Many families content themselves with all-you-can-eat entertainment during Dubai’s weekends and, to be fair, the options for inclusive fun for adults and their offspring are pretty limited. Play places and beach clubs might keep rugrats busy but, as children get older, the chances of keeping everyone happy grows slimmer.
But the Van Balberghe family takes full advantage of Dubai’s best natural assets to enjoy quality time together, spending every weekend at the Mina Seyahi Water Sports Club – a slice of old-school Dubai that’s been almost engulfed by the Marina development. This oasis of sea-going adventure means that the family sails, swims and sizzles (barbecues, not sunburn) against the amazing backdrop of Dubai’s ever-changing skyline.
An expert sailor, dad Noel arrived in 2003 and quickly set about finding somewhere to indulge his passion. When wife Axelle and kids Maxence, then 10 and Quentin, six, arrived a year later, they joined Jebel Ali Sailing Club. That merged with DIMC in 2006 and the Mina Seyahi club was born.
‘It’s a lovely beach, easy to launch a boat and has a great pool and terrace,’ explains Noel, preparing for a session on the water. ‘It’s small, but that’s perfect for us as it’s a lovely community with a family atmosphere.’
Sailing seems to be in the Van Balberghe blood, and it’s easy to see the appeal. It’s wholesome fun which enables the kids to get fresh air and exercise and learn new skills in a social and secure environment. ‘Even when my youngest was four years old, although too young to sail himself, we introduced him to the water,’ says Noel. ‘He would come out with us on the boat. The water is excellent – flat, clean yet windy enough.’
Kids can begin sailing at the age of eight, which Max promptly did. ‘The Optimist is the first boat you can sail and he’s completely mad about it,’ says Noel.
But it’s not all sailing; the family also owns a speedboat and the kids have been water skiing since they were six. ‘Everyone can have a go and we all just love being out on the water. It’s calming, free from distractions and connects us socially,’ says Noel.
Max started with sailing before moving on to skiing and has recently begun wakeboarding. ‘Because we’re at the club at the same time, it’s easy to try out new things,’ says Noel. ‘What’s great here is that we can do stuff together, but also do our own things. I might go off sailing with Max while my wife and younger son swim in the pool. Then the kids may have a lesson before we all meet on the catamaran.’
Yousef Bin Lahej, manager of the club, agrees that sailing is a great family activity, especially in Dubai. ‘It brings families together,’ he says. ‘It’s quite rare for a sport to allow all family members to take part and compete together.’
Not just a great way of keeping kids entertained and exercised, sailing offers enough of a challenge to inspire and fulfil a sense of adventure, with young ones picking up vital life lessons, such as self-discipline and focus. ‘Sailing gets kids out of the house and on the water and they revel in the challenges the sport offers. Plus, you can sail pretty much every day of the year in Dubai, even though it’s a little warm during summer,’ says Yousef.
The club also has a great social scene: ‘It’s an easy way to make friends with similar interests and the kids play together on the beach and in the pool before everyone meets up for a barbecue in the evening at the clubhouse,’ explains Axelle.
While sailing may sound rather elitist, prices for memberships and lessons are reasonable. While family beach club membership can cost up to Dh100,000 in Dubai, it costs Dhs5,000 here – and junior lessons are good value at Dhs1,500 for 12 hours of tuition (available for members and non-members alike).
‘It’s a brilliant family activity,’ says Noel. ‘We are all together out on the water with no distractions, so we really focus on each other, chat and just enjoy quality time alone. We’re stuck with each other and we love it!’
Family membership at Mina Seyahi Water Sports Club costs Dhs5,000 (single Dhs4,000) plus a Dhs1,500 joining fee. For more information call 04 399 2629 or email email@example.com
Al fresco family fun
Alternatively, try one of these on-the-water activities
We love Surf School UAE’s Fit to Surf sessions at Sunset Beach. Not only can kids as young as five have a go at catching the swell, parents can join in too. Saturdays 7-8.30am (under 12s) and 8.30-10am (over 9s). Dhs125 per session. firstname.lastname@example.org
In several emirates you can explore the UAE’s beautiful mangroves and their indigenous wildlife by kayak or canoe. In Sharjah, a family of four can take a trip to the little-known Khor Kalba Nature Reserve with Explorer Tours (04 286 199). Dhs300pp. Hire a Hobie 16 catamaran with an experienced helmsman from Noukhada Adventure (www.noukhada.ae) and explore Abu Dhabi’s eastern mangroves and islands. Dhs600 for two hours for two people. At family-friendly Umm Al Quwain Marine Club, you can rent kayaks and paddle around the the creek and island.
Dhs35 single, Dhs60 double per hour (www.uaqmarineclub.com)
Not just great exercise, but one of the few team sports where mums, dads and kids can participate together. Row on Dubai Creek in boats for up to seven people.
Dhs120 for 90 minutes. Email: email@example.com