If you’ve ever stopped to watch this extreme sport at Dubai’s aptly named Kite Beach, you’ll perhaps appreciate that there are few pursuits such as kiteboarding (also known as kitesurfing). This pastime basically entails balancing on something that resembles a wakeboard, while using a large kite to catch the wind and be propelled across the water at speeds of around 50kmph.
Professional kiteboarders can make their manoeuvres look like an art form, with more fluidity and floating grace than Mary Poppins. But, unlike the talented Ms Poppins and her nifty umbrella, this extreme activity requires professional (read: expensive) equipment and proper training from the experts.
Even though it may be relatively easy to pick up once you’ve had a few lessons, dealing with the wind (a fickle mistress) means there are real hazards involved. There are countless stories of kiteboarders being buffeted by freak gusts and catapulted into nearby structures – and there is also a very real risk of injuring an innocent sunbather or surfer.
If the menace of a broken leg or cracked rib doesn’t scare you off and you’re determined to learn the sport, lessons are mandatory. It usually takes around six-nine hours to learn, and lessons average at Dhs300 per hour. There’s a lot of fundamental ground to cover before you even get out on the water; beginning with understanding wind direction, launching and relaunching the kite, boarding positions, and plenty of other tricks of the trade, which should finally get you soaring.
In order to rent equipment in Dubai, the municipality requires all kiteboarders to obtain a licence, which is as simple as becoming a member of the Dubai Kite Club (though this membership must not be confused with an international licence). Club membership also provides you with third-party liability insurance of up to Dhs1million, and all you need to do is take a passport copy, a photograph, a completed application and Dhs200 to the Mina Seyahi Dubai sailing department at the Dubai International Marine Club.
Once you’ve set yourself up with lessons and a licence, buying gear is the next step. As is usually the case with most fun activities, purchasing equipment is an eye-watering exercise, with costs skyrocketing to around Dhs8,000 to get a complete kit. But it is possible to pick up decent second-hand gear from the growing kiteboarding community in the UAE.
If you want to net yourself an internationally recognised licence (allowing you to rent equipment anywhere in the world), you must be trained by an instructor who is qualified with the International Kite Boarding Organisation (there are four IKO instructors at the Dubai Kite Club). Up and away Kiteboarding is restricted to one designated beach in Dubai; Kite Beach (formerly known as Wollongong Beach) between the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the old Wollongong University. You can do your thing in any part of the water on this beach, but you can only launch and land in a designated area. The activity is also not permitted on Fridays and Saturdays. In Abu Dhabi, kite boarders converge on the public beach and lessons can be arranged with qualified instructors who belong to the IKO. Elsewhere, there’s Mirfa Beach, which is in Al Gharbia, around 160km from Abu Dhabi, part of the Ras al Khamiah coastline and around the lesser-known and desolate Hamriya freezone area in Ajman.
However, it’s probably best to buddy up with another kiteboarder if you’re a relative newbie before you go wandering off to unknown locales. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this is a strictly regulated activity, with a set of solemn rules to ensure the safety of kiteboarders and bystanders. One false move (eg kiteboarding on a public beach in Dubai) and there’s a chance you could have your licence revoked.
Shoot the breeze According to the Dubai Kite Club, the wind around the UAE is neither strong nor reliable for most of the year. The best months to catch a breeze is during December to March, as the summer heat otherwise thins the air. The best time of the day is between 11.30am-2pm, when the breeze picks up to an average of 12 knots. During the less windy days, you can still pick up momentum by using larger kites.
Across the border Every summer (between the months of April and September) the diminutive island of Al Masirah off the south-eastern coast of Oman becomes a kind of wind Mecca for kiteboarders and windsurfers, with hundreds making the pilgrimage to take advantage of the strong winds brought on by the Khareef (the Indian monsoon).
‘Masirah is a great playground – definitely a must for those who want a pure adventure in an incredible landscape, and for those who want to escape from spoiled spots, destroyed by mass tourism,’ says Alexander Friesl, of Kiteboarding Oman.
The winds are rarely less than 20 knots and the blustery conditions mean that the temperature remains cooler while the rest of the country swelters. For beginners there are some calmer bays on the west coast of the island that are well protected from waves but still get wind, but extreme kiteboarders will be in their element, with numerous beaches on the north-east and mid-west coast with perfect conditions.
To reach Al Masirah, it’s an eight- or nine-hour drive from Dubai (or four hours from Muscat) until you reach an Omani town called Sana (Shana/Shanna). From here, you can catch a car ferry to the island, which costs around OMR8 (Dhs76) for a saloon or OMR10 (Dhs96) for a 4x4. For further details, see www.exploremasirah.com. For those wanting to organise their own kiteboarding adventure, see www.omanworldtourism.com or www.kiteboarding-oman.com.