It’s hard not to go soggy with excitement at the sheer number of watersports offered in the UAE. Time Out grabs an oar and gets involved
Time Out Dubai staff
Paddles up! Ready… Go! And we’re away. Dragon boats are heavy; add 20 people and it feels pretty tough to start. Every move seems contrary to your natural instinct. Sit up tall. Reach. Arms straight. Reach some more. It’s surprisingly unlike kayaking or canoeing but, once you reach a high pace and your timing is in sync, you get a great surge, the adrenaline kicks in and, suddenly, it’s fun! Dragon boat training is held regularly around the capital and there are competitive races for the really keen. The camaraderie is great, which means you don’t mind the aching arm and shoulder muscles the following day. For further details, see www.dubaidragonboat.com.
The UAE might not be renowned for Hawaiian-style waves, but there’s enough of a swell to ensure the survival of a thriving surfing community. And if you want to learn, we have good news: the lack of monstrous waves means it’s the perfect place to take beginner lessons.
It should take about three lessons before you’re strutting around the beach a la Point Break, according to Surf Dubai’s Daniel van Dooren: ‘We do a three-lesson progressive package; ideal for someone to be confident so they can go out by themselves.’
Both Surf Dubai and Surf School UAE take lessons on Sunset Beach. ‘Dubai’s basically the only place to surf in the UAE,’ says Daniel. ‘There are no waves in Abu Dhabi – it’s too shallow. Fujairah sometimes has waves but it doesn’t happen very regularly.’
The surfing community is currently crossing their fingers about talk of an artificial reef being created by Dubai Municipality. There are a few of these offshore reefs around the world, made by placing sandbags on the ocean floor and fashioning a man-made reef for waves to break over. ‘There’s definitely talk about it – and it’s on the cards,’ says Daniel, who adds it would not only create waves but would keep surfers away from swimmers and encourage new marine life. Possible locations include nearby the end-of-a-pier nightclub 360°, off the Palm Jumeirah or offshore at Sunset Beach.
If you’re keen to join the surf pack (it’s reckoned that there are around 900 surfers in Dubai) the best swell happens between October and June. Both Surf Dubai and Surf School UAE run surfing lessons and organise surf safaris. For further details.
Whether exploring the mangroves or fishing for your supper, kayaking is an easy-to-learn, low-impact sport that anyone can master. Take it easy on a sight-seeing kayak through the mangroves – a must for wildlife-starved denizens of the UAE – or get involved in a bit of trawling. The local kingfish community may be down a member, but at least you’ll feast well for a night. Noukhada Adventure Company arranges kayaking trips into the mangroves as well as jaunts to nearby islands. Visit www.noukhada.ae or call 050 721 8927.
Will they or won’t they? As of April last year, Mr Joe Ong of Tamouh development company was proudly claiming that a white water rafting circuit snaking down the side of Jebel Hafeet mountain in Al Ain would be the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. The attraction would run next to a 5.8km ski slope, and the whole thing would be 100 per cent environmentally friendly. At the time of writing, Mr Ong was unavailable to comment on the project, and the rumour mill seemed to have gone quiet. We can’t decide whether we’re relieved or disappointed.
Windsurfing is a good choice for those up for more of a physical and mental challenge than a quick adrenalin fix. Having been introduced to the gadgetry, the instructor shows you how to get the thing (essentially a big surfboard with a sail attached to it) going. When it’s your turn, it can be a bit overwhelming – he’ll bombard you with instructions as though he’s a mean-spirited driving instructor. Like all challenges, however, this just makes it more rewarding when you nail it. Kayaking 101Pete Aldwinckle of Global Climbing shares his kayaking know-how with Time Out.
Top tips • Wear an internationally certified buoyancy aid – it will cost you extra but it could save your life! • Know how to roll your boat or get back into it if you capsize or fall out of it. • Know the tide times and how the tide will affect currents in your area of paddling. • Go in a group and make sure all members are competent. • Have a waterproof chart or map and track your progress on it. • Remember the sun is strong and glare off the sea is intense, so take full body cover, sunscreen, hat and proper glasses. • Ensure that somebody knows where you are going and what to do if you are late returning. • Carry a phone in waterproof bag – zip-lock bags are not good enough. • Don’t be overambitious with what your are planning to do; be prepared to turn back or abort if progress is slower than you planned.
Top spots • Abu Dhabi mangroves and islands. • Umm Al Quwain mangroves and the island chain to the north. • The Musandam Peninsular for the experienced, well-equipped and self reliant. • Khor Kalba mangrove.