After a futile shouting match with our alarm clock, we dragged ourselves out of bed and into our swimming shorts. It was 6.30am, it was dark outside, and it was rather chilly by Dubai standards. The last thing we felt like doing was repeatedly falling into the sea; but, having signed up for a paddlesurfing lesson with Surf School UAE, this appeared to be an inevitably.
As we made our way to our 7am appointment at Sunset Beach, it occurred to us that we really had no idea what to expect from paddlesurfing, other than it involved (as the name suggests) a paddle and a surfboard. The latter was of particular concern since our last attempt to master surfing resulted in a lung-full of water and a few nasty coral cuts.
Happily, our worries were partially alleviated when we arrived at the beach. The sea was calm and the surfboard that awaited us looked large enough to accommodate two people, let alone our solitary skinny frame. Carl, the founder of Surf School and our instructor for the morning, informed us that the 12.6ft board was generally what beginners would start out on, but once they got a hang of the basics they’d move onto an 11ft board. Those who just wanted to catch waves, however, would ride boards as small as eight foot, while downwind paddleboard racers would use boards measuring up to 16ft.
Paddlesurfing, Carl says, 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 paddlesurfing.’
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 in Dubai. Carl also points out that the beauty of paddlesurfing is that it can facilitate other sports, such as snorkelling. So much so, Surf School is investing in a paddleboard with a built-in viewing panel so riders can catch a glimpse of what lies beneath.
Okay, this is all very well, but isn’t paddlesurfing just a lamer version of surfing? Not so, according to Carl. Though a few younger, dare we say, ‘gnarlier’ surfers might sneer at this comparatively sedate sport, paddlesurfing is, in fact, a lot more diverse than it might first appear.
‘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 [than you could on a surfboard].’
As we circumnavigate the Burj Al Arab, the attractions of paddlesurfing become all the more apparent. We grow increasingly comfortable and confident on our board – our turning circles are getting smaller, our posture is more relaxed and we can even change our footing. We’re improving all the time, which is a great feeling, but we’re almost disappointed that it’s, well, too easy…
Sensing our increased confidence, Carl proposes a race back to shore. We accept with bravado, but soon find that, while a leisurely morning paddle is one thing, racing is another thing altogether.
As we pick up the pace, we find it increasingly difficult to keep a straight line – a problem compounded by the fact our balance is offset by frenetic paddle strokes. As Carl pulls into a comfortable lead, we try to mimic his technique: changing our stance, putting weight on our front leg, and … splash.
We had it coming, but our impromptu dip did little to douse our enthusiasm. If anything, it proved 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 more bearable.
Surf School UAE runs daily paddlesurfing lessons at Sunset Beach. Prices start at Dhs100. They also hold free trial lessons every Friday from 10am onwards. To book a lesson, or for further details, call 04 399 0989 or see www.surfshopdubai.com.