DUBAI // Mohammad bin Merjan rode out his friends' ribbing when he returned from California with his new love.
The thin, tall beauty hanging off the Emirati's arm as he left the airport in 2011 was not a West Coast blonde, but his very first surfboard.
Mohammad, 24, remembers perfectly the day he watched surfers paddling out into the sea off Civic Beach in San Diego.
"It was a typical, sunny Californian day, blue skies and warm," he said.
When he saw a sign offering surfing lessons, he knew "I had to do it."
By his third lesson, and after several mouthfuls of salty water, Mohammad was able to stand on the board. "I was hooked," he said.
Of the 45 days he spent in California, 38 were spent in the swell perfecting his ability to ride a wave.
With the surname bin Merjan (Son of Coral), it is not surprising that he found his passion in the sea.
Growing up a stone's throw from Al Mamzar beach, he spent many a day watching the waves pound the shore and was learning to free dive within years of learning to walk.
By the age of 15, Mohammad was diving to a depth of 20 metres - the same depth a scuba diver can reach with a tank of air.
"I just understand the tides, the waves and swells," he said.
He started by taking his board to the waters off Al Mamzar beach.
"I was surfing really small waves. Any wave would do," he said. "Then a big swell came in one weekend and after a few wipeouts I caught my first big wave. I was beside myself. Whoever said you can't surf in Dubai?"
He calculates there are at least 80 good days of surf a year, 10 of them producing perfect waves, and he has made Al Khan beach his territory.
For the other 285 days of the year, he can throw his surfboard in the car and head for southern Oman.
His skills in predicting swells let him down the first time he made the 1,000-kilometre drive to Salalah and he ended up watching a flat sea for a few days. "But I went back again February and there were head-high waves, and I caught over 100 in the time I was there," Mohammad said.
He has also taken to the waves alongside the professionals in places such as Bali and the Maldives.
And when all else fails, "Wadi Adventure is a perfect training ground and gives us the opportunity to surf."
Next weekend, Mohammad will share the Al Ain wave pool with local surfers of all ages at the Just Add Volcom Surf and Skate Jam.
It is a gathering, not a competition, with no set divisions, elimination rounds or age limits - just 11 hours of enjoying a surf or skate together.
"This event is all about having fun and building awareness of these unique sports developing in the UAE," said Luke Cunningham, Dubai Desert Extreme marketing manager.
Judges will hand out more than 100 prizes, from stickers to vouchers, for those who catch their attention. There will be bigger prizes for the standout surfers and skaters.