x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Surfers to get gnarly in Dubai

The Dubai Sports Council backs the creation of a national surfing federation that will regulate and promote the sport.

A surfer rides the waves at the Jumeirah open beach next to the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai in March.
A surfer rides the waves at the Jumeirah open beach next to the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai in March.

DUBAI // Dude, it's over. Surfers have won the right to Hang Ten on Dubai's beaches. After months of feeling like unwanted guests at someone else's beach party, surfers expect the fines to stop, now that the Dubai Sports Council (DSC) has backed the creation of a national surfing federation that will regulate and promote the sport.

That has made Scott Chambers, managing director of surfing school Surf Dubai and a leading member of the emirate's surfing community, a happy man. "Last season was a difficult one, because surfing was effectively banned from Dubai beaches, as surfers were being issued with fines," said Mr Chambers. "We worked closely with the municipality and the police to assure them that surfing could be positive for Dubai and that we were committed to protecting the beach environment."

The municipality now seems to thoroughly be on board, so to speak. The sports council is "very keen" to host international competitions, Mr Chambers said. "The municipality have now categorically stated that surfing is not banned in Dubai, and we are delighted that we now have official backing for the development of the sport. At one point, it looked as if the ban would force many surfers to leave Dubai."

He added that a proposed surfing federation would have "a regional remit" covering other emirates, as well as Oman, and that one of its main aims will be to ensure that "all coaching is safe and accredited". One surfer, Danny Van Dooren, 23, who was born in Dubai of British and Dutch parents, agreed that a federation would help ensure the future of surfing in the UAE. "A federation will bring certainty for surfers and provide official guidelines for the sport. It will help ensure the safety of surfers and swimmers. It will be an amazing opportunity to compete in competitions here in Dubai," he said at Umm Suqeim beach.

Saeed Harib, a DSC board member and chairman of the UAE Marine Sports Federation, also noted that surfing was popular with tourists. "Surfing is well-established here, but the sport has lacked direction and representation. "Watersport in Dubai is growing every year, both in terms of the number of people participating and the tourist revenue it generates," he said. Dubai has had a surfing community for a decade, but its existence was threatened in February when signs went up at Umm Suqeim beach saying their sport was no longer allowed because it was a danger to swimmers.

Umm Suqeim is by far the favourite of surfers in Dubai because it is one of the few that is not affected by coastal development and has a good "break", which creates gentle, rolling waves that often reach a metre or more. The surfers have even given it its own California-sounding nickname: Sunset Beach. Those that continued to brave the waves were slapped with Dh200 (US$54) fines. But yesterday, Alya al Harmoudi, head of the municipality's coastal zone and waterways management section, clarified that there was no ban on surfing in Dubai.

But, she added, "certain areas are demarcated for the sole use of swimmers to ensure their safety after some complaints were made against surfers". She said the municipality was considering putting a flag system in place. "We hope to create a specific area for surfers by the winter," she said. Surfers had fought the fines by saying they contributed to beach safety, and had saved several swimmers from drowning.

They also said they had no problem with certain areas being designated for surfing with flags, a system that is used extensively elsewhere in the world. And they came up with the idea of creating an artificial reef as a shelter for swimmers and to reduce beach erosion, they said. Mr Chambers added that he was concerned the message that surfing was legal in Dubai might not immediately reach all the authorities.

Given the lack of recreational sports facilities and public open spaces in the city, the DSC has encouraged the use of beaches for outdoor activities. Water sports, including sailing and dragon boating, have flourished in recent years, helping to promote Dubai as a destination for outdoor sports. And the Beach Soccer World Cup, a FIFA event that is to be held in Dubai next month, will showcase Dubai's beach life to a global audience.

The Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing has also welcomed the formation of a surfing federation. Eyad ali Abdul Rahman, the department's executive director of media relations and business development, said surfing was among the activities being promoted to develop Dubai's growing reputation as a centre for outdoor and alternative sports. "Dubai is a surfing destination in its own right and popular with European and western visitors," he said.

"We utilise every opportunity to promote Dubai as a family holiday destination. "We have identified surfing as a major activity for visitors in our promotional brochures. "We are working with DSC to promote niche sports tourism, and the Dubai Municipality is developing facilities for beach-related activities. We will support local surfing events and the development of facilities for this sport."