ABU DHABI // In the early-morning hours yesterday, two men prepared to mark National Day in an unconventional way - with a gruelling 60km paddle around the island of Abu Dhabi.
Some 13 hours later, Russell Yule, a fifth-grade teacher at Raha International School, and Harold Shim, whose daughter is a pupil of Mr Yule's, became the first people to paddle around the island using stand-up paddleboards.
The money they raised will be donated to SurfAid International, an organisation that is working to aid the people of the Mentawais Islands, a chain of four large and dozens of small islands off the western coast of Sumatra hit by a tsunami in October.
"There's a satisfaction in achieving something that isn't easy to achieve," said Mr Yule, an Australian.
The journey began at 2am from Le Meridien Hotel. The men paddled from the hotel on a route that took them inside the breakwall to Marina Mall, around Emirates Palace, down to the new bridge to the south, past the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and Sheikh Zayed Stadium, under the Musaffah, Maqta and Sheikh Zayed bridges, out to the main shipping lane and back to the Tourist Club Area.
For most of the trip, the tide and the wind were against them. According to Mr Yule, for the hour and a half when the conditions were good, they travelled at 12km per hour. For the rest of the trip, it was closer to 4km per hour.
Mr Yule said he will promote his unique effort until his goal of Dh100,000 is met. He will also use his trip in the classroom.
"I want to teach my children and my students that just because you don't achieve something, it doesn't mean you failed," he said. "You have to look at it from other ways to realise what else you can do to continue the action."
Mr Yule plans to continue raising money for SurfAid International by speaking at schools and community groups.
The people of the Mentawais Islands have been living in makeshift conditions since the tsunami hit on October 25.
Mr Yule plans to raise enough money for 1,000 building kits, costing Dh100 each, that provide the tools and equipment to construct a shelter.
Although Mr Yule was unable to estimate how much money had been raised, about 40 people have pledged, he said. Mr Yule himself pledged Dh3,000.
"I'm proud the first instalment is going," he said. "And I'll be working on other things to get the thousand kits."
Since 2004, SurfAid International has been working in the Mentawais to provide clean water and educational programmes.