(Photos by Max Physick [IG: @laybackvisuals])
When STAB posted an article, ’Should the UAE buy the WSL', it naturally had us intrigued. The article that followed spoke on the opening of a KS Wave Pool in the region, to be 'Surf Abu Dhabi' - Big news on home turf.
After the first IG post on the Surf Abu Dhabi announcement, we couldn’t help dive into some of the comments. Amongst the dialogue on the post, there are wild and fascinating opinions being dropped in response to the new wave pool being built in a 'non-surf' part of the World.
'Non-surf' part of the World is maybe a forgivable mislabelling for the uninitiated but always does give us a smuggish chuckle. We held ourselves back from getting into it on the comments, but couldn’t help feeling a sense of responsibility to shed a bit of light on the subject, so we ended up writing something. Not sure if it would ever find a home or reach an audience interested to read it and surprising enlightenment it may have brought- it just felt good to do, even if for our own personal cathartics.
We eventually figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to leave it with the editors at Stab. Long time fans of their work, we felt pretty happy it would be in good hands. Fortunately they were interested and reached out straight away, open ears and brimming with curiosity to find out more. We had a good chat with them and the article followed. For more of the backstory, here's our original letter below:
"Chiming in to add a bit of background, fill in some context and hopefully shed a bit more light on the recent news of the Kelly Slater Wave pool being opened in Abu Dhabi, the neighbouring Emirate to Dubai and capital city of the United Arab Emirates (a separate country to Saudi Arabia - just to clarify given the apparent online confusion).
We were born in the UAE and have been surfing its local beaches here since the early 90’s. That was a time of no more than a handful of surfers contented to enjoy warm water uncrowded beach breaks 90 days of the year.
The UAE sits in the fortuitous south eastern corner of the Arabian Gulf, allowing it to collect the best wind swell generated by winter low pressure fronts. The wave climate in the region is akin to the Gulf of Mexico with the UAE being a Middle Eastern Florida. Not quite World Class, but waves none the less, which is more than most would assume having not seen it themselves.
We were also fortunate to have an environment were we could funnel our love for surfing into building a community business (Surf House Dubai) that would introduce others to the sport and lifestyle we cherished, even more so into our adult lives. This was a lifestyle probably far less synonymous with Dubai’s grander global image - a futuristic fast paced city steeped in opulence, where wealth is seemingly endless and Ferrari’s are commonplace. But that was ok, because it was true to us and we were happy to add another layer to the fabric of Dubai and country we called home.
For those unfamiliar with Dubai and the UAE in general, it may or may not come as a surprise but this is a region of the world that has cracked the code on something many others still wrestle with. The UAE has created a cosmopolitan haven where hundreds of different nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities harmoniously thrive in one place. Contrary to obscure ideas that seemingly still exist, women are incredibly well respected and as all citizens, comforted by the fact that they are living in one of the safest places in the world. There are zero gender biases or limitations with regards to work or recreation. By bolstering a sense of unconditional tolerance, what you’ll pick up on when living here is that not only does everyone feel welcomed and acknowledged, but the UAE is a country that’s understood how to allow its unique multinational alchemy to breed creativity and to further the country from strength to strength. This comes from a progressive and ambitious approach to leadership. A state of the art wave pool for region where surfing was only meaningfully introduced 18yrs ago is case in point.
We were never short of steam to keep building, as year on year, we met more and more people (from local Emiratis, to expat residents and visiting tourists) either ecstatic with the joy of finding surfing for the first time or people that moved here thinking their surf lives were over, and we could be the cheerful bearer of great news - ‘yeah you can surf in the UAE’.
In 2009 we ran into a minor hurdle, when surfing was banned on one of the best public surfing beaches. This stemmed from the coastal authorities perceiving a danger from people swimming in the same waters as surfers with pointy nosed equipment and sharp fins. Keep in mind the UAE is a country that’s only 52yrs old with no historic ties or exposure to anything like surfing. We were able to engage a dialogue and exchange ideas on beach management for safe coexistence of both sports that lifeguards could help facilitate (think flag systems you have in places like Australia, Europe and the US) and within a couple months there was a permanent sign posted dedicated surfing zone on the same beach. This is another example of how the UAE is a young country that may not have figured everything out but is willing to learn, adopt best practice and some instances innovate to create best in class.
Often called one of the cities institutions, 18yrs in, Surf House Dubai is a congregation of people from all over the world that love the ocean, love surfing and have connected with a style of life agnostic to any country but common to most coastlines.
What’s really impressive is despite the lack of regular good surf, the stoke and enthusiasm of Emirati’s and resident surfers is second to none. What we would call World class, and in that sense, quite fitting with Dubai’s affinity for ‘only the best’.
Needless to say, a UAE surfer is always welcoming to the opportunity of more and/or better surf any chance they can get. So a facility able to produce World Class waves, in a somewhat wave starved corner of the globe with a passionate and thriving surf community, makes a fair amount of sense for a number of reasons.
Outside of the (several thousand strong) residential surfing population in the UAE, Dubai happens to be the busiest airport in the world with over 66million passengers annually. This isn’t surprising being geographic positioned quite literally in the middle of the globe, linking east with west. A quick look at the well trodden seasonal migratory paths for surfers and you’ll soon see how regularly the UAE appears on the flight path. Europe to Indonesia and Australia for starters. Having the optionality to stop over for a couple of days and surf a pool in the Middle East is likely an attractive pit stop to a London based desk jockey about to lay on his wax for the first time all year paddling out to a crowded Uluwatu line up. Dusting off the cob webs and finding one’s sea legs prior reuniting with real Indian Ocean power is an obvious bonus. But this also means, a European office man, gets a novel experience (which as a surfer is most likely on the list for something you’d hope to try at some stage) without having to burn through any more carbon credits than you already will be in your standard summer surf holiday. No extra A380, just a pit stop in passing.
The UAE has battled with diabetes Type 2 for quite some time. Child obesity often being linked to this condition. With a limited number of ‘surfable’ days per year, we’ve always endeavoured to put a small dent in this issue by helping kids find surfing and the healthy shift in lifestyle that normally goes hand in hand with ‘catching the bug’. Given the immense amount of fun kids generally have in riding waves, we can only imagine the magnitude and speed at which local youth uptake the sport and the positive knock on effects that has.
We’ve always been of the thinking that surfing is one of the most fun things a human can do on earth. In an ideal world, (as are most of the primary simple pleasures in life) what everyone should be able to sample at least once to see what they make of it. As we have found ourselves, riding your first wave, is an experience capable of shaping our paths through choice and perspective. Whether that’s deciding you’re going to relocate your family to a coast with better surf, changing the industries you work in, or for an 8 year old born in the Middle East that decides they want to be the first professional surfer to represent their country at the Olympics. We live in a globalised world, everyone has a right to ride a wave, no matter where you live, where you come from or what other opinions people have.
If nothing else, hope the above may have been a useful bit of info/insight.
Thanks guys. Have a good one."
Click to go to the STAB article here.