Flowboarding in Dubai

<em>Time Out</em> reports from Wild Wadi's flowboarding competition. Fake-surfing has never seemed so fun!

‘So – hand here, hand here, and… you arch your back like this and dig your feet in.’ ‘In where? In the Board?’ ‘No, no. The water, the surf.’

I’m nudged gingerly out into the oncoming ‘waves’, which are blasting around my feet en force. With a look back, I kneel down self-consciously and hold on, feeling a bit lost about what I’m supposed to be doing.

This whole exchange – talking, losing the board beneath me and eventually keeling over face down on to a rubber mat, lasts about eight seconds. This, apparently, is flowboarding.

After Wild Wadi managed to entice some of the world’s most famous flowboarders (yes, it’s got its own celebrities) to Dubai for a huge competition last week, Time Out felt it appropriate to get down there and find out what the sensation is all about.

This strange new sport is, to the uninitiated, a little like surfing, except that flowboarders don’t have to chase their waves – they’re provided by huge machines. Already big in South Africa, flowboarding is rapidly becoming a signature sport in Dubai and the sense of anticipation for last week’s competition speaks volumes about its appeal.

The sport is divided into two different styles: the pros, who competed in last week’s event, actually stand up on the board, like surfers, and the artificially created waves give the effect of a perpetually perfect big wave. The not-so-pro, including me and any other average Wild Wadi visitor, have to take it on the chest and ride the wave on a bodyboard.

The definitive style of the sport pulls together an amalgamation of many different boarding styles. The stand-up board looks much like a snowboard, with feet straps to keep you on, while many of the tricks are taken directly from wakeboarding. There’s the overall surfing aesthetic that the style attracts and some even draw parallels in how the board reacts to the surf with that of riding a skateboard.

But is it any good? After queuing for 15 minutes for something that lasts (if you’re just slightly better than abysmal) around six seconds, it can leave you a touch frustrated. It is hard, however, not to rejoin that queue as soon as you’re spat out the other end.

The idea itself is faultless for surfing beginners. With the summer heat as intense as it is right now, the last thing any budding surfer wants to do is boil quietly in the sea waiting for a half-decent wave. Also, a good portion of the year here in Dubai is pretty dead as far as getting any waves suitable for surfing. With flowboarding, as with so much in this fair city, the waves are engineered by a special single or duel pump process to guarantee near-perfect waves every time you get on there.

You’d expect purists to be up in arms about all this artificial surf business, but speaking with Matt Burden, one of the bodyboarders competing in last week’s event, its seems many think that this is fairly close to the real thing: ‘Guys get up there doing flips and 360s and quite a few of the tricks you’d associate with sea bodyboarding or surfing. It’s a rush.’ But does it compare? ‘Well, it is close but you really can’t beat riding a real, natural wave’

Quite. Well I got as far as skimming wildly across the surface of the thing before flying off but I’m told that if you’re willing to put in a bit of time on this, you’re more prepared when it comes to actually handling a decent wave out in the sea. Wild Wadi is keen to stress that right now the public can only use the flowrider for practising bodyboarding, but there is scope in the future for offering beginners’ lessons to anyone keen to learn to ride the waves standing up.

Fancied yourself as a bit of a surfer for a while but want it all there, right now? Well this is as close as you’re going to get on those terms. It’s worth fronting WW’s door price and the 15-minute wait to have a go, but a word of warning: judging by the pack of locals who’ve made it a regular haunt, I get the impression that this is something that grabs people and keeps them there. Staying on there, I found, was half the battle…

Access to the flowrider is included in the door charge for entrance to Wild Wadi. Go to www.wildwadi.com for more info on last week’s competition.

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