12 to try: Watersports in Dubai

Water-skiing, wakeboarding, diving, paddle boarding and more

Make the most of the ocean on your doorstep and speed across the waves – here’s our round-up of the best engine-powered water activities.

Water: motorised

Jet skiing
Jet skiing in Dubai is a restricted sport, with only certain areas in which jet skiers are permitted. These areas are designated by yellow buoys that float in the waters at Dubai Marina, Umm Suqeim 1 and 2 and Jumeirah 2 and 3 beaches, with a 300-metre buffer between the machines and those swimming.

Another way to take to the waters is on a JetPad. These battery-powered and virtually noiseless personal watercrafts are touted as a safer, more family-friendly and environmentally friendly alternative to jet skis and jet bikes. They reach a top speed of about 45km/h and have a running time of 60 minutes once the battery has been charged for just 30.

In Abu Dhabi, rent a jet ski at Jet Ski Rent Dubai, located at the Golden Tulip Al Jazira Hotel & Resort (also easily reached from Dubai), and tear up the waters that surround the hotel. The Abu Dhabi Corniche is also a great spot for the sport, with Sea Tourism offering some powerful jet skis along with a full briefing and life jackets. Note that there are strict rules that govern the sport and you’ll have to be over 16 to participate. Those under this age will have to ride with an adult.

In other emirates, the rules on jet skiing vary but many of the bigger hotels can provide jet skiing facilities via their water sports centres.
JetPads: approximately Dhs60,000 per watercraft; www.jet-pad.com (04 399 6199). Jet Ski Rent Dubai: Dhs300 for 30 minutes, Dhs500 for 60 minutes; www.jetskidubai.com (052 983 8959). Sea Tourism: Dhs280 per hour; Villa 23, Royal Marina Villas, behind Marina Mall, www.seatourism.net (02 681 3064).

If blasting across the ocean, with a good chance of doing a somersault each time the boat hits the slightest wave, sounds like fun, you’ve come to the right place. As the name suggests, powerboats are no slowcoaches and pack considerable punch. For the uninitiated, powerboats tend to be lightweight, with a V-shaped hull that runs almost halfway under the boat. They handle like very agile jet skis, making for fantastic planning (that’s skimming the waves at up to 150mph to you and me). The good news for fans of the sport is that powerboating has roots in Dubai, with the X-Cat World Series race launched in Dubai back in the 1990s. Today, it’s a world series, heading to the likes of Africa and China, but with three events still held in the UAE.

Unless you’re thinking of taking up the sport on a serious note – in which case you’ll want to get qualified (contact Marine Concept, www.marine-charter-concept.com, for courses) – your best option to experience the thrill of powerboating is to sign up for a one-off ride, with several companies offering these. In Dubai, Dream Explorer let you charter a high-speed jet boat that can accommodate large groups and reach speeds of around 70km/h. Alternatively, The Yellow Boats offers a 30-minute thrill ride in a high-powered boat (yes, it’s yellow) as well as longer sightseeing tours starting at Dubai Marina and taking in sights including the Palm Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab. The same company also operates in Abu Dhabi, where the 50-minute tour starts at the Emirates Palace and speeds off round the Corniche and Lulu Island.
Dream Explorer: Dhs1,200 per hour (up to 12 people), valid for UAE residents only; Al Musalla Building, Mina Bazar, Bur Dubai, www.dreamexplorerdubai.com, info@dreamexplorerdubai.com (04 354 4481). The Yellow Boats: Dubai thrill ride Dhs150 (adults); Abu Dhabi tour Dhs200 (adults), Dhs150 (kids); Marina Walk, opposite Spinney’s, Dubai; Emirates Palace Marina, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi, www.theyellowboats.com (800 8044).

Super yachts
With the many man-made marinas and yacht clubs in Dubai, taking to the waters in a super vessel is a common pastime, and you may be surprised to know that it won’t cost you your life savings to hire one. If you round up a group of friends to match the yacht’s capacity, it can be a more than affordable pastime. Xclusive Yachts in Dubai Marina has a number of vessels of varying sizes for rent, with the smallest being 22ft. Vessels are rented by the hour (for a minimum of two hours) and you’ll head out into the Arabian Gulf and cruise along the stretch of sea in front of JBR, heading towards the top of the Palm Jumeirah. Cruising past Atlantis and towards the Burj Al Arab, you’ll be treated to a view of some of the city’s best-known landmarks from an entirely new perspective, and watching the sunset from a yacht near the edge of the Palm is immensely satisfying.
Charter prices with Xclusive Yachts start from Dhs300 per hour for a 22ft rider with a three-person capacity. Prices rise to Dhs4,300 per hour for a 90ft catamaran with a much larger 65-person capacity. Minimum two-hour hire. Dubai Marina, www.xclusiveyachts.com (04 432 7233).

