Fly, dive, jump, ski, scooter, paraglide... ‘We do these things not to escape life, but to prevent life escaping us', famous paraglider pilot Bob Dury once said. Adrenaline junkies in the UAE are sure to agree with him. Thanks to the spectacular coastline the UAE has, a thrill seeker can do all these things and more at almost any time of the year - something not all coastal cities can boast of.
"Diving in the UAE is an activity you can participate in all year round," says Sara-Lise Haith, estate manager in the British Embassy, Dubai. "Agreed, it is rather hot at the jetty but once you are on the boat, you have the wind in your hair, the freedom of diving and the cooler box with ice and cold water at an arm's length. Winter, on the other hand, is never too cold and a 5mm wetsuit with a hood can keep you down in the thermo clines without a problem."
Haith learnt scuba diving in 2000 and began teaching it the next year. "I started free diving in 2002 and teaching it in 2007," she says. "I also enjoy all other water sports and swimming. In fact, I have been swimming since I was 2 years old and had my first ‘student' when I was just 10."
A qualified diving instructor and International Association for the Development of Apnea (IADA) Free diving Instructor, Haith teaches scuba diving courses, at Al Boom Diving School on Al Wasl Road, Dubai. "I also hold specialty qualifications in shark diving, drift, deep, wreck, night, underwater naturalist and many others."
Head east for the fun
Haith says her first few experiences were off Ras Al Khaimah. "When I first decided to move to Dubai in 2005, I was really excited about living near the ocean. I saw a promotional movie on shoals of barracuda swirling around shipwrecks in crystal clear waters. RAK upheld the myth of shoals of barracuda but one could not see much else due to poor visibility. Over the years living here, I learnt where the ‘hotspots' are.
"Over the years, I have also noted that dive centres are investing in larger, more comfortable boats which appeal to the discerning dive community of the UAE."
Bojan Kalodjera, a 38-year-old Serbian national, working as a Sports & Leisure Manager at Le Royal Meridien Hotel, Dubai Marina, agress with her. "For diving and fishing, the East Coast is great and I have explored that part of the UAE. To me, water sports, particularly in the UAE, are all about speed, freedom and adrenaline. When I am in the water, it is just me and the sea - trying to connect, synchronise and earn respect from it."
Till a decade back, Kalodjera was actively into teaching windsurfing, waterskiing, mono-skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, bodysurfing, fishing, skin diving, scuba diving and jet skiing. "Then I met with a shoulder injury and had to put a stop to all these activities. But I cannot stay away from the sea. I have travelled across the world but I have realised that I just love the beach and sea life in Dubai and feel that I can unwind and relax here rather well."
The adrenaline rush
It's all about the thrill says Kalodjera, "I hear people say that they like to keep away from Dubai in the hot months but I love summers only if I am near the sea. It is the best way to survive the heat. Over the last five years I have seen a lot of changes here in the UAE, mainly in water sports. I see much more activities and number of providers as also equipment technology."
Peter Carrie-Wilson, a 53-year-old South African, a self employed HR consultant based in Dubai since 2004, agrees. An active water sports enthusiast, he says, "Even a knee-replacement surgery could not keep me away from the fun of jet skiing. I think it is an exhilarating experience and a fun way to exercise, too.
"The excitement of getting out in the water and the sun is what keeps me going. The good news is that Dubai gives me the pleasures of both."
Carrie-Wilson says he has been very active in sports since childhood. "I did not take any formal courses in any water sport," he says.
"I learnt it all by trial and error." A knee-replacement surgery a while ago though it does not stop him makes him "limit my skiing trips to once or twice a month.''
According to Haith, diving is something she is addicted to. "I love the peaceful environment of the underwater world in and around the UAE, as I can disconnect from the woes of work The backdrop to the ocean on the East Coast is the arid volcanic mountains that stretch across the Emirates to Oman. I could not have guessed the colour and life that lies under water. This brings me back every time. I love the coastline, which is jagged, holding bays from the calmest to ones with pounding waves up cliff sides. I also love sharks, and if I can, I will seek out dive sites where I can view them."
Water sports bring a liberating effect
Though her job keeps Haith occupied, she says, "I dive regularly and when possible every second weekend. I particularly like diving in Fujairah and up the Mussandam, and then enjoy a paddle around the bottom of the Zeinab in Dubai. I see something new in the water on every dive... every experience is unique. I go free diving too. (Free divers are silent divers. They become so sleek in their movement that they just become part of the underwater menu and traffic and can get really close to giant marine life without disturbing it)."
Noura El Imam, an Egyptian yoga and Pilates instructor for surfers who is based in Dubai, gets her thrills from riding a wave on a surf board. "I learnt surfing in Bali while on a seven-day retreat," she says. "I think surfing is liberating, rewarding and refreshing. It is you and the water and nothing else comes in between. Your mind is completely focused on conquering that wave. I find it a very therapeutic.
"It's also extremely challenging (a lot of upper body strength is required, strong core muscles and endurance) to keep you out in the ocean for more than two hours catching waves. For me, any wave caught is better than none."
For Max Waimer, a 47-year-old German who is active in Regatta Sailing and who has a full-time job in Dubai, few things beat sailing. "Regatta sailing is a very demanding water sport," says he. "There is always something to learn in it and it never gets old. Each race is different."
However it is "not a cheap hobby". "It also takes up a lot of time whether you are training or racing. One has to be prepared to invest a lot physically and financially. "I don't think you can pursue this sport unless you have an undying passion for it."
He enjoys being a part of Team Premier, a regatta sailing team along with his brother Hannes, who is the captain. "We practise here and travel to Europe with the team to compete in championships and also do a lot of international regatta sailing. We won the Maktoum Cup in 2009 and also won coveted races like the Dubai-to-Muscat."
Renting or hiring?
"The water sports rental prices vary from place to place but are generally reasonable as compared to the rest of the world's resorts," says Kalodjera. "You may go for waterskiing and sailing for as low as Dh150 per hour or have lessons for Dh200 per hour. Some of the specialised courses are expensive and there are only a few providers for that. I myself own some of my equipment back home in Serbia and here I am fortunate to be able to utilise most of the equipment provided in my place of work."
Says Haith, ‘It is better to own the equipment. But if you are not serious about the sport and are still a learner it is better to rent it. I personally am not in favour of it because it feels like wearing someone else's suit."
The future of water sports in the UAE
says Carrie-Wilson, "is growing rapidly." He sees a surge in surfing, kite surfing and a boost in kayaking activities. I have also noticed a regulation and which is a good thing. This means that market forces are at play and with supply meeting demand, the costs involved in these sports are set to become stable."
Haith adds, "The waters of the Gulf are perfect and you have the feeling that you are riding through the waters once traversed by ancient seafarers and pearl divers." F