The conditions are perfect when Time Out Kids and our four willing volunteers hit the free beach next to Burj Al Arab for our paddleboarding session with Surf Shop Dubai. We’re here ahead of the Volvo Ocean Race, which is taking place from December 30 to January 14 on the Abu Dhabi corniche: as well as the arrival of the yachts and crews from one of the world’s toughest sea races, there’s a fun packed programme at the specially-built Destination Village, that all the family can enjoy, from yacht simulators, movies and story telling sessions, to free paddleboarding classes, courtesy of Puma and Surf Shop Dubai.
Our volunteers, Megan, 14, and Megna, 15, and Bethan, 12, and Maddy, 11, don rash vests as the surf shop’s Mohammed Rahma Ali and Carl De Villiers collect consent forms and run through the basics on the beach.
‘With beginners we start by explaining about safety on the beach and in the sea,’ explains Mohammed, the Emirati co-owner of Surf Shop Dubai who is taking today’s lesson. ‘The first thing we ask is if they can swim, because it’s obviously really important that they are safe in the water. We then explain a little bit about how the current and the rip works, just to give them a proper understanding about how to stay safe while they’re having fun.’ He goes on to instruct the girls on how to keep their distance from other paddleboarders and swimmers, and how to deal with different conditions in the water. Class sizes are small, with a maximum of six kids per coach depending on their skill level, and Surf Shop Dubai teaches paddleboarding to kids from the age of five all the way up to adults (they’re particularly popular with mums, apparently), as long as they are competent swimmers.
‘Unlike other watersports such as surfing, paddleboarding is really easygoing, great for chilling out – it’s not about the adrenaline so much,’ says Mohammed. ‘But it’s great for days when the water is really flat, and people get so into it. It’s fantastic for overall fitness, and strengthening your core. Paddleboarding took off so quickly in the UAE, it’s especially popular in Dubai because there aren’t that many waves and the sea is generally fairly flat.’
After practicing the basic paddling moves on the sand, and the correct way to balance on the board, the girls set off – looking like they’d been doing it for years (and showing up a class of novice adult paddleboarders who are wobbling around and falling into the water further along the shoreline). Skimming across the water, they paddle in formation, following Mohammed’s instructions to the letter, watched by some very impressed mums and dads back on the beach.
When they arrive back on the beach half an hour or so later, they are brimming with enthusiasm – not to mention starving. ‘It was so much fun,’ says Megna. ‘Once you get used to standing on the board, it’s not that difficult. Mohammed showed us how to turn and keep our balance. I’d definitely do it again.’
‘When you get up on the board it’s fine, but you have to keep your feet in the correct position to stay on the board and not fall off,’ agrees Megan.
Puma is holding free paddleboarding sessions daily between January 1 and 14, between 11am and 5pm at the Volvo Ocean Race Destination Village at Abu Dhabi Corniche. Lessons are on a first-come, first-served basis, kids should wear normal swimming attire (rash vests will be provided), and Puma will be providing lifejackets. All small children must be accompanied by a parent.
To find out more about paddle-boarding lessons in Dubai, visit www.surfshopdubai.com.
Sailing across the oceans blue
Arriving in Abu Dhabi on December 30, and sticking around for two weeks until January 14, the arrival of the Volvo Ocean Race is one of the capital’s most anticipated events for 2012 – an estimated 100,000 fans are in town to join in the fun. The city has built a vast Destination Village on the Corniche breakwater to welcome the yachts that are taking part in one of the world’s most gruelling boat races.
Free to attend, and the size of EIGHT(!) football pitches, the Village is hosting a whole programme of must-visit events and happenings while the race is in Abu Dhabi. Inside, there’s a 40-person interactive 3D cinema, rides and simulators which recreate the conditions on board a Volva Open 70 yacht (complete with surf and spray!), the Grinding Challenge, where you can pit your strength against your friends using the same pedestal grinders used by the crews on the race, and ‘Air Balls’ which enable kids to actually run across water. There’s also demonstrations, exhibitions, concerts, and a wide range of F&B options.
In addition to the activities on dry land, there’s a full sailing and watersports programme that both adults and kids can sign up to – the Volvo Ocean Race is running both classroom and practical workshops to teach budding sailors of all ages, and there’s a series of local regattas for newcomers too.
Local schools can get involved in the Ocean Race by joining up with the ‘Keep the Oceans Clean’ campaign, which is working to protect the sea-life from pollution, and is running a series of free community art projects at the Destination Village. As well as creating an albatross sculpture from beach trash with the artists of Skeleton Sea, kids are working on a number of beach clean up activities, and educated on environmental issues.
Until January 14. To find out more about the Volvo Ocean Race, go to www.volvooceanraceabudhabi.com. To find out more about Skeleton Sea, visit www.skeletonsea.com.