I meet Surf Dubai instructor Daniel van Dooren painfully early on a Tuesday morning, on one of those rare eerie, windy, cloudy days that make you want to stay curled up in bed. Though I’m not a big fan of the weather, it has aided the surf. ‘People are shocked at how good the waves can be in Dubai,’ says UAE-born Daniel proudly. We both marvel at a huge wall of swell in front of us, picked up by the unusually windy conditions. ‘You just have to keep watching the surf reports online and be prepared to take time off work when the waves come in,’ he says. There are already about 30 die-hard surfers in the water, making the most of the season’s waves. ‘Last winter we counted more than 90 days of decent surf on this beach. it’s even possible to surf right up until June.’
We’re standing to the right of the Burj Al Arab on the free beach known to most as Umm Suqeim; among these local surfers, however, it’s called Sunset Beach. Rumour has it that waves can reach three metres in this particular spot. ‘This is one of the only beaches left in the area where you can surf,’ explains Daniel. ‘Offshore construction sites such as The World and The Palm have ruined most of the decent surfing spots. We now only have three surfing beaches left: this one, JBR beach and Mamzar Park beach near Sharjah.’
That said, the waves rolling in are nothing to complain about, and proof that Dubai has the potential to be a serious surfing destination. Daniel, together with Surf Dubai, is hoping to elevate the sport here and publicise it through events such as the second non-profit Surf Dubai Sunset Open competition, sponsored by Quiksilver, Flip Flop Arabia, ACT Marine and Circle8. Open to both amateurs and pros, the entry fee
is just Dhs50, and there are four divisions: grommets (aged six to 14); longboarders (boards over 9ft); and women’s and men’s open (aged 15 and over). Contestants have the chance to take home a new Quiksilver board in each heat, and all entrants get a pair of flip-flops, a T-shirt and refreshments on the day.
Supporters are more than welcome to get involved, with Daniel promising spectators a great atmosphere on the beach. The competition itself will run on one of three weekends, depending on conditions: January 28-29, February 4-5 or February 11-12.
In the run-up to the competition, there’s plenty of opportunity to give surfing a try and, as a sport that uses nearly all the muscles in the body, it’s a great way to tone up. Daniel has been surfing this break since he could walk (he’s twentysomething), so I entrust myself to his expert care for a quick early-morning lesson. He hooks me up with a board and shows me the best channels to paddle out – the advantage of surfing with a veteran is that they’re well practised at recognising exactly how the waves will form and where they’ll break.
If you haven’t surfed before, the school offers group lessons for all abilities and, when you’re out there on the water, you’ll realise what you’ve been missing. Why fly to Hawaii or Bali to surf? There’s a great local scene right here in Dubai.
Enter the Surf Dubai Sunset Open via the Surf Dubai Facebook page. For lessons, contact Surf Dubai or see the website. Villa 12a, Street 3a, Umm Suqeim 3, www.surfingdubai.com (050 504 3020).
Surfing: the basics
To get started, you need a leash, some wax and a board. Beginners should choose a mini-mal (small board) or longboard at least 30cm taller than them. The normal waves at Umm Suqeim are ideal beginner height; get there early in the morning before the tide comes in.
Goofy or regular?
Skaters and snowboarders will already have figured out their stance: regular (left foot forward) or goofy (right foot forward). If you’ve no idea, stand up and get someone to give you a gentle push from behind. Whichever leg you move first to stop yourself falling is the foot you should put forward on the board. Your leash should go on your back foot. Walk into the water with the board by your side or behind you (so it doesn’t hit you in the face when a wave comes).
When the water is chest-deep, lie on your board and paddle, alternating your strokes with each arm, keeping your legs together. The board needs to be travelling at a similar speed to the wave. If you lean too far forward, you’ll nosedive. If you lean too far back, this will slow you down and the wave may pass under you.
When you feel a wave catch you, push your arms straight on either side of the board, shoulders back, head up. Bring your front leg forward to your chest while twisting your body so it’s horizontal to the board. Move your back foot forward, let go with your hands and stand. Practise this and you’ll be able to stand up faster, meaning a longer ride.