DUBAI // Professional wakeboarders tore through the Palm Jumeirah surf yesterday, spinning and flipping to the delight of watersports fans.
The annual Oakley Riot, a professional wakeboard event held during the Sea Dubai Festival, had UAE amateurs and international professionals slicing their way through the waves to the whoops and applause of thethousands of spectators who lined Nasimi Beach to enjoy the spectacle.
The competitors were vying for US$22,000 (Dh81,000) in cash prizes.
The competition began last year in Dubai to raise the profile of the sport and provide a platform for beginners.
"There is a growing interest in wakeboarding as an extreme watersport in the UAE," said Andrew Whiteman, Oakley's brand manager in the Mena Region.
"This year we had a lot of locally based wakeboarders who enrolled for the competition but we had to cap it at 25," he said.
Wakeboarding combines techniques of surfing, snowboarding and waterskiing in a sport where athletes do acrobatic stunts while being towed by a speedboat.
There are no professional wakeboarders in the UAE.
Emma Jones, watersports brand manager at Al Boom Marine in Dubai, said the sport is in its infancy here.
"Most of the professionals are from America because it has been around there for a long time and athletes have more access to the sport," she said. "Also, to become a professional you need to be sponsored and have to tour for competitions which can be a challenge in the UAE."
Ms Jones coaches six amateurs whom her organisation is sponsoring.
Harry Cook, a 17-year-old wakeboarder from Sharjah, was the fist contestant yesterday to enthrall judges with his "scarecrow" - a manoeuvre in which a rider jumps into the air and rolls 360 degrees before landing and carrying on - going pro was not an option for him.
"I do not have the opportunity to go professional here because I need to finish my education," he said.
"Taking this up as a career would mean leaving all that because I would be touring most of the time," said the student at English College in Dubai, who won in the amateur category at the Oakley Riot last year.
Mr Whiteman said a lot of time needs to be devoted to riding, which is hard for youngsters like Harry.
"He has a lot of potential, though, which is why we encourage him and sponsor him," Mr Whiteman said.
Harley Clifford, the youngest athlete in the Pro Wakeboard tour - he won at Wakestock Abu Dhabi in March - has been practising for 10 years.
"My dad got me a wakeboard one weekend. I learnt some tricks and have being competing since then," said the Australian 17-year-old.
However, due to the travelling, he said there have been compromises along the way. "I had to be home schooled and decided against going to university so that I could pursue this."
Another young international boarder, JD Webb from the United States, said the Emirates was a good location for wakeboarders.
The athlete wowed the judges with a few "double-flips" and a "toeside 9", in which he leapt into the air and spun around several times while keeping his board parallel to the water.
"I have never done a double-flip before," said the 24-year-old.
"The weather conditions make Dubai one of the best places to perform."
Yesterday's top three in the pro category were Webb ($6,000 prize), Rusty Malinoski from Canada ($4,000) and Shane Bonifay from the United States($3,000).
Cook again won the amateur side, which brought him a Dh500 prize.