Try kneeboarding, take a frantic ride or go down the world's largest waterslide
Time Out Dubai staff
If there’s one thing we love about living in Dubai, it’s the endless kilometres of white sandy beaches. Not only are they a great place to catch some rays as the weather cools down, but many also offer a huge range of water-borne thrills – so popular are certain sports in some areas, that the beaches are even named after them, as in the case of Kitesurfing Beach. And with the growth of the city’s coastline (quite literally – we do have a penchant for building islands, after all) the water sports scene has exploded, and continues to expand throughout each year. In the past month alone, a brand new wakeboarding and fishing company, Sea Riders, has launched in Dubai Marina and the organisers of the Nasimi Watersports Festival have announced it will be returning for a second time this year on Saturday October 26. This time, the event will include stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking races for adults and kids, as well as surf-ski demos and a full day of entertainment.
Can’t wait until then? We don’t blame you, that’s why we’ve pulled on our rash vests to test the emirate’s most exhilarating watersports. From windsurfing to shark safaris, wakeboarding to the aptly named frantic ride, we’ve got you covered.
Wipeout Flowrider Before stepping on to Wild Wadi’s bodyboarding set-up, bikini-clad girls are given a T-shirt wetsuit to protect skin and to avoid any embarrassing flesh-flashing incidents occurring. A lifeguard instructs how to position yourself on the surfboard: your right hand should hold the top right corner while your left hand grips the board next to your left hip – although most riders seem to hold on anywhere for the sake of staying on the board. Once you jump on, a torrent of water (seven tonnes a second) creates a sheet for you to surf on, and it’s a waiting game of how long you last, before the forceful wave pushes you back, resulting in you sliding out of control. The suspense waiting in queue, watching the look of fear on other people’s faces, is even more enjoyable than the ride itself.
Kneeboarding Though kneeboarding has in recent years fallen in popularity, it is still worth checking out if you’re into fast-paced sports and don’t mind the occasional face-full of saltwater. Skim across the surface on hydro-dynamically shaped kneeboards without having to worry about learning to stand. Dhs150 for 15 minutes. Talise Fitness, Al Qasr Watersports Deck, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6821).
Kitesurfing First-timers should expect to need between eight and 12 hours of one-on-one tuition to really get the hang of this increasingly popular activity and feel confident enough to go it alone. That said, if you’re already an experienced sailor or know your way around a power kite, you could be flitting across the waves sooner. Lessons with qualified instructor Mark, from the Mark Andrew Kite School, take place either on Nessnass or Kite Beach, with emphasis on understanding the kite, wind window and how the two work together. Only once you’ve mastered these does Mark take learners into the water. With a bit of practise, patience and luck (wind conditions may not always be favourable) you’ll be well on your way to mastering this exhilarating extreme sport.
Windsurfing Climb onto a sailboard and learn how to navigate the waters using just a wind and a sail – the fact it isn’t motorised doesn’t mean you should expect to go slowly. Good winds can see windsurfers hurtle along at speed. Dhs140 per hour. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 406 8521).
Wakeboarding One of the city’s more high-adrenaline water sports, and one that requires a reasonable amount of strength just to get started, wakeboarding involves strapping both feet into a single board (not dissimilar to a snowboard) and being pulled along by a small speedboat. It takes most people several attempts (featuring face plants and mouthfuls of seawater) before managing to stand upright and ski across the surface, and the effort required from your arms, legs and back to stay there shouldn’t be understated. That said, there’s nothing quite like wakeboarding alongside His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai’s private yacht on a Saturday afternoon.
Snorkelling There’s no shortage of snorkelling spots in Dubai – the breakwaters at Al Mamzar Beach Park are among our favourite for spotting colourful fish, crabs and the odd ray – but if you want to see something special, the ultimate snorkel in Atlantis’ Ambassador Lagoon allows you to swim in the company of 65,000 sea creatures, including a hammerhead shark. Dhs255 (including take-home snorkel and mask). Atlantis, The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0000).
Wakesurfing We’re assured the Royal Mirage is the only place that offers this sport, which involves being dragged across the water by a speedboat while on a surfboard. The trickiest part is getting up out of the water, but, as with waterskiing (see right), the hotel’s watersports expert Rhett Botes, is himself on a surfboard and right there next to you to give instructions and lend a hand. It’s an amazing feeling once you’re standing, and the surfboard is surprisingly steady, even as it glides over the wake. Snowboarders will quickly get the hang of it, as it’s not too dissimilar to riding on powder, and it won’t be long before Rhett is encouraging you to let go one of your hands, lean into the turn and enjoy the thrill.
