When Mark Richards ran out of luck in Dubai's property market earlier this year, he threw caution to the wind. The 22-year-old Briton instead turned to teaching his favourite sport - kitesurfing - to others. It was not the career to which Mr Richards aspired when he first arrived in the UAE. He had been back and forth on visits to Dubai for six years and finally made the move at the end of 2007.
At that time, the property boom had already translated into many success stories. A career as an estate agent seemed like a prudent choice for the young Manchester resident, who had previously been in car sales. After 18 months, the move ended up costing him money rather than bringing it in. "It did not work out well for me, unfortunately," he said. "I probably had three months of good times." As the property market was slowing down, Mr Richards began looking for ways to supplement his income.
Teaching kitesurfing, which involves being pulled through the water on a board by a large, overhead kite, seemed like a good idea. Mr Richards had already been introduced to the sport by a colleague, and used his free time in the thick of a slowing market to polish his skills. The next step involved a two-month visit to Cabarete, in the Dominican Republic, where he would earn his instructor qualifications.
"The idea was that I was just going to teach friends," he said, explaining that he was supposed to return to his employer, Milford Real Estate, after the break. "But while I was in Cabarete, the company I was working for closed down." His friends suggested he try teaching kitesurfing full-time, and he has since teamed up with four other instructors to found a private company to capitalise on an upswing in the sport's popularity.
"Kite surfing is taking off huge at the moment," he said. The sport was safe to practise but not something people should be picking up on their own; but after some professional instruction, it was smooth sailing, he said. "It is extremely easy to learn and it does not require as much equipment as many of the other water sports. You can literally have your kite in the back of your car and drive to the beach when the wind is good."
"It is considered an extreme sport but it does not have to be and contrary to what many people think, it does not require a lot of upper body strength. It is more about your core body muscles," he said. The experience has been stressful, but Mr Richards is matter-of-fact about it. "If I had started in real estate two years earlier, I would have made a lot of money, but this was not the case," he said. "You have to be at the right place in the right time."
As for his tumultuous year, he said he prefers to look ahead and not back. "If something goes wrong, it is just an experience; it is nobody's fault." firstname.lastname@example.org