By Dames Alexander Sinaga
JAKARTA, Feb. 26 (Xinhua) -- As Tongam Siahaan and his family strolled along Lake Toba in Indonesia's province of North Sumatra on Sunday, he took a pride in the crater lake that has become one of the venues for the Formula 1 World Powerboat Championship, also known as F1H2O.
The 46-year-old bank clerk from Jakarta took leave to witness the world's highest class of inshore powerboat race from his birthplace Balige, a town on the south side of the lake.
The opening round of the 2023 F1H2O championship race in Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world, was held this weekend. The championship features 20 racers from 10 teams, including the Chinese CTIC Team.
"I never imagined that such a prestigious international sport event could be held in Lake Toba. This is very cool and extraordinary. I'm just so proud," Siahaan told Xinhua.
Siahaan is a Batak, an ethnic group from North Sumatra. The traditional homelands of the native people spread around Lake Toba and Samosir, the lake's central island that is almost the size of Indonesia's neighboring country Singapore.
Lake Toba was recognized as one of the UNESCO Global Geoparks in 2020, and it is one of the country's ten priority tourist destinations. Indonesia has been promoting the project since 2018 with an aim to develop more new tourism hubs with global reputations such as Bali.
Tickets to watch the F1H2O in Lake Toba were sold out, with all hotels and homestays in Balige fully booked days prior to the event.
Yudhi Wijaya, a university student, rode his motorcycle all the way from the North Sumatra capital of Medan to Lake Toba on Friday. He and his friends ended up setting up tents on a nearby hill after being unable to find accommodation in Balige.
"We can also watch the race from here with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. This is a great pleasure," he said.
Some spectators also ended up watching the competition through live screens set up by organizers at several spots in the area.
Sensing a prospect, local entrepreneur Gomgom Simanjuntak recently built a homestay accommodation. His eight-bedroom building was fully occupied by tourists in the three days leading up to the event.
"Great tourism developments are happening here. I'm sure that accommodation businesses will get more fruitful and more promising," he said, adding that some locals in Balige have begun to make a living from tourism or hospitality.
Indonesia and the F1 Committee have made an agreement that Lake Toba will be a championship fixture for five years.
President Joko Widodo and his wife arrived in Balige on Sunday to watch the race.
The second round of the 2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship will be held in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou from April 28 to 30. ■