‘Are you going to break me?’ I ask Wild Wadi communications manager Yolandi Brooks as we walk towards the waterpark’s two flowboarding pools. ‘Don’t worry, we have paramedics,’ she says with a smile. I can’t tell if she’s joking. Petrified, I clap eyes on the giant 10ft FlowBarrel. ‘You’re not putting me on that, are you?’ I ask. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get you on the smaller FlowRider first.’ Phew.
We watch as the staff demonstrate how automatic wave surfing is supposed to be done. Instructor Felino Fontanilla carves in and out of the giant wave and performs flips and spins with ease. ‘Everyone’s learning potential is different, but conversely if you don’t have any existing board skills you’ll usually learn a lot quicker,’ says instructor Clair Reid, a member of the UAE flowboarding team. ‘Surfing uses a different technique; if you know how to surf, you’ll try to keep to that style, but with flowboarding the trick is to put your weight on your back foot.’ I glance over at the barrel as Felino wipes out. He’s not a small guy, but his body is spun around and spat out of the huge wave like a twig.
‘How dangerous is it – really?’ I ask. ‘Everything is dangerous,’ says instructor Clayton Barker, who’s also on the UAE team. ‘Walking across the street is dangerous – especially when it’s Sheikh Zayed Road.’ I get the impression these guys are daredevils, and I’m way out of my depth. Clair explains that it’s less dangerous than skateboarding, because you’re not landing on concrete. ‘You’re cushioned when you fall,’ she says. ‘You’re falling onto a foam mattress and water, and your adrenaline is pumping so you don’t feel anything. When you fall, you get up and carry on.’
We head towards the FlowRider, a flat wave machine with water spurting towards me at about 15kph. Clair eases me in slowly, and she’s a great teacher. Amazingly, within a few seconds I’m balancing on the wave and wobbling around. ‘What does it feel like when you fall off?’ I ask. ‘Try it!’ says Clair. I tilt the board awkwardly and tumble, as high-pressured water shoots up my top and boardies (note to self: wear a bikini under the rash guard). I pop out at the top remarkably unscathed and eager for another go.
It’s clear the instructors here know exactly what they’re doing, though for them it hasn’t come easy. ‘When Clair and I started riding in South Africa it was a double-barrelled wave, which could go left and right,’ says Clayton. ‘They’d let the middle section out so it was one big wave and the water was going about 70kph.’ Luckily, here at Wild Wadi, they only let you loose on the bigger wave when you’ve mastered the basics. During regular hours, the park operates the wave on a slower speed and only allows bodyboarding, but the new Flow Club on Saturday mornings means people can learn stand-up flowboarding under proper instruction – and, by the sounds of it, you can do it at any age.
US engineer Tom Lochtefeld invented flowboarding back in 1991 and he’s now in his 50s. ‘He can ride,’ says Clair. ‘He often visits and rides here with us. He travels the world developing new waves – this wave at Wild Wadi was the first its kind.’
The sport is really taking off. There’s talk of flowboarding opening the 2012 London Olympics; six countries now have national teams, including the UAE. As I watch, Clair and Clayton perform 360° turns, ‘Supermans’ (when you push the board forward and fly through the air) and back flips. ‘The guys here have progressed from last year by 100 per cent. It’s amazing – they have huge potential,’ says Clair. ‘Every weekend we see four to five new faces, which is great.’
Wild Wadi Flow Club lessons are Dhs75 for a session or Dhs15 to watch. Sessions are held on Saturdays 7.30am-9.30am. Advance booking recommended. Wild Wadi, Beach Road, Jumeirah, www.wildwadi.com (04 348 4444).