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Surfers fined for endangering swimmers

Surfers in Dubai have been fined Dh200 each for "putting swimmers in danger" despite assurances from the municipality that the sport is not banned.

DUBAI // Surfers in Dubai have been fined Dh200 each for "putting swimmers in danger" despite assurances from the municipality that the sport is not banned. Signs prohibiting surfing at Umm Suqeim 2 beach were put up last week, but it is still unclear whether the activity is illegal. The municipality maintained yesterday that there was no ban on surfing at the beaches but did not explain why surfers were being fined.

The wording on the Environment and Safety Violations notice issued by Dubai's environment department states that the offence is for "not following beach rules and putting swimmers in danger". Members of the surfing community are drafting proposals that include a system of flags to designate areas of swimming and surfing and the construction of an artificial surfing reef. They plan to present these to the municipality within the next fortnight to save surfing in Dubai.

Alya al Harmoudi, head of the coastal zone and waterways management section at the environment department, said in a statement that the swimming area had been clearly marked using swimmer safety demarcation system. The area, which stretches from the Fishing Harbour along the beach to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, was identified as being a suitable depth for swimmers. "As this beach is considered one of the most famous public beaches in the emirate and frequently used by thousands of visitors every year, it is very significant to clearly mark the swimming area," Mr al Harmoudi said. "There are many people who are not good swimmers and do not abide by the instructions for the beach users."

Samir al Khaleel, a media executive from Lebanon, said he was confronted by an official and threatened with a fine while surfing on Sunset Beach. "I was getting out of the water around sunset after surfing and there was a municipality van right on the beach with lights flashing," he said. "As we got out an officer came up to us and asked us for our driver licence or passport. He said that he wanted to fine us but we had no ID on us as we were surfing. It was quite intimidating."

The surfing community has been left confused by the lack of clarity from the municipality. Scott Chambers, who runs Surf Dubai, a beachfront training school, said surfers were eager to find a solution that protects the interests and safety of both swimmers and surfers. "The rationale for the fines appears to be that surfing and swimming in the same area is dangerous," he said. "However, there have been over 50 cases where swimmers have been rescued from drowning by surfers on Sunset Beach."

He advocated the flag system to designate separate areas for swimmers and surfers and the proposal for an artificial surfing reef off Jumeirah. "This would make ideal conditions for surfers and create a peaceful lagoon exclusively for swimmers," Mr Chambers said. tbrooks@thenational.ae pmenon@thenational.ae

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