Time Out heads off to the channels off Saadiyat Island to catch up with the wakeboarding craze in the UAE
I haven’t always been a landlubber. Raised on the Red Sea coastline, I was an enthusiastic sailor and a keen swimmer. Quite a lot can happen in 25 years, though, and the hopeful young athlete wouldn’t even recognise the dishevelled creature that stands overweight and tired on the quayside this morning. In fact, he’d probably report him for vagrancy. To add to the indignity, I’m surrounded by four young things; sleek, tanned and self-assured in their fashionable water-wear. I’ve got a pair of cheap trunks in a plastic bag that I bought on my way here. I haven’t even brought a towel.
Not to worry. The captain’s got it all under control. Rudi Du Plessis is a ripped powerhouse of a man, ostensibly raised in Pretoria, South Africa, secretly fathered by Thor in the Nordic halls of Asgard. He claims to have been wakeboarding for ‘three or four years’, but it’s more likely that he boarded his way out of the womb.
Rudi and his young fiancé Dolli run a sociable little operation, meeting at the marina next door to The Club in Meena Sadiyat and taking groups of up to six lucky punters out for a day on the water. The excursions are fantastically popular, as can be seen from the booking form on their Facebook page, but it’s only to be expected; they charge a trifling Dhs250 per person, inclusive of equipment hire and fuel charges. ‘We don’t expect to make any money from this,’ explains Dolli, a charming young German woman with a wicked sense of humour. ‘To be honest, we’re doing it because we love the sport, and we just want to share it with others.’
Wakeboarding combines various well-known outdoor activities – most obviously snowboarding and water-skiing – and the straights around Saadiyat Island provide the ideal playground. Strapped to an aerodynamic plank, you start in the water holding the end of a strong rope, rising to your feet as the boat picks up speed. The pros make it look easy, but in reality it takes a fair amount of determination and a good deal of muscle power.
Joining us this morning is a couple from Russia and the UK, making our happy little crew as international as you’d expect in the UAE. Everybody’s on good terms from the off, a testament to the captain’s good nature and amiability, and they do their best to encourage me as I flounder around behind the boat, utterly devoid of talent, absolutely living up to every cruel sporting nickname I earned myself at school. Rudi has tremendous patience, guiding his boat up and down the channel for hours until I finally give in. I have more luck wake-surfing, which is a bit like saying I’m better at rugby when the opposition are all under 5 years old.
Between sessions (the price admits you to as many sessions as you can manage), we sit around the deck, sharing drinks and friendly banter, taking in the death-defying feats presented in what might best be termed, ‘The Rudi Show’. Having honed his talents on a dam near where he grew up, the man is adept at 360s, somersaults and wake-jumping.
It’s not all strenuous activity, however. At one point, a small family of dolphins ambles over to see what we’re up to. We follow them for a while, but they’ve got their own business to attend to. So have we. With a morning’s effort comfortably under our belts, we turn to the next task in hand and kick back under a warm winter sun. Sign up for wakeboarding with Rudi at his Facebook group, Wakeboarding – Abu Dhabi – Dubai – U.A.E., or contact him directly on 050 238 3154, firstname.lastname@example.org. Excursions depart from Sadiyat Co-Op Marina, next door to The Club, costing Dhs250 per person, including all equipment. An average session lasts about 5 hours, weather permitting. www.rjperformancemarine.com