Surfing To try your hand at surfing all year round, it’s necessary to travel a little further afield than for most other sports. Wadi Adventure in Al Ain houses a surf pool designed to help novice and seasoned dudes and dudettes hone their skills, with lessons and board rental available. Dhs50 park admission, Dhs100 surf pool for 55 minutes, Dhs150 group surf lesson, Dhs500 one-to-one surf lesson. Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain (03 781 8422).
Frantic ride If you’ve spent any time at all on JBR beach, you will be familiar with the ever-changing array of inflatables hurtling up and down the coast. The appropriately named inflatable frantic ride is just one of them, and currently available at Nautica 1992. Lie down, facing forwards, and cling on for dear life as a small speedboat drags you at speed over waves and wakes, launching you into the air and bouncing you around. Not for the faint-hearted.
Shark safari If you fancy getting up close with sharks, rays and thousands of colourful fish, but aren’t a certified diver, the shark safari in Aquaventure’s Shark Lagoon allows you to don a special helmet and stroll along the bottom of the tank. There’s no training required, and you don’t even need to be able to swim – just walk. Dhs275. Atlantis, The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 1040).
Waterskiing There’s no need to fear this sport, even if you’ve never tried anything like it. The One&Only’s water sports experts will walk you through every detail, both on the boat and once you’re in the water. To assist first-timers, the skis are connected at the front via a small device – this is, well, cheating technically, but it offers greater (and very welcome) stability. Instructors stay by your side throughout, as opposed to shouting instructions from the speedboat, which makes a huge difference – and gives you the best chance of actually standing up on your first few attempts. Once out of the water, it’s simply a case of getting used to the sensation, following the ongoing advice and relaxing (or trying to, at least). It’s tiring stuff, but you should be smiling by the end of it.
Jet skiing Head out from Dubai Marina, 20 minutes along Sheikh Zayed Road in the direction of Abu Dhabi, to Ghantoot. Here, you’ll find a private 7km stretch of water by Blue Marlin Ibiza, which also serves a great brunch on a Saturday. From Dhs300 for 30 minutes. Jet Ski Dubai, Wooden House 25, Golden Tulip Al Jazira Hotel and Resort (052 983 8959).
Speedboat trips If you’re keen to view some skyscrapers from the sea, Xclusive Yachts in Dubai Marina offers speedboat trips around the Palm. Marlon and Mark (Mark drives and his mate points out the interesting landmarks), take a 22ft bow rider speedboat for a few hours to show you the sites. You’re restricted to five knots in the Marina, but once out in the open, you bounce along at a healthy pace on your way out to the Palm. On the way there’s an opportunity to go swimming before you pass behind Atlantis on route to the Burj Al Arab, which looks incredible if you approach at sunset. After stopping off to take the obligatory snaps, you cruise inside the Palm, and can peek at His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s man-made island, where his private yacht (the second largest in the world) is moored, before heading back to land. A speedboat ride may not offer the adrenaline rush of some the city’s more extreme watersports, but for witnessing Dubai from a different perspective, it’s hard to fault.
Diving If you fancy taking that speedboat trip to the next level, why not try diving? Dubai’s Al Boom offers dives, PADI scuba diver and open-water courses for newcomers to the sport. Once you’re qualified, the waters off Fujairah and Musandam (where you can spot turtles, moray eels, squid, octopus, puffer fish and even whale sharks if you’re lucky) offer a slew of exciting dives, plus wrecks for more advanced divers. Dhs150 try dive, Dhs1,750 scuba diver course, Dhs2,350 open water course, Dhs400 Fujairah dive with full kit. Al Boom Diving, www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).
Parasailing Thanks to the strict rule banning motorised watersports in front of the Rixos Hotel, parasailing here comes with the added bonus of a mini-cruise around the Palm to the other side of the island. To be honest, this is probably the wettest part of the experience, especially if the waves are choppy. The parasailing itself can be described in one word; serene. The friendly crew put you immediately at ease and, after putting on a harness, and filling the sail with air, they attach you to the end of it and up you go! Once up there, it’s simply a case of sitting back, relaxing and soaking in the pretty spectacular view.
Wet rating: 1/5 Wild rating: 1/5 Dhs250 per person, Maxoel Watersports at Rixos The Palm Dubai (04 457 5555).
Kayaking This more leisurely water sport (unless you’re taking on a mammoth challenge like the two women who paddled around Palm Jumeirah for charity last year) can be done in single or double vessels. The flat, peaceful waters surrounding the fronds and inside of the island’s crescent are a great place to start. From Dhs40 for 20 minutes, day passes Sun-Thu Dhs350, Fri-Sat Dhs500. One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1010).
Flyboarding This much-talked about water sport is now available to thrill-seekers in the UAE. Strap your feet into the board and arms into special wrist-grips and be propelled into the air by powerful jets of water, allowing you to hover over the sea. As well as offering single sessions for those wanting only to satisfy their curiosity, Flyboards UAE also has membership options of one to 12 months. From Dhs300 for 30 minutes. Al Mamzar, www.flyboards-uae.com (050 817 3071).
