x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Teacher Russell Yule attempts 60km paddle round Abu Dhabi

Australian is trying to raise Dh100,000 to help victims of tsunami that hit small chain of Indonesian islands in October, by being first person to paddle right round Abu Dhabi island.

Russell Yule, a teacher at Raha International School, is planning to paddle around the Abu Dhabi island on a stand-up paddleboard to raise money for the tsunami-affected people in Mentawais Islands.
Russell Yule, a teacher at Raha International School, is planning to paddle around the Abu Dhabi island on a stand-up paddleboard to raise money for the tsunami-affected people in Mentawais Islands.

ABU DHABI // Russell Yule is no ordinary fifth-grade teacher. Early this morning, he will step way beyond the classroom and on to a stand-up paddleboard with the aim of becoming the first person to paddle around the island of Abu Dhabi.

The effort is all about raising money for SurfAid International, an organisation that is working to aid the people of the Mentawais Islands, a chain of four large and dozens of small islands off the western coast of Sumatra hit by a tsunami in October.

"I think the idea started because at school we do a unit which involves the kids choosing an issue and trying to make a difference by communicating it - it's called powerful messages," said Mr Yule, an Australian, who teaches at Raha International School. "And the most effective way to make a powerful message is to make something stand out."

He was scheduled to begin his expected 12hr, 60km journey at 2am from Le Meridien Hotel. Mr Yule is confident he will complete his task, having practised for the attempt all summer.

Stand-up boards require good balance and physical strength, especially on such a marathon paddle. "I have worked pretty hard on being fit enough to do this, and understanding what's involved," Mr Yule said.

From the hotel, he will go up inside the breakwall to Marina Mall, around Emirates Palace, down to the new bridge to the south, past the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre and Sheikh Zayed Stadium, under the Musaffah, Maqta and Sheikh Zayed bridges, out to the main shipping lane and back to the Tourist Club area.

Mr Yule will remain about 150 metres offshore in water about 12 metres deep. But he will not be alone, at least for a good part of the way. Harold Shim, whose daughter is a pupil of Mr Yule's, made plans on Tuesday to accompany him after hearing of his challenge for charity.

"When he mentioned the paddle, I thought maybe he needed some company," Mr Shim said. "I've done some paddling in the past and hopefully I'd like to keep him safe as well.

"I am a bit worried, as I'm not sure if I can actually do it due to the fact that my paddling experience goes back a few years, but hopefully I can be some good moral support, because I think it's a worthy cause."

The venture is particularly dear to Mr Yule. "There's a part of me that's always wanted to be the first to do something. There's the inspiration from the kids and also wanting to do something personal, out in the water, but especially helping others," he said.

The people of the Mentawais Islands have been living in makeshift conditions since the tsunami hit on October 25, and Mr Yule's goal is to be able to raise enough money for 1,000 building kits, costing Dh100 each, that provide the tools and equipment to build a shelter.

He is not as close to his target as he would like to be, however. "I don't have any corporate sponsors, but 20 to 25 people have put in Dh100 and people from school have also donated. It's a long way from my Dh100,000 target but I've pledged about Dh3,000 so far," he said.

Mr Yule was also put in touch with Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamdan, a champion kite-surfer and keen watersports enthusiast, who loaned him his personal paddleboard, much bigger and easier to use for the long paddle.

Since 2004, SurfAid International has been working in the Mentawais in an effort to prevent malaria and provide clean water and educational programmes. In the wake of the tsunami, help has become more crucial.

Mr Yule said: "It's actually taking people from the communities, offering them jobs within the system to educate other people within the villages and provide them with the tools they need to improve [the situation] there."

Mr Yule's wife, Lucy, will be updating his location every two hours on their website, paddle4mentawais.wordpress.com

Readers can find donation information at www.surfaidinternational.com.

cmalek@thenational.ae