x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kite surfing around The World

Outdoor enthusiasts are still strapping large kites onto their backs and sliding their feet into surfboard straps, despite the summer heat.

A kitesurfer ready to hit the water at the dedicated stretch of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai.
A kitesurfer ready to hit the water at the dedicated stretch of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai.

DUBAI // When he wants to escape the heat, Osama Shihad Fitoria attaches a huge kite to his waist, slides his feet into surfboard straps and sets sail for The World islands or the surf around the Palm Jumeirah.

"There is a much nicer breeze out there and the water is cooler," says Mr Fitoria, 27, a kitesurfing coach.

Kitesurfing in the summer months presents a burning dilemma: the wind is consistent but so is the heat.

Whether along the coast or farther out, however, enthusiasts have to bear a fair bit of scorching sun and sand, as getting into the water with all the equipment can take a good 15 minutes.

First, users must pump up the kite and unravel the lines from the bar before they can get into the harness.

"When standing on the sand in the beating sun it can be really tough," says Dan Lecot, 27, of France. "The sweat just rolls off you and your feet are burning."

Mr Lecot, an engineer, took up kitesurfing this year and is just coming to grips with his new kite.

"It takes a while to get everything set up," he says. "I hope the better I get at it, the quicker I'll be."

The Gulf winds are most consistent in August.

"I thought there would be no wind during the summer but obviously I was wrong," Mr Lecot says.

Kites vary in size. They can be as small as 6 metres for high winds but spans of 10 to 15 metres are more common.

As with any outdoor activity during the summer months, keeping oneself hydrated is key to survival and to longer stints on the water.

Kitesurfers commonly carry backpacks equipped with a long tube attached to water bottles.

Mr Lecot bought his pack last year for long-distance running and hiking. "When I bought it, I didn't know I would be out hanging on to a kite in this heat," he says.

Mr Fitoria, who has lived in various parts of the world, says the heat and wind are unique to this region. He says not all of his students are diligent in taking precautions against sun damage.

"You can wear sunglasses and a hat, and before they start most slap on the sun cream," he says. "Even some people I've seen who have taken all the precautions have gone completely red.

"I'd bring them back to the shade or put them in my car and turn the air conditioning on. If you're not used to the heat and out at midday, it can be potentially dangerous."

The consistent wind keeps Mostafa Al Hussaini, 28, an Emirati, out on the water every day.

"It's best if you stay out of the water when the sun is at its hottest, between 12 and 2pm," Mr Al Hussaini says.

August winds will reach an average 15 knots every day, he says. Most kitesurfers will not bother to go out if the wind is less than 10 knots.

"There's always a sea breeze. It's ideal for people not used to the heat," Mr Al Hussaini says.

He tackles the heat the same way as everyone else, covered with sun cream and with the water pack strapped to his back.

"Some people like to inflict this damage on themselves," Mr Al Hussaini says. "Not everybody can go out in the middle of the UAE summer and survive. You see guys running on the beach every Friday and Saturday."

Once the wind dies down, the temperature soars. Then everyone makes a beeline back to the comfort of their air-conditioned cars after the kites are deflated and packed away.

On a recent Saturday the wind died in the afternoon. The colourful kites fell from the sky and the surfers bobbed in the water before dragging the kites back to the shore.

The sport has grown: there is a dedicated kitesurfing stretch on Jumeirah Beach in Dubai, and in Abu Dhabi kitesurfers take to the shallow waters around Yas and Saadiyat islands.

"The water is warm but it's hard to notice the heat because of the breeze on the water over your body," Mr Lecot says.

"There is so much to watch out for when kitesurfing, the least of my worries is the heat."

eharnan@thenational.ae

Last week, we looked at people who run long distances in the summer heat to stay in shape. Next week, we will hear from cricketers who do not let the heat stop them enjoying their sport.