The younger, and let’s face it, cooler, sibling to waterskiing requires a sideways stance, rather than the hovering-over-a-toilet-bowl squat required by its older brother. A similar technique is used; you lift yourself out of the water while leaning back and keeping your back straight, however there’s the added twist of, well, twisting. Once you’re up, though, it’s pretty easy and when you feel confident enough, you can try your hand at jumps and even flips. It all looks very impressive – until, that is, you fall flat on your face in spectacular style. Wakeboarding is a pricey pastime, with many places charging per 15 minutes.

This may seem like a very short period, but wakeboarding is tiring stuff. If you’re a novice, you will probably have to lift yourself out of the water more than a few times, and the next day you could struggle to lift a feather thanks to your aching forearms. You will also need to develop a taste for seawater – you’ll be snorting and swallowing litres of the stuff.
Various locations across Dubai.

Not as easy as it seems, waterskiing is great fun if you’ve mastered the ‘stand-up’ and incredibly hard work if you haven’t quite got the hang of it yet. Like wakeboarding, you’ll be dragged along at high velocity behind a speedboat, yet unlike wakeboarding it’s a lot more difficult to then progress and pull of stunts and acrobatic moves. Try Watercooled for lessons. Good luck!
Dhs250 for 20 minutes, plus entrance fee (depends on the day). Open daily 10am-5.30pm. JA Jebel Ali Golf Resort, Jebel Ali, www.jaresortshotels.com (04 814 5555).

Looking like something firmly from the future, the Flyboarding craze has hit the emirates and is growing rapidly in popularity. Created by French jet-ski designer Franky Zapata, the Flyboard enables riders to use water pressure to ‘fly’ above the sea. The science behind it all is surprisingly simple; riders wear a life jacket and helmet for safety, and stand strapped into a board, much like a small wakeboard. This is connected to a jet ski with a 10m pipe, which pumps water into the board. The jet-ski engine supplies power to pump the water into the board, and that’s what allows it to rocket up to 10m above the sea, with the instructor firmly on the jet ski controlling the pressure at all times. You don’t even need to be able to swim, so almost anybody can have a go.

SeaRide Dubai offers a minimum 30-minute session where after a short safety briefing and instructions on how the board works, they will have you up and away in 15 minutes. If you spend more time, or try it regularly, you can be confidently doing tricks and back flips within a few sessions. Head to Jumeirah Harbour to see this extreme sport close up, or dive straight in and try it out for yourself.
Dhs300 per 30 minutes session. SeaRide Dubai, Al Souq Harbour, Jumeirah, www.searide-dubai.com (055 157 9393).

Water: non-motorised

Atlantis offers the chance for novices to earn a PADI dive certificate in a single day and dive with dolphins the next. Learn the essential skills in the pool first, then move on to a classroom session in the afternoon, before heading out to the beach for two 20-minute dives. In this session, students head out to a dive site called The Pipeline, just off the beach at Atlantis, for a short dive, changing depths and then going to the surface to re-group, before heading back down again to perform the skills practised throughout the day. The next day sees PADI-qualified students head to Atlantis’s Dolphin Bay. Once in the water, following instructions for the encounter, groups of divers get to experience the playfulness of the dolphins and even hold on to a dolphin’s dorsal fin to be towed a few metres.

The Pavillion Dive Centre also offers three- to five-day Discover Scuba programmes, PADI courses and instructor development, as well as dive trips into the Arabian Gulf and off the coast of Musandam, while Arabian Diver in Ras Al Khaimah offers a variety of PADI programmes, including a two-day scuba diver course and a four-day open water course.
Al Boom Diving Centre: ‘learn to dive with dolphins’ package Dhs1,999; Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, abdiving@emirates.net.ae (04 426 3000). Pavilion Dive Centre: Dhs1,850 for PADI open water course; Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 406 8828). Arabian Diver: from Dhs2,160 for PADI open water course; Hilton Beach Resort, Ras Al Khaimah (07 243 3800).

