SUP: Ladies-only paddle boarding in Dubai

WhatSUP, sisters? We take to the emirate’s waters as part of a women-only stand-up paddleboarding class


Benita Adesuyan takes to the emirate’s waters in order to attempt a women-only stand-up paddleboarding class, otherwise known as SUP.

If you’ve ever spent a morning catching a few rays on one of Dubai’s many beaches, you’ve probably seen small fleets of people standing on a board paddling around the city’s waters. No, they’re not surfers in search of a wave, this is paddleboarding, and it’s a sport that’s gathering pace in the city.

Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. Originating in Hawaii, it requires the balance of surfing with the upper body strength of kayaking. Considering the sport’s growth, the overwhelming majority of paddlers are still male, but the crew at Ignite Surf School UAE are hoping to get more women on boards with new classes exclusively for ladies.

Ignite’s Mari De Villiers, a keen SUP girl, meets us on the beach, it’s a sunny morning and the sea around the Palm is serene, which she says is perfect paddle weather. De Villiers has already observed an increase in participation in the activity and Ignite has now launched a new Friday morning session for women only.

De Villiers explains the safety procedures to the ‘SUP sisters’ on the beach, and shows us the boards that we’ll be using. SUP boards are wider and shorter than a surfboard, they are lightweight with a pointed nose, and a set of fins on the underside enable the boards to stay stable in the water. All the boards are equipped with safety leashes that keep the paddler and the board together. Paddlers use a single tall paddle to propel themselves through the water and unlike surfing, SUP does not require waves, which makes it ideal for the waters in Dubai.

Ignite combines the fun of paddleboarding with an abs exercise class, and our SUP instructor gets us doing sets of crunches and squats on the boards. Sound strange? Doing sit ups in the sun, while floating on a board in the seas around the Palm does possess a certain charm. But don’t just take our word for it.
SUP Sisters with Ignite Surf School UAE. Dhs125 per class or Dhs1,000 for ten. 8.45am. Tue, Thu and Fri. Riva Beach Club, Palm Jumeirah, (055 601 0997). Email to register in advance to attend a class.

Candice Appleby, Maui Jim brand ambassador and four-time winner of The Battle of the Paddle World Championships talks to Time Out about her career in the surf

How did you get into SUP?
I attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa and spent a lot of time surfing in Oahu, one of the birth places of SUP. I started competing in 2007, eventually winning many stand-up surfing competitions against male competitors.

Why do you think there are so few women in the sport?
This may be in part because of the lack of resources and sponsorships for women to compete at the highest level and because prize money payouts are quite unbalanced.

How do you find competing in a male-dominated sport?
When I began competing, there were no women’s divisions. This wasn’t going to stop me from my desire to compete and be my best. I think competing with the men pushed me even harder. In 2008, at the Duke’s Ocean Festival in Hawaii I competed in both the men’s Open Pro and in the women’s divisions, and I went on to win both.

What are the benefits of the sport for women?
You become stronger in your core, which in turn makes you walk with a more statuesque presence. Unlike the often tedious task of going to the gym, SUP is fun and becomes somewhat addictive.

What advice would you give to any girls and women who are considering taking up the sport?
Try a lesson through an accredited coach. It is important to learn proper technique and safety before getting on the water. There are many men participating in the sport, but there is no gender bias when it comes to having fun and getting fit.

SUP for everyone

Learn how to paddleboard and take a tour of the Palm Jumeirah.
Dhs125 for one hour 30 minutes. Sofitel The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 420 6100).

Watercooled Dubai
This watersports facility has eight boards for rental and offers inflatable and hard paddleboards.
Dhs70 for 30 minutes, Dhs100 for 60 minutes. JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort, Jebel Ali, (04 887 6771).

Dubai Kite Surf School
This school offers private and group lessons on weekday mornings.
Dhs235 per hour, private lesson. Dhs95 per person, per hour for a group session (min three people).Kite Beach, Umm Suqeim 1, (050 496 5107).

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