x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pool just got deeper with stand-up paddlers joining kayakers

For a small-but-avid group of surfers living in Dubai, it must sometimes seem that summer here does, indeed, last forever, even if the waves do not.

It was not just about surfers and stand up paddleboarding during the Paddle for the Planet event. Many kayaks and canoes also made it out with the longboarders.
It was not just about surfers and stand up paddleboarding during the Paddle for the Planet event. Many kayaks and canoes also made it out with the longboarders.

In the classic 1966 film The Endless Summer, two Californian surfers set out to travel the world in the hope of experiencing the planet's best waves. Escaping their hometown's colder months, their goal was, as the title suggests, to make their "summer" go on and on and on.

For surfers around the world, it remains the dream lifestyle, a template for a happy life.

For a small-but-avid group of surfers living in Dubai, it must sometimes seem that summer here does, indeed, last forever, even if the waves do not.

And if the surf is not big enough, there always is stand-up paddling (SUP).

Last weekend, those who prefer this more serene version of boarding took part in Paddle for the Planet, an annual conservation event designed to raise awareness of the damage being done to the world's oceans.

They could not have picked a better day to do it. The kind of day that brings people to the UAE. Clear blue skies, hot but not humid. In fact, the ideal summer day.

"It was perfect," said Scott Chambers, founder of sponsors Surf Dubai, who provide SUP services in the city. "There was hardly any wind, and the water was very flat, the paddlers got really lucky."

Between 8am and midday, 250 to 300 paddlers lined Jumeirah's Kite Beach. Most had long SUP boards, but some had regular surf boards, while others brought canoes, kayaks and dragon boats.

Paddling might not quite match up to the almost indescribable thrill of riding a wave, but it was still an exhilarating experience for those taking part.

"The event was really well marketed [by Paddle for the Planet]. A lot of people knew about it and if you include families and spectators there were about 600 people present," Chambers said, highlighting that it exceeded last year's Paddle for the Planet turnout and expectations.

"We made it very accessible this year, so lots of people who hadn't done it before showed up and we have plenty of equipment to go around."

It was the latest community initiative that Chambers and Surf Dubai have promoted in this corner of the emirate.

"It was a great event, and not just in terms of saving the oceans, but also for Dubai," he said. "People who live around here now know they can always come down here and get involved."

Since its introduction, the SUP board-rental business has been hugely successful with beach goers and continues to grow.

Chambers, a native of Brazil, grew up on Dubai's Umm Suqeim beaches and, on returning from studying in the UK, in 2005, set up Surf Dubai as the city's only surf school, now sponsored by Quicksilver.

Dubai might not have been the most obvious surfing destination, but Surf Dubai has gone from strength to strength since.

Certain stretches of beach can occasionally get a swell of one or two metres, but the relatively calm Gulf waters have led to a spike of interest in the paddling side of the business in the past few years.

"I bought the first paddle equipment in 2006, and I'd say from about 2008 people started to catch on," said Chambers, 30. "But it's from 2010 that it's really exploded."

Like those surfing mavericks in The Endless Summer, Chambers and his crew often seek foreign shores for their more high-octane surfing experiences, with regular tours to places such as Sri Lanka and the "new surfing frontier" of India.

"We've recently started doing tours to a group of unexplored islands off the coast of India," he said.

"They're a 15-hour ferry ride from mainland India, really remote and have amazing waves."

It is on the public beaches of Jumeirah that they have become a constant, and comforting, presence. Surf Dubai staff, and other surfers, have acted as unofficial life guards on many occasions over the past eight years, often saving drowning swimmers caught in riptides and other swirling currents.

It has not always been plain boarding for Dubai's surfers. Local municipality regulations in certain cases prohibit the staging of surfing competitions, and other beach activities, on public beaches.

But Chambers and Surf Dubai have continued to work closely with local officials to ensure they provide the best service all-year round, be it surf lessons or SUP equipment.

Despite the harsh summer conditions, it really has become a year-round business.

"In the past few years, SUP has become so popular that we haven't been able to close over the summer," Chambers said with a laugh. "If you head to the beach early enough and pick your times right, you can have a great time all-year round."

Dubai's seemingly endless summer just got more fun.

akhaled@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE