x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Everybody's gone surfin' ... surfin' UAE

Dubai's first contest draws 64 entrants in three categories and with high winds and waves expected, it looks like it will be a hit.

Daniel Van Dooren, left, and Scott Chambers of Surf Dubai demonstrate surfing techniques to students on the beach.
Daniel Van Dooren, left, and Scott Chambers of Surf Dubai demonstrate surfing techniques to students on the beach.

DUBAI // Surfers have had a double dose of good news. With high winds and waves expected, the emirate's first surfing competition, this weekend's Surf Dubai Sunset Open, looks like it will be a hit. Sixty four entrants will compete in three categories: the long board, the short board for those aged 14 years and over, and the short board for under 14s.

The other good news is that after five years of struggle, including disagreements with the authorities, the founders of Dubai's first surf school are close to being accredited by the emirate's Sports Council. It has been a challenge almost as daunting as "shooting the curl" or "hanging 10". Previously, surfers faced numerous obstacles, from shrinking public beaches to a suspicion that the sport was a danger to beachgoers.

But that never dampened the enthusiasm for the sport felt by Scott Chambers and Daniel van Dooren, who founded the Surf School of Dubai five years ago. Surf Dubai, an association also set up by Mr Chambers and Mr Van Dooren, has seen its membership grow from 15 to 1,500. The sport's surge in popularity is evident to anyone who sees the rising tide of surfers riding the modest swell each day at the Umm Suqeim public beach. Around 20 per cent of the students are locals, five of them members of Surf Dubai's board, which champions the sport.

"So few people realise what great surfing Dubai has," said Mr Chambers, 26. "We want to make Dubai a place for surf tourism. This accreditation could be a great thing for the community." They put their case to the Dubai Sports Council last month. In addition to attracting tourists, Mr Van Dooren, 23, said that a greater surfers' presence is good for the emirate's beaches. "Surfers are always the ones leading beach clean-ups," he said. "We've had loads of people volunteering to do these with us because they really do care about the environment."

Indeed, surfers, they said, make the beach a safer place. Mr Chambers, who is a qualified lifeguard, said surfers were responsible for more than 30 water rescues during the last surf season. "Until now, they thought we may be a danger to swimmers. But, if anything, having strong swimmers in the water is only a good thing. They had thought we were like jet skis because it's still such a new thing here so we've had to explain what the sport actually is."

Fahim al Qassimi, 24, an avid surfer who is on the Surf School's board, said: "The Emiratis were always ocean-faring people, living next to and off the ocean. It's important to get people back to our roots, being competent swimmers, to understand the water and how it moves, understanding marine life and preserving the beaches. The young generation must get active, get out and do something." Mr Chambers said it is vital to get the sport accredited in order to prevent unqualified instructors from taking people into the water.

Their next project is to get the country accredited by the International Surf Association, the sport's governing body. The association is campaigning to get surfing admitted to the Olympics and Mr Chambers said that one day the country could send a surfing team to the Summer Games. "There is some really good young talent emerging now," he said. @Email:mswan@thenational.ae