‘I’m not going anywhere. Really, I’m not moving. Why aren’t I moving?’ ‘Turn your paddle the other way around.’ ‘Ah. Thanks!’ And so begins my first lesson with Surf Dubai’s Karina Bensemann, an almost amphibious New Zealander who leads the centre’s Girls Go Surfing training club, which launched Friday March 9.
While there’s no ‘boys only’ club, the guys at Surf Dubai decided to do something for the ladies after they noticed many were keen to learn to surf, but were reluctant to have solo lessons while surrounded by relative experts. Or, as Karina puts it while helping me onto a paddle board for the first time, ‘The guys are out there ripping – and they’re hot – and the girls don’t want to look silly.’ By all accounts, they’ve tapped into a waiting market – sign-up has been so enthusiastic that they’re looking for more female instructors to make sure the balance of educators to students is right.
When I arrive, I’m told by Surf Dubai’s Scott Chambers that the class will cover life saving, general fitness and nutrition (they’ll be serving a healthy breakfast on their terrace after each lesson) as well as surfing, and stand-up paddlesurfing will also form a large part of the course.
It’s the latter that I find myself trying for the first time on my visit to the surf school, which has its home just off Umm Suqeim/Sunset Beach next to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Karina explains the water is a little choppier than it usually is in the mornings in Dubai, which will make my first session a little more challenging, but on the upside describes the emirate’s waters as some of the safest in the world.
‘There’s nothing in here that’s going to hurt you,’ she says, before adding ‘Though we did have some jelly fish that we’d never seen before the other day, but they were only leaving small stings,’ she finishes, reassuringly. Luckily, I’m not fazed by the prospect of a jelly sting – I’m far more concerned that I’m not going to be able to make it off my knees and onto my feet without doing myself some far graver injury.
She checks with me how comfortable I am in deep water, and when we hit the beach, teaches me the paddle basics. I decide that as it seems pretty similar to kayaking, minus the sitting element, I’ll be fine. On the water, once I’ve managed to hold my paddle the right way round (thanks, Karina!) and gather some sort of momentum, it’s time for my first attempt... and in one swift movement, I’m up. More incredible still, I manage to stay in this vertical position without so much as a wobble, and begin taking the small, choppy waves on headfirst. Karina sets the challenge – we’re to paddle out to Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s 360° nightspot. As we get further away from the beach, the waves seem to get bigger (though this could all be in my head) and I have a few wobbly moments, but manage to balance quickly and not fall in. However, having taken my eye off the incoming water patterns for a moment, I’m taken by surprise by a bigger wave and stumble to my knees on the board – thankfully much wider and thicker than a normal surf board.
A short while later, when we fall quiet following my shouted paddleboard-to-paddleboard Q&A session with Karina, I realise I’ve drifted into a world of my own. Not physically – obviously – I’m still very much on course for the designated al-fresco club, but something about the repetitive strokes and the quiet of being this far from shore have allowed me to drift off into an elaborate daydream. When Karina says that they can usually paddle all the way around to the Burj Al Arab without breaking a sweat when the water is calmer, I believe her, and I’m full of anticipation for my next session by the time we return to shore. Next time, I won’t need telling which way round my paddle goes. Join Girls Go Surfing for Dhs125 per session. Classes are held on Fridays 9am-10am. For more information visit www.surfingdubai.com or call 050 504 3020.