x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Dubai is now the place to catch waves

Surfing has really taken off in the emirate, but a top instructor warns that any more offshore development could render it dead in the water.

Scott Chambers, second right, managing director of Surf Dubai, teaching students how to surf at Jumeriah beach in Dubai.
Scott Chambers, second right, managing director of Surf Dubai, teaching students how to surf at Jumeriah beach in Dubai.

DUBAI // As Scott Chambers looks out over the waves at Burj al Arab Free Beach, their clean breaks take him back 13 years. It was on this same beach that 12-year-old Scott and his friends surveyed the rollers as young surfing pioneers of the coast. That past coastline, if you could imagine it without the Palm Jumeirah and the World islands, was one of the places where he learned his skills. In 2005, Mr Chambers returned from the University of Plymouth, England, with a degree in surf science and set up the UAE's first and only surfing school, Surf Dubai, which is sponsored by Quiksilver. But back to the present-day beach, where there is a good chance some of the surfers out there riding the one-metre to two-metre waves learned their skills from Mr Chambers, who came back to the UAE to pass on the knowledge gained by surfing with the world's best in Bali, Australia and France. On this day, strong winds from Qatar have generated enough surf for scores of surfers, clutching their long and short boards, to dive into the oncoming waves hoping for as many rides as possible before the sun drops behind Burj al Arab. From October to March, dozens of surfers can be seen among the waves, which are created by an underwater sandbank and the onshore north-west wind. For amateurs it is the most perfect swell with a glamorous backdrop. And it is catching on. Surf Dubai's membership has grown from five enthusiasts to 750 registered students, members and surfers, with the numbers growing daily. "We had 400 surfers registered last year with us and as a sport it is growing tremendously. In the winter the waves are perfect for beginners and good for the more experienced surfers," said Mr Chambers, who has had a home opposite the beach all his life. "The potential to have a surfing community in the region is huge. The environment here is perfect for beginners and Oman is excellent for all standards. "I learnt how to surf here and many great surfers learnt here as well. "There is a misconception that Dubai has no waves, but every week from December to March there are some days where you get swells of 3ft to 5ft waves. "Only last year when world champion surfer Kelly Slater came to Dubai, he said he was looking at Oman for a possible show, so if that happens the sport would skyrocket." Mr Chambers said the offshore developments had reduced the size of the swell and warned further development opposite Burj al Arab Free Beach, also known as Sunset Beach, could mean the end of the sport. "There used to be a better swell before the offshore constructions that now are shielding areas from waves and reducing the swell on this amazing beach, but if there is more construction, that would kill off surfing in Dubai." When Cyclone Gono hit last year, hundreds of surfers from all over the region came to the east coast of the UAE to ride the high waves it created. "It was nice to surf on the other coast and we got waves five metres high. Surfers look forward to storms or cyclones as it gives them the opportunity to surf more challenging waves," Mr Chambers said. He also organises "surfaris" to Sri Lanka and Oman, where the waves can reach six metres, and wants to add France, Indonesia and Morocco to the list. "I am happy to keep the surfing community growing and it is an excellent one. I am enjoying the number of people joining the school and I'm looking to expand our safari trips to offer our members more options and good surf," Mr Chambers said. John Flaherty, 28, an engineer living on the Palm Jumeirah and a surfer who attended the Surf Dubai school, said: "The buzz of getting on the board and riding the waves, especially in a place like Dubai, is incredible. "I am utterly hooked, I wake up every morning at 6.30 to see what the swell is like." Other beginners said the sport was the perfect antidote to Dubai's traffic woes. "It makes me feel free and alive, especially after sitting in traffic all day. "I really forget all my problems and focus on the ride and the thrill," said Ashook Nambair, 28, who has had surfing lessons in Sri Lanka. "It was too hard to learn in Sri Lanka, but in Dubai the waves are just perfect for a sustainable ride." For more information on how to book lessons visit: www.surfingdubai.com shafez@thenational.ae