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Ex-naval officer aims to highlight Dead Sea plight by paddling it

Benny ‘Pinky’ Hod completes first stretch on his lifesavers’ board, supported by over 70 swimmers, kayaks and paddleboards

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Benny 'Pinky' Hod sails his hasake board from where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea to Kalia Beach, February 18, 2022. (Malka Nihom)
Benny 'Pinky' Hod sails his hasake board from where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea to Kalia Beach, February 18, 2022. (Malka Nihom)

Retired senior naval officer Benny “Pinky” Hod from Tel Aviv is aiming to paddle his “hasake” board from the north to the south of what remains of the Dead Sea in a bid to draw attention to the sea’s rapid decline and advertise its potential for tourism and sport.

He plans to complete the trip in five or six sections.

The hasake, an Israeli creation that looks like a cross between a big surfboard and a small boat, was originally designed to enable lifesavers along Israel’s beaches to quickly reach swimmers in trouble and to return to shore without having to turn around in the waves.

On Friday, Hod completed the first stretch, from the point at which the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea to Kalia Beach, one of just three beaches along the deeper, northern section of the sea that are still accessible to the public as the shoreline has receded and sinkholes have opened up.

Hod, 67, was accompanied by more than 70 swimmers, kayaks, and paddleboards from Save the Dead Sea, a group that is trying to raise awareness about the Dead Sea, which is shrinking by around 1.10 meters (3.6 feet) each year.

This is mainly because the freshwater that once made up for water loss through evaporation has been diverted for human use by the Syrians, Jordanians, and Israelis.

Mineral extraction companies in Israel and Jordan also draw large quantities of water, returning less than they take out.

" Blue Bay surfing for the Dead Sea "נופי מלח – Salty LandscapesBlue Bay Sup & SurfMaayan GanorHagit Golan-gurmanBenny Hodעפר שמואלפלד

Posted by Malka Nihom on Saturday, February 19, 2022

Crossing the roughly 60 kilometers (37 miles) of the Dead Sea is the third adventure Hod will undertake on his hasake.

Hod’s late father Uzi, who served in the police force in the northern city of Haifa, had a hasake that he would use while off-duty.

Pinky acquired his board from the country’s only producer in Acre, in northern Israel, and paddled from Rosh Hanikra in Israel’s far north to the Gaza border in the south in memory of his father.

After that, he paddled from the Jordanian border on the Red Sea to the Egyptian border at Taba.

Sailing on the Dead Sea presents different challenges, he told The Times of Israel. While the hasake floats easily on the heavily saline water, there are extremely strong winds and waves.

“I want to show that you can enjoy the Dead Sea even in its present state. Maybe if more people come, it will create pressure to do something. We’re very good at blaming one another for what is happening, but my message would be that if we all come together to look for a solution, the sky’s the limit.”

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