s public shows were a great draw in places like Tyre, where Khoury said public sporting events are rare but important to fostering community. More than 12,000 people crowded the Tyre beach, hung from balconies and off the southern city’s corniche at last year’s show.

One of the additions to this year’s show lineup includes a special Lebanese water-ski team to be trained by Simon Khoury. He and Annette have two weeks to train around 25 young people in basic show elements like the human pyramid, water ballet and other moves, she said.

For those not interested in standing on the sidelines, Lebanon Water Festival has roped in the help of a number of instructors from around the country, namely surfing instructor Ali Elamine, kite boarding instructor Tobia Kmeid and water ski instructor Tarek Fenianos.

Prices for sports have been reduced to attract as many interested enthusiasts as possible, and competitions and races throughout September will offer students new and old a chance to show off their skills.

Lebanon has a lot of touristic and economic potential surrounding water sports, Khoury said.

The country is one of three known places with a natural hole capable hosting international free-diving competitions, she said.

The country has a wealth of diving spots rich with historic relics and wildlife. For example, Tyre houses the only underwater Phoenician city and elsewhere in the country there are underwater ship wrecks, tabletop coral and coastline caves to explore.

Lebanon Water Festival will offer foreigners and locals a rare opportunity to explore the underwater Phoenician ruins in Tyre. Some are coming from as far away as Argentina to participate in the international underwater photography competition, which will focus on this sunken ancient city.

One of the underlying purposes of the festival is pushing for the cleanup and preservation of Lebanon’s coastline, which has been the object of environmentalists’ scorn for decades.

Proving the worth of the country’s coastline in terms of tourism and local jobs is arguably the best way to push municipalities to protect and conserve the sea. Lebanon Water Festival is doing just that with the help of other non-governmental organizations, particularly one called Purple Reef.

Purple Reef is conducting research across the country’s coastline about natural flora and fauna and the toxins harming them. They also do educational projects and seek to preserve the countries fisheries by using such things as water sports as a way to supplement the incomes of fisherman, who are the most familiar with the countries seaside, Khoury said.

For more information about Lebanon Water Festival and its calendar of events, visit www.lebanonwaterfestival.com.

 
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