The best American whitewater paddlers are in Bala, Wales, this week preparing for the world championship canoe and kayak races that will begin Wednesday. Of 19 U.S. boats in the slalom division, 14 are being paddled by athletes from the Washington area.

Washington developed into a mecca for world-class canoeists and kayakers in the last decade. The athletes say year-round facilities on the Potomac and at the Navy's David Taylor indoor ship-testing tank, plus the unfailing attention of Bill Endicott, the slalom coach who lives in Bethesda, were principal attractions.

Endicott, 35, has been working with the local paddlers since 1976 and oversaw the stunning overall victory of the U.S. team in the world championships at Jonquiere, Quebec, in 1979.

Endicott was a varsity crew member at Harvard and an alternate for the 1972 U.S. whitewater paddling team at the Munich Olympics. He is multilingual, and maintains that part of this success with U.S. paddlers is attributable to his ability to pick the brains of paddlers from European countries by chatting with them in their native languages.

The local paddlers in Bala this week are:

David Hearn, 22, Garrett Park.

Hearn, a student at the University of Massachusetts, was second in the 1979 world championships and earned a gold medal as a team racer in the team slalom event. In addition to being a champion paddler, Hearn designs and builds racing boats. He invented the C2 ArguMax, which will make its debut in Wales. (He chose the name because the boat is made for two paddlers and paddling partners tend to argue.)

Ron Lugbill, 22, Fairfax.

Lugbill, who attends American University, made his first world championships in 1975 but has yet to finish higher than fifth place. Endicott calls him "an elite paddler who is looking to break into the medals."

Jon Lugbill, 20, Fairfax.

This University of Virginia student is the current world champion and perhaps the flashiest paddler on the racing circuit. He qualified for his first worlds in 1975 when he was 13. "He's young, strong and persistent," said Endicott, adding that his only problem is that he is "erratic."

Kent Ford, 23, Chevy Chase.

Ford, a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, has made a dramatic comeback after missing the 1979 team by three-tenths of a second. The team selection two years ago was so dramatic and Ford's disappointment was so keen that a local film maker featured Ford in a paddling movie called "Fast and Clean." Ford did make the 1979 U.S. wildwater team and earned a silver medal in the world championships.

Cathy Hearn, 23, Garrett Park.

The current world champion was the first woman in 10 years to win three of the four women's events in the 1979 world championships. Hearn, who attends Hampshire College in Massachusetts, took third place in the Europa Cup competition last summer although suffering with a concussion. Endicott believes she could repeat her 1979 record this year.

Linda Harrison, 26, Brookmont.

Harrison, a graduate of the University of Delaware, moved to Maryland several years ago to take advantage of the area's training facilities and to train under Endicott. She qualified for her first world championship in 1975, earned a bronze medal in 1977 and finished second in 1979. This may be the last world championship bid for Harrison; she will take a position this fall as director of women's sports at Hampshire College.

Yuri Kusuda, 20, Bethesda.

Kusuda, an Amherst undergraduate, missed qualifying for the 1979 team by seconds and has been furiously training ever since to ensure that she would qualify this year. Endicott says she is enormously improved and predicts that the team of Kusuda, Hearn and Harrison will take the gold in the team racing events.

Sue Norman, 23, Fort Collins, Colo.

A native of Colorado, Norman turned up on Endicott's doorstep last winter and asked to train with the team. Endicott said she was not nearly good enough to qualify for the team when she arrived but persistent training earned her a slot. Norman was an MP in the Army before joining the kayak racing circuit.

Chris McCormick, 21, Potomac.

McCormick, a student at the University of Maryland, was not disappointed when he finished fifth in the 1979 World Championships -- fifth place was the best ranking ever achieved by a male American Kayaker. Endicott calls McCormick a "clutch performer," a competitor who pours it on for big races but does not always finish in the money on the unimportant contests.

Dan Isbister, 25, Brookmont.

Isbister, a Maryland graduate, will paddle the grueling world championship slalom course with one shoulder held together by steel pins. "If anyone had said Izzy would qualify for the Worlds last year at this time I would have said they were cracy," said Endicott. Isbister separated his shoulder at a kayak race last summer, duplicating an earlier injury to the opposite shoulder.

Mike and Steve Garvis, 21, Great Falls.

Known affectionately as "the Garvii," these fraternal twins have shown they can paddle with the best. In the 1978 preworld championships in Canada they took first place, but failed to duplicate that performance in the world championships a year later. Mike attends Catholic University, Steve Northern Virginia Community College.

Jeff Huey, 25, and Paul Grabow, 22, both of Brookmont.

His paddling team qualified for both the downriver and slalom events, but has chosen to concentrate on the slalom course and leave the downriver race to others. Huey is a graduate of American University and Grabow is a student at AU.

Carl Gutschick, 28, and Paul Flack, 25, both of Silver Spring.

Gutschick made kayaking history in the 1977 worlds when he and his partner paddled a boat with two close-together cockpits. Before 1977 the boats were called "endholers," with cockpits at the ends. The crowds laughed, but by the end of the year, every serious C2 team was kneeling close together. Flack is known for his efforts to psych out the opposition by wearing a gorilla mask during races. The Australian national team dubbed him "Godzilla." Both are Maryland graduates.

George Strickland, 18, Bethesda, and Ricky Hill, 16, Germantown, Md.

Strickland, who attends Duke, was a silver medalist in the 1979 world championships in the downriver event. At 16, Hill, a senior at Seneca Valley High School, is the youngest member of the American team. Both partners are Eagle Scouts. Endicott says that both youngsters are competitive solo paddlers who took one look at the veteran competition for this year's solo race and decided to try out as a C2 team. WILDWATER TEAM

Dan Schnurrenberger, 23, Rockville.

Schnurrenberger, a student at Maryland has been national wildwater champion for three straight years and also will paddle in a grueling flatwater race in Nottingham, England, after the world championships end.

Bob Alexander, 24, Arlington.

Alexander, a management consultant, is competing in his second world team race.

Bern Collins, 41, Arlington, and Stan Janas, 33, Falls Church.

The Collins/Janas team finished first during team trials this spring. Collins is a two-time solo national champion. Collins is a planner for the National Park Service. Janas is a schoolteacher.

Howard Foer, 19, Potomac, and Andy Bridge, 18, Great Falls.

The team of Foer and Bridge finished second at the team trials -- just 1.8 seconds behind Collins and Janas. Foer is a student at Montgomery College. Bridge recently graduated from Herndon High School.

Rusty Hill, 20, and Bob Bofinger, 23, both of Germantown, Md.

Third-place finishers in the team trials. Hill graduated from the University of Maryland Bofinger graduated form Penn State.