Lebanon’s Water Festival has brought competitors from across the region to practice their sport in the crystal waters near Palm Island
PALM ISLAND, Lebanon – Frequently associated with violence, poverty and sectarian tensions, Tripoli doesn’t seem like the obvious home for an international kiteboarding competition. However, this year the Lebanon Water Festival has brought competitors from across the region to Lebanon’s northern shores to practice their sport in the crystal waters off the coast of Lebanon Palm Island.
Located just six nautical miles off the coast of the northern port city of Tripoli, the Lebanon Palm Island Nature Reserve is Lebanon’s only true island chain. It takes about an hour for small fishing boats – brimming with day trippers and local fisherman – to arrive at the shores of the idyllic island, which contains both a public beach and a protected nature reserve known for sea turtles and other unique marine wildlife.
Unlike the often murky, polluted water off the coast of Beirut and other coastal cities on the mainland of Lebanon, the water is turquoise and clear; swimmers and snorkellers can see straight to its rocky bottom. On the beach itself, the sand is fine and white; an eroded limestone, which, in addition to creating a naturally pristine recreational beach, is believed by local fisherman to have healing properties for rheumatism and arthritis.
Today, the kiteboarders breathe new energy into the normally local beach, delighting reclining beach-goers with their stunts as they carve up the crisp waves and get a feel for the wind just off the coast of the island. It feels worlds away from the garbage-choked Lebanese capital. In Beirut the nightly clashes between riot police and protesters, who are demanding an end to the almost two-month rubbish crisis, are making international news. However, despite the vastly different atmosphere, the issues that the protesters are demonstrating against and the problems the festival are trying to combat, are linked in aspiration if not method.
“People in Beirut shouldn’t be protesting in the streets like this,” said 86-year-old Simon Khoury, steering his boat around the island, as photographers aboard capture the kiteboarders’ stunts and the view of the island from the sea.
Khoury is a legendary waterskiing champion for Lebanon, competing in hundreds of shows through the 1950s and 60s. Since retiring from professional competing, he has been a steering figure in the evolution of water sports in the country. Now, as one of the founders of the Lebanese Water Festival, he works to both promote Lebanon’s coastal regions as local and international tourism destinations and the conservation of these coastal areas as natural resources.
Four years ago, the festival began organising international water sports competitions as a means to both draw international tourists to Lebanon, and promote local water recreation and conservation…[Continue reading at Middle East Eye]