x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Great outdoors puts bite on brunch

Recent arrivals who want to explore the great outdoors of the UAE have more options for group activities than ever before.

Sport and activities – everything from kayaking to kitesurfing – are booming partly on the back of the global recession, but mostly  because more and more residents now prefer the exercise to weekend dining and because it is just plain good fun.
Sport and activities – everything from kayaking to kitesurfing – are booming partly on the back of the global recession, but mostly because more and more residents now prefer the exercise to weekend dining and because it is just plain good fun.

DUBAI // Expatriates are moving away from five-star Friday brunches and opting to work up a sweat with outdoor sports.

And they are being joined by recent arrivals who want to explore the great outdoors, seeking the myriad options made available by the country's natural resources.

Conventional sports such as tennis and football are being overtaken by hiking, kayaking and kitesurfing.

"If you look internationally the outdoor scene is booming," says Daniel Birkhofer, the managing editor of Outdoor UAE magazine. "It was a little bit delayed here but people are getting tired doing the regular stuff."

Jim Falchetto, the manager of Traks Pro, a company that specialises in rope rescue, rope access and climbing, says: "People are getting more adventurous and there has been a radical change in the people that come here.

"They are no longer turning a quick buck by buying and then flipping an apartment. They are looking for value."

The global recession, Mr Falchetto says, has made people look to less expensive pastimes with more adrenalin rush.

"It's not expensive to go trekking on Fridays," he says. "If you stay here for more than a year there are only so many brunches you can do and afford."

Andy Whitaker, who organises weekend bike rides for like-minded enthusiasts, says there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people seeking outdoor pursuits.

His group, Hot Cogs, is for more advanced riders but beginners can join a group of about 200 who ride on the ruts made by four-wheel drive vehicles in the mountains.

"All the people who come to ride with us, they've contacted us before they move to the UAE," Mr Whitaker says. "They ask what they need to bring and ask what [bike] shops are like."

Thomas Gundaker, of the Abu Dhabi Alpine Club, says he has seen an enormous increase in visits to his group's website.

In April 2009, the site had a monthly high of 250 hits, the highest number that year. The site had more than 1,000 hits last March and has yet to drop below 600 this year.

"It is not really a club. It's just some people who have better things to do on weekends than eating and drinking in fancy restaurants and clubs," Mr Gundaker says.

Expenses are shared by groups of up to 25 who go on treks or caving in the mountains of Oman. Yet the main challenge for most people is finding a group that will help them get started.

Many groups are for advanced participants and beginners may be intimidated, says Sam Whittam, the manager and founder of Adventure HQ, a new outdoors shop in Dubai.

Mr Whittam says his company is valuable "not just for the product but it's for the community we are creating, so hence the adventure club".

He adds: "We have the website and a Facebook page, and it's all about putting like-minded people together so we can create sub-communities like a mountain bike community, yoga or whatever it might be."

When Mr Whittam arrived in Dubai two years ago, it was difficult to find people who had the same interests. A seasoned mountain biker, he says he found specialist groups that catered to on and off-road biking, but there was nowhere for people to who wanted to learn and advance.

"There was nowhere that was a magnet for me," Mr Whittam says.

Mr Birkhofer says there has been an increase in available information in the past two years. But he says: "If you don't know who is climbing and don't know how to get into it, it's very difficult to do so."

Mr Birkhofer says he also found it difficult to find a place to meet like-minded people.

"I was always interested in outdoor pursuits and I do more now because I know where to go and how to do it," he says.

Mr Birkhofer's magazine's website, outdooruae.com, was conceived for this purpose.

"If you don't know who is doing a certain activity, it's very difficult to get in touch," he says.

But now there is more information and finding the activity is easier. Outdoor sports are "developing and the opening of stores gives more access to equipment", Mr Birkhofer adds.

Mr Whittam says his store plans to offer tours and trips in adventure sports.

"There is as much interest in us providing the service and taking people out as there is to provide products," he says.

Mr Falchetto says the rush of adrenalin is the main attraction of outdoor sports - and in this case, the best things in life are free, or close to it.

"Even for bouldering you just need some shoes and chalk," Mr Falchetto says.

"It's cheap thrills. You get more bang for your buck in climbing."

 

eharnan@thenational.ae