DUBAI // A growing group of what appear to be gondoliers who could not afford the full boat are taking to the waters off Dubai.
Despite reaching temperatures to rival a hot bath, the sea is dotted with hundreds of stand-up paddling (SUP) fans who have taken up the sport over the past two years.
And as the waters calm during summer, surfers also turn to SUP boards, which are much longer, thicker and wider than their usual streamlined equipment.
"It can be such idyllic water here," says Scott Chambers, founder of Surf Dubai at Sunset Beach in Jumeirah. "When there's no waves you want it to be like sheet glass. Sometimes around the Burj Dubai you can see stingrays, dolphins, turtles - all sorts of sea life."
SUP can be picked up quickly with little training compared with many watersports, and it is cheap.
"It's not like surfing where you have to wait for waves," Scott says. "You can just paddle out on any day and if there's waves, it's just more fun and challenging."
SUP originated in Hawaii in the 1950s and is believed to have been used by Pacific Ocean fishermen.
In recent years its popularity has been boosted by celebrities who have picked up a paddle, including Cameron Diaz and Ryan Gosling.
Most weekends between 60 and 70 boards are rented from the Surf Dubai shop each day, and in the long school holidays about 70.
"In the summer it's good because it's not as intense as other activities outdoors. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, just go at your own pace," says Scott.
Despite the hotter weather people still want to be outside to escape the air conditioning, he says.
"People think it's good for the soul, so before or after work it's a good part of the day, whatever the time of year," Scott says. "They just get up super early, just before sunrise, and go out before it gets too hot, or come when the sun's going down."
Clarissa Walsh, 23, says she has been involved in SUP for about three years and is still learning the technique.
"It's good fun and it's a good workout," Clarissa says. "It's such a good escape."
For those more serious paddle-boarders aiming for longer distances, stocking up with water backpacks is essential to avoid dehydration. A high-factor sunscreen, rash vests and hats are also highly recommended.
Clint Davis, 23, paddles or surfs every day, whatever the weather.
"When there's no waves it's still nice to be able to get in the water and do a workout," Clint says.
"People can go to the gym but it's boring. This is fun and you can still be outside even if it's hot. You just have to drink more water and be careful."
The UAE's sporting calendar includes a number of SUP events, such as May's Splash@Yas watersports event at Yas Marina, which includes three SUP races of varying distances.
"Just this year we've had four or five competitive events," Scott says. "The Paddle the World community event in December has been key to engaging people with the sport."
Paddle the World, a six-hour, 30-kilometre event organised by Surf Dubai, follows a route around The World islands. Last year it attracted 32 people of all levels and ages, compared with only two when the event started in 2009.
Lori Tusa is one of the more competitive members of Surf Dubai. After picking up SUP two years ago, the full-time mum has become hooked and competed in her first race in May at Yas Marina - the elite 6km paddle.
Lori trains all year and says a sensible attitude towards the heat is key.
"You just have to go out early," she says. "You tend to know your limits and staying hydrated is the most important thing."
Lori paddles about 10km, three times a week, in less than two hours.
"It's nice to have something to train for," she says, becoming more competitive after the December 2010 paddle to the World Islands.
Maintaining her training is all-important.
"Even after just two weeks off you feel the difference and your speed reduces," Lori says.
Jen Scully, from Abu Dhabi SUP, says the sport has continued to grow since 2009 when the group began.
"The races have definitely helped," she says. "Splash is the fourth event we've had in this 2011-2012 calendar and being a community event, it's good for people of all levels, from beginners to competitors."
For more in our Heatbeaters series, click here.