Sailing If you want an internationally recognised qualification for sailing, Watercooled offers a two-day course, which is designed to give you enough confidence to take a sailing boat out on your own and feel totally in control. The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) certified course is designed to get as much out of the sessions as possible and with Dubai’s light winds in the mornings, the course offers the ideal conditions for a gentle introduction to sailing, with the winds picking up in the afternoon to give you more of a challenge. With Watercooled’s Jebel Ali Resort location surrounded on three sides by land, it feels safe and secluded as you launch from the beach – just be prepared to get wet as you’re almost certain to capsize.
Wet rating: 5/5 Wild rating: 2/5 Dhs1,500 for ten hours. Watercooled Dubai, Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa, Jebel Ali, www.watercooleddubai.com (04 887 6771).
Dragon boating You may be surprised to learn that Dubai has no shortage of dragon boating teams, all meeting regularly to paddle their way around the city’s waters from the crack of dawn. The annual Dragon Boat Festival takes place each April in Dubai Festival City. The sixth Shangri-La Dragon Boat Festival takes place in Abu Dhabi. Visit www.dubaidragonboat.com for a full list of local teams and events.
Donut ride Though there are a couple of variations on this ride in Dubai, the one offered here looks like a round inflatable bed with grips (you’ll need them!) and can accommodate up to four people, though they’ll happily take two. All you need to do is hold on tight as the doughnut is pulled behind a speedboat, flinging you round corners at what feels like hair-raisingly high speeds. Though it’s more fun than terrifying, you’ll likely get arm strains and friction grazes, as the fear of falling out and hitting the water will have you clinging on with every fibre of muscle you can summon. Juggling your natural urge for survival and the non-stop spray of salt water to your eyes can make it a pretty exhausting thrill.
Wet rating: 3/5 Wild rating: 4/5 Dhs150 per person for 15 minutes. Sky and Sea Adventures Dubai, Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, JBR (04 399 9005).
Banana boating Perfect for groups of four or more (most operators won’t let you on with a smaller party), this inflatable ride involves straddling a cylindrical inflatable and clinging on with all your might as you attempt to remain aboard. Dhs150 per person for 15 minutes. Sky and Sea Adventures Dubai, Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, JBR (04 399 9005).
Stand-up paddleboarding Wherever you find yourself attempting stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) on Dubai’s shores, it’s widely agreed that morning is the best time of day. Novices will benefit from much calmer waters, which allow paddlers to progress from kneeling to standing positions on the board, and hopefully avoid getting stuck in shallow waters where the waves break.
Plump for the widest board on offer for the best stability – Talise at the Madinat Jumeirah offers paddlers the opportunity to navigate the sea just off the beach, or take an 80-minute tour around the Burj Al Arab. Take a waterproof camera to grab some snaps. We’ve spotted turtles in the area before whilst out on the water here.
Wet rating: 5/5 Wild rating: 2/5 From Dhs60 for 30 minutes, Dhs100 per hour, Dhs135 for 80-minute Burj Al Arab tour. Talise Fitness, Al Qasr Watersports Deck, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6821).
Aqua bikes Paddle around calm waters at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, specially cordoned-off to making gliding around on one of these gigantic tricycle-like pedalos as relaxing as possible, even if you may feel a bit silly on such a contraption, you’ll have quite a lot of fun. Free, day access to the beach club Sun-Thu Dhs250, Fri-Sat Dhs350. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 406 8521).
World’s largest waterslide Tower of Poseidon is now open at Aquaventure, having launched last week. The mammoth slide is said to be the largest in the world (by diameter, at least), and sees groups swirl down twists, turns and terrifying drops. UAE residents Dhs150 (adult), Dhs125 (kids). Dhs250 (adults), Dhs205 (kids). Aquaventure, Atlantis, The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0000).
Nasimi Water sports Festival Following a successful event earlier in the year, the Nasimi Water Sports Festival is to return for a second time. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding competitions will be open to both pros and amateurs, with races for adults and kids, as well as product demonstrations, a SUP clinic to help paddlers improve their skills, plenty of live entertainment and a barbecue. Free entry, competitor registration Dhs90 (including barbecue). Saturday October 26, 10am-8pm. Nasimi, Atlantis, The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (050 768 9226).
Sea Riders This brand new water sports company has just launched in Dubai Marina, and has a focus on wakeboarding, with specially equipped boats designed to fit up to nine passengers (though they recommend fewer). The company will also offer fishing trips and cruises and luxury yacht hire. Wakeboarding from Dhs500 per hour (week days), from Dhs550 (weekends). Dubai Marina Mall Promenade, Dubai Marina (055 510 3739).