With its rich, wide and compelling coastline, Abu Dhabi is perfect if you fancy freediving. It’s all about ditching the scuba gear and diving down to various depths, depending on experience, on a single breath. Some descend with just a snorkel or a mask while others don fins for covering large distances. There are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to freediving: those that focus on the competitive side of the sport and those that relish the absolute freedom of diving without equipment. One biological function that must be mastered is known as the mammalian diving reflex. It’s responsible for dropping the heart rate, constricting blood vessels and diverting blood away from limbs to more important vital organs; causing the spleen to release a burst of red blood cells, allowing blood plasma to fill up the lungs so as not to damage the lung linings. Although free diving is open to anyone, there is one rule that is universally accepted: never go alone. It’s crucial to dive with a buddy due to the very real risk of blacking out when resurfacing, known as shallow-water blackout. While the diver is descending, the increasing pressure squeezes the lungs. However, as the diver returns to the surface, the lungs re-expand. If at this point the oxygen levels are too low, the brain can potentially black out, usually within 15 feet of the surface. If this happens, your ‘dive buddy’ should take you to the surface and tilt your head back, allowing you to take in a breath and recover.
To see our freediving feature, turn to page 83. For more information, visit www.freedivinguae.com.

With access to relatively gentle waters all year round, kayaking is a burgeoning sport that’s captured the imagination of the UAE’s fun-seekers. With regularly organised trips, great scenic spots and no lack of fellow enthusiasts, kayaking can get you into shape in a fun and friendly way. There are essentially three kinds of kayaks; the closed deck, the ‘sit-on-top’ and the inflatable. Most people usually think of the closed deck models when they think of a kayak, where only the rider’s upper body is exposed, but the open ‘sit-on-top’ models are most common in the UAE and neighbouring regions. The inflatable models combine elements of the two; they are essentially open decks but with air chambers surrounding the boat, the paddler seated below the level of the deck. Closed deck kayaks are used for white water kayaking, while open models are for sea/ocean kayaking. The sport uses a lot of upper body muscles, so it’s great for anyone looking to gain strength in that area. Single capacity kayaks range from around Dhs2,500 to Dhs4,000. For anyone interested in the sport, the Noukhada Adventure Company offers regular tours of the Abu Dhabi’s mangroves, the Corniche and the northern emirates. They also organise trips in Muscat.
Noukhada Adventure Company, Al Qurm, Abu Dhabi, www.noukhada.ae (02 650 3600).

Ozzy Shihab, founder of kitesurfing company AWE Kitesurfing, says the kites they fly are around 15ft wide, as there isn’t a great deal of wind in Dubai, so they have to be big to maximise what’s available. Novices, however, will begin by using a 3ft learner kite, known as a foil. In a lesson, you’ll first learn a few basic skills needed to fly and control a kite. Once that’s mastered, you’ll start to factor in the board, used to pull you across the waves. The first lesson is to understand which direction the wind is coming from. Then you’ll need to keep your hands at waist height and treat the handle like a steering wheel, moving it right and left in the direction you want the kite to move. You’ll notice how incredibly strong the wind feels and how satisfying it is to quickly gain more control over the beast in the sky. You might need a few lessons with the kite on the sand, though, before taking to the water with one of the 15-footers.
Introductory semi-private lesson Dhs250; regular lesson Dhs350 per hour. Lesson length varies, depending on wind. AWE Kitesurfing, www.kitesurfdubai.ae (050 558 6190).

The sport is open to everyone and Surf Shop Arabia offers lessons to even complete beginners. These start with an explanation about safety on the beach and in the sea. The instructors first ensure that all participants can swim, as it’s essential participants are safe in the water. Instructors also explain how the current and the rip work, to give a proper understanding about how to stay safe while having fun. Unlike other watersports such as surfing, paddleboarding is easy going and great for chilling out, as it’s not so much about adrenaline, according to instructors at Surf Shop Arabia. It’s fantastic for overall fitness and strengthening your core, and has taken off in the UAE, especially in Dubai, because there are relatively few waves and the sea is generally fairly flat.

For something a little different, Surf Dubai has launched a training club exclusively for women. The classes cover life saving, general fitness and nutrition (they’ll be serving a healthy breakfast on their terrace after each lesson) as well as the basics of surfing.
Surf Shop Arabia: www.surfshoparabia.com (04 379 1998). Surf Dubai: Girls Go Surfing Dhs125 per session; www.surfingdubai.com (050 504 3020).

Watercooled at Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa offer windsurfing lessons for all abilities from complete beginners to those wanting to wave surf or improve their jibes. The team at Watercooled will put you through your paces until you feel comfortable on the board and have mastered any skills you want to learn. With wonderfully warm clear waters and some of the best instruction, Watercooled is the best place to get started.
A 30-minute windsurf hire session costs Dhs100, the introduction to windsurfing course lasts two hours and costs Dhs500 with a minimum of two people. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) start windsurfing course costs Dhs1,500 and the RYA intermediate windsurfing course is Dhs1,500. There’s no entry charge, but use of the pools and other Club Joumana facilities is not permitted. Watercooled, Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa (04 887 6771).

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