After a futile shouting match with my alarm clock, I drag myself out of bed. It’s 6.30am, it’s dark outside and it’s rather chilly by Dubai standards. The last thing I feel like doing is braving the sea, but having signed up for a paddlesurfing lesson with Surf School UAE, this appears to be an inevitably.
As I make my way to my 7am appointment at Sunset Beach, it occurs to me that I have no idea what to expect from paddlesurfing other than it involves a paddle and a surfboard (the clue is in the name). The latter is of particular concern – my last attempt to master the waves resulted in a lung-full of water and a few nasty coral cuts.
Happily, my worries are partially alleviated when I arrive at the beach. The sea is calm and the huge surfboard that awaits me looks large enough to accommodate two people, so should have no problem supporting my solitary skinny frame. Carl, the founder of Surf School and my instructor for the morning, informs me that the 12.6ft board is where beginners generally start, but once they get the hang of the basics they move onto an 11ft board. Those who just want to catch waves, however, ride boards as small as 8ft, while downwind paddlesurf racers use boards measuring up to 16ft.
Paddlesurfing, Carl tells me, is an age-old Hawaiian pastime that has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years. He attributes this to the fact that it takes a lot less time to get the hang of than surfing. ‘After two lessons you’ll have a good grasp of it,’ he assures me. Seeing as I’ll be standing atop the board with a paddle to help me keep my balance, I’m starting to feel a little more confident.
The growth of the sport also has much to do with its accessibility – everyone from young children to the elderly can master the basics. What’s more, the Gulf’s calm waters are particularly conducive to paddlesurfing, which further explains why the sport has become so popular here. Carl also points out that paddlesurfing can be combined with other sports, such as snorkelling – Surf School is even investing in a paddleboard with a built-in viewing panel so riders can catch a glimpse of what lies beneath.
OK, so I understand the theory, but isn’t paddlesurfing just a lamer version of surfing? Not so, according to Carl. Though a few younger, ‘gnarlier’ surfers may sneer at this comparatively sedate sport, he explains that paddlesurfing is actually a lot more diverse than it appears. ‘Because the paddleboards are generally bigger, it’s a lot easier to catch waves,’ says Carl. ‘It’s also easier to catch waves further out and ride smaller waves [that you couldn’t on a surfboard].’
As Carl and I circumnavigate the Burj Al Arab, the attractions of paddlesurfing start to become all the more apparent. I grow increasingly comfortable and confident on my board – my turning circles are getting smaller, my posture is more relaxed and I can even change my footing. I’m improving all the time, whichis a great feeling, but I’m almost disappointed that it’s (dare I say it) a little too easy.
Sensing my increased confidence, Carl proposes a race back to shore. I accept with bravado, but soon find that while a leisurely morning paddle is one thing, racing is another thing altogether. As I pick up the pace, I find it increasingly difficult to keep a straight line – a problem compounded by the fact that I’m thrown off balance by my frenetic paddle strokes. As Carl pulls into a comfortable lead, I try to mimic his technique, changing my stance and putting weight on my front leg – before promptly falling in.
I guess I had it coming, but my impromptu dip does little to douse my enthusiasm. If anything, it proves that as easy as paddlesurfing is to get the hang of, there’s still plenty to learn – enough of a reason, perhaps, to make those 6.30am starts all the more bearable.
Surf School UAE runs daily paddlesurfing lessons at Sunset Beach. Prices start at Dhs100. Free trial lessons take place every Friday from 10am onwards. To book a lesson or for more details, call 04 399 0989 or see www.surfshopdubai.com.