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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Dubai surfing project for special needs students pulls in crowds as waves roll in

Teenager's Surf for All scheme aimed at those with special needs is attracting new people to get on board

Antoine, 16-year-old student from Jumeirah College created a community-based surf club for teens with Down Syndrome two years ago. They meet every two weeks at Sunset beach for surf lessons. Verano Field (pink and blue) gets help with her board for the start of the surfing class. Antonie Robertson / The National
Antoine, 16-year-old student from Jumeirah College created a community-based surf club for teens with Down Syndrome two years ago. They meet every two weeks at Sunset beach for surf lessons. Verano Field (pink and blue) gets help with her board for the start of the surfing class. Antonie Robertson / The National

Young students are giving up their time to help people with Down Syndrome and special needs learn how to surf.

November is the time of year surfers dream of during the stifling heat of summer as the change in seasons usually brings better waves along Dubai’s crowded coastline.

A project developed by French Jumeirah College student Antoine de Mascarel, 16, began as part of his Duke of Edinburgh award, challenging young people to volunteer their time in community projects.

Antoine overcame his early fear of the ocean by learning to surf with his dad, and came up with the idea of a surfing group to encourage more people into the sport.

He now has 20 friends taking to Sunset Beach every other Sunday to take on the waves, or enjoy time on paddle boards out on the water.

It is proving popular with those with special needs, as well as volunteers who are queuing up to help out.

“We started Surf for All with one or two guys, but it has grown a lot since then,” said Antoine.

“We were attracting young people at first, but now have surfers older than 30 taking part which is pretty cool.

“They love the experience and have big smiles on their faces when they are out on the water. “It can be a challenge to teach, but that is part of the attraction.”

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Safety is a big consideration, with the only pre-requisite being a decent swimming ability.

About 15 young people have so far been involved in the project. The school is open to anyone with special needs who wants to learn to surf.

Antoine’s efforts have been recognised by his college with a leadership award to mark his positive impact in the community.

“Surprisingly there are waves in Dubai, people don’t believe me when I talk about it,” he said.

“We have more volunteers than we need, which is a good sign of how popular it is getting. “We try and have a one-to-one arrangement with the students.

“It’s not for everyone, but they can have a go and see if it is something they enjoy.”

Equipment is offered for free for the sessions by the Surf House, with instructors also giving up their time to help out.

Many of the young people getting involved have been referred to the project by All4 Down Syndrome Dubai.

Dutch surf teacher Sjak, is one of those giving up his time.

“Teaching these different people with varying degrees of ability is totally different, but immense fun and is very rewarding,” he said.

“The season starts in Dubai around November, and we do get swells coming in.

“The developments around the coast like the World Islands and others along the Dubai coast have reduced the size of the waves we now get, but they occasionally come in during winter.”

Training is adapted to suit the competence of those taking part, and the group has only had to postpone sessions once when the swell was too big for beginners.

Although waves are becoming more scarce along the Dubai coastline due to increasing developments blocking off waves from reaching the shore, Sjak said the surf community is thriving.

“The ocean is something beautiful and surfing is a great way to enjoy it,” he said.

“When there are no waves, we can use the paddle boards. Not everyone stands up but they can still ride a wave which is a huge thrill for them.

“The further north you go, the more you have to search for the waves, but that is kind of the essence of surfing.

“The surf community is growing all the time in Dubai, every time there is a wave there is more people out there. It’s good to see.”

Top surf spots in the UAE are Sunset Beach, North Beach and Khor Fakkan on the east coast. Waves along the Northern Emirates coastline are more elusive.

Brazilian Scott Chambers, owner of the Surf House, is happy to support the project and has also been offering free taster sessions as part of the 30 day Dubai Fitness Challenge.

“The demand for surfing is certainly there, it is a simple sport and doesn’t require a lot of equipment,” he said.

“Paddle surfing is particular popular as it is fairly easy to pick up.

“It is great for fitness, and the 30 Day Fitness Challenge sessions we are running booked out very quickly.”