Baharav brings regatta to Bellingham


Israel's placid gem, the Sea of Galilee, captured Dan Baharav nearly 60 years ago.

The lake's glassy complexion at the heart of Israel 680 feet below sea level beckoned him, just as it did other sprint kayakers. He was 14 then, but the addictive "poison," as he called sprint kayaking, seized him.

"When you are in the water, it is something different," Baharav said in a phone interview. "There is a feeling in the water that you work hard and you have to keep balance ... and at the same time, you want to go fast.

"It is very difficult to use your mind and body, and for that reason it is very poisoning," the 73-year-old said, recalling the more primitive days when wooden kayaks only existed, and fiber glass was but a distant concept.

Although years have since passed, that signature passion has never abandoned Baharav, not even a mandatory stint in the Israeli military could extinguish it. But for a man who still relishes the rigors of competition, circling Lake Whatcom every Wednesday with a group of fellow kayakers in an unsanctioned race, a question remained frustrating and without an answer.

"I didn't understand why (Bellingham) doesn't have a sprint-kayak team," Baharav said. "I didn't understand why Bellingham, which has this kind of water appreciation here ... why we don't have a team here when we have three very good lakes around here."

Diligent research and some generous donations later, Baharav has collected enough resources and the approval from the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Board to start a non-profit youth kayaking program at Lake Padden. Its first event, a regatta featuring racers from Washington and Canada, is Saturday, June 15, with races beginning at 9 a.m. and running through 6 p.m. at Lake Padden.

The organization, named the Bellingham Canoe and Kayak Sprint Team, caters to children ages 9-18, and will offer two levels: A development team coached by seasoned kayaker Zac Johnson, and a high-performance team coached by him.

The development team will be technique-oriented, aiming to equip children with the ability to stay upright in the unsteady kayaks, Johnson said in a phone interview.

"The first year you are paddling, it is a lot of swimming," Johnson said. "Our kayaks are extremely unstable; they basically feel like if you took a high chair you use to feed babies and put it on top of a regular kayak and sat it (It)."

Once beyond the routinely tiresome phase of getting wet, Johnson added, is where the true colors of the sport begin to shine, especially for someone as competitive as himself.

"You get to line up next to somebody," Johnson said, "and you look over and you look them in the eyes and smile a little bit, and the gun goes off and you are flying down the course."

Skirting like a dragon fly over the motionless water is what makes Lake Padden a perfect home for sprint kayaking, and, in turn, Baharav and his program.

The quiet lake can hold various distances of races, whether 200, 500 or even 1,000 meter races, he said, and it is accommodating to all styles of canoeing and kayaking.

Baharav's motives for starting the team span further than Bellingham's prime location, though. It involves his teenage granddaughter in Israel.

In a country starved of suitable lakes, her involvement in sprint kayaking brings about a need to do something for children in Bellingham who have no such shortage.

It just has to start somewhere.

"We develop these kids to become good racers," he said, "but really, I like to bring these kids to the water."

Baharav's dreams are tempered when it comes to the programs future. It starts with the regatta, and then moves to the first beginners training program starting June 17, and who knows, it might even put Bellingham on the map.

"The expectations are not high, but the goals are big," he said.

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