SIDON, Lebanon: In spite of the dire situation in Lebanon with an escalating economic crisis, locals can still find a way to escape the daily pressures, at least temporarily, by looking for fun mood-lifting activities like exercising or spending time in nature.
One such escape is whitewater river kayaking, a sport no longer practiced only by professionals looking to compete, but also by those seeking an adrenaline rush away from life’s daily worries.
However, while practicing kayaking has becoming challenging for these enthusiasts considering today’s climate in Lebanon, it has also become an expression of the right to live and find joy during such unstable times, even if it takes spending a whole day at gas stations to fill up the car needed to get to the kayaking locations.
Over the last two decades, kayaking has become one of the most popular water sportsin the country, especially among young people.
In the mid-1990s, Ali Awada founded the first Canoe and Kayak Club at rivers in different regions across Lebanon.
Today, he continues his journey with the club by teaching groups of young people from different regions the principles of kayaking and training them to raft in rivers, like the Khardali River, a distributary of the Litani, located along the Nabatiyeh main road in Marjayoun.
“Even with the crises and problems in Lebanon, there is always something called positive energy that we can channel inside ourselves to project on others and vice versa,” Awada told The Daily Star. “We have to have a positive outlook on life.”
Awada likened Lebanon’s current situation to a small boat flowing down a river: “All of us are in the same boat as a nation. We have to raft together in harmony because if the boat sinks, we all sink. And if we arrive safely, we all reach the same goal.”
Moreover, the rivers where they canoe and kayak have no regional or sectarian barriers, Awada said. Instead, rafters come across natural obstacles like rocks, tree branches and waterfalls, which teach them how to be patient and how to overcome obstacles in life as well as in rivers.
“I advise politicians to come to the Litani River and learn how to raft to let out what they hold against each other, and to experience and learn peacefulness from nature to achieve the better version of Lebanon its people long for,” Awada said.
Kayaking is also an example of environmental tourism, Awada explained, and contributes to rural development. The club often has visitors from France, Ukraine and Germany, some of whom are employees at embassies and international organizations in Lebanon.
But Awada mentioned that current security regulations imposed by embassies deterring their citizens from visiting the southern regions deprive the area of much needed tourism and have a detrimental impact on local economies.
Awada wants to encourage the new generation to take up kayaking, noting that when he returned to Lebanon from lFrance 20 years ago he wanted to share his passion for the sport and bring it to his country.
MP Bahia Hariri was the first person to back him, and in 1995 helped with the founding of the kayaking club in the Kinayat region on the bank of the Al-Awali River, north of Sidon. It was the first club of the sort in the south.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Celine Chaaya said she made the journey all the way from Beirut to Al-Khardali with friends to go kayaking.
“It’s my first time in the south, I really like it. We are sick of the roadblocks and problems – we just want to live and have fun. I encourage all people to come down to these beautiful safe regions and enjoy the mesmerizing nature.”
Another visitor, Joe Lebbos, told The Daily Star, “We left Beirut at 4 a.m. after spending the whole of the previous day at the gas station to ensure we could travel south, practice kayaking and spend time in nature.”