x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Surfing in an abaya? It's a swell idea for Dubai

These boarders, from Surf Dubai, took beachgoers by surprise as they paddled and balanced with ease.

Members of Surf Dubai participate in an abaya and kandura paddle boarding session at the open beach in Jumeriah, Dubai.
Members of Surf Dubai participate in an abaya and kandura paddle boarding session at the open beach in Jumeriah, Dubai.

DUBAI // Mother-of-four Farah Essam Ahmad tried her hand at paddle boarding for the first time yesterday - in an abaya.

Balancing delicately on her board, the 31-year-old proved that national dress does not make certain activities out of bounds.

Mrs Ahmad was unconcerned by her abaya fluttering in the wind as she took to the water alongside a group of 25 men and women - Emiratis and expatriates - all clad in abayas and kanduras.

The boarders, from Surf Dubai, took Saturday morning beachgoers by surprise as they paddled and balanced with ease for about half an hour at the Umm Suqeim open beach. The gathering was an attempt to encourage more Emiratis to take up stand-up paddle boarding (Sup).

"It is really good to do whatever you like and to still have pride in how you dress and your culture," Mrs Ahmad said. "The traditional dress is critical for us. We want to tell people it's fine to wear what you want and not to be held back."

Mrs Ahmad paddled with her two sons, Mubarak, 10, and Mohammed, 9. She has been boarding for two months and while she admits an abaya is not ideal wear for the sport, she said it was "symbolic".

Fahim Al Qassimi, 26, an Emirati who has been surfing since he was 14, said it was important to dispel notions that surfing and paddling were western sports.

"It is to get people to understand how much of our culture revolves around the ocean, to make them see the fun benefits," he said. "We need to be part of this global sport.

"We should be proud we have these amazing oceans and take care of them. People also need to be aware of the heath benefits."

Scott Chambers, managing director of Surf Dubai, added: "This was a visual representation of the fact that Emirati women can also paddle.

"A lot more of them are getting into the sport ... we've seen a big increase in Emirati men trying Sup, now it's time for ladies to join in."

pkannan@thenational.ae