Yas Waterworld's new flowboarding attraction Rush Rider is helping build a UAE national team in the fast-growing sport.
Flowboarding - the new wave at Yas Waterworld
With its usually placid seas, the UAE is far from being one of the world's surfing hot spots.
That leaves residents who enjoy the adrenalin rush of riding the crest of the wave often unfulfilled.
The Yas Waterworld theme park in Abu Dhabi hopes to change all that with an attraction that aims to recreate the excitement of sweeping through the surging ocean atop a board through the fast-growing sport of flowboarding. Its new attraction, Rush Rider, basically creates a permanent wave, pumping out water at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour.
They have even hired the 2011 flowboarding champion Clayton Barker to bring some of the most promising and talented riders up to international standards, by offering weekly training sessions through the Yas Flow League.
The goal is then to enter a UAE team into the World Flowboarding Championships, which are being held at the water park in October.
The 29-year-old South African says he is optimistic about his students' chances at this contest.
"We have a couple of Emirati kids who've come along amazingly and are so good now," says Barker. "It gives me hope that we can build a good UAE national team for the world championships.
"If they stick at it and train hard, I'm hoping we'll do really well."
Barker has been flowboarding for the past 11 years. He was originally a surfer, but when a flowboarding centre opened within walking distance of his home in Durban, he got hooked.
"At first I hated it because, although it looks similar to surfing, your technique is quite different," he recalls.
With surfing, the water swells from behind, so one must predominantly balance on the front foot. In flowboarding the water is being pumped towards the surfer, so he or she must balance on the back leg.
"The transition from this into surfing can be a bit difficult if your mindset isn't that you're about to learn something new," explains Barker.
"People look at it and think: 'Oh it looks like surfing, I can surf.' But it feels backwards the first couple of times."
In actuality, he says the techniques are closer to wakeboarding, snowboarding or skateboarding than surfing. This eclecticism of skills means those who've never tried any boardsports often are the quickest to learn.
"Sometimes it's better to come with no board experience, because you have no preconceived notions about how it's going to feel," he says.
"Also, I find girls tend to pick it up quicker than guys, because guys get really impatient and want to jump on. Girls tend to take time to listen and figure it out."
The sport originated in the US, where it was created about 20 years ago. Legend has it that its inventor, the engineer and surfing enthusiast Tom Lochtefeld, came up with the idea while in the bath.
Reportedly, he was playing around by spraying a shower head against the shower curtain, which created a wave. Inspired by this discovery he decided to build a giant-scale version of this phenomena.
Since then, flowboarding rides have spread across the world to countries such as Spain, US and Singapore. Dubai also has one at Wild Wadi waterpark.
But Barker claims Yas Waterworld's is superior to others. First, the wave is greater in size. It's also double-barrelled, meaning that there are two separate mirror-imaged waves - one to cater for the usual left-foot forward, right-footed rider; the other for the so-called "goofy-footers", who have the opposite stance.
With such world-class facilities on offer and summer just around the corner, Barker is hoping for a swell in the numbers attending his training sessions.
"Flowboarding is the best substitution for surfing we've got in the UAE," he contends. "We only get waves in the sea in wintertime, so for the other nine months of the year, you have to find something else to do.
"You even can't go skateboarding in summertime, so what better thing to do than surf about on some nice chilled water?"
Training sessions take place on Wednesdays from 6.30pm to 9.30pm and on Saturdays from 8am to 11am. For more information visit www.yaswaterworld.com