Emirati Mohammad Rahma will be taking part in the Pantin Classic Galicia Pro in Spain.

Dubai: When Mohammad Rahma’s rugby career was cut short through injury, he feared his days as a sportsperson were numbered. However, while running in water as part of his rehabilitation, he discovered surfing and claims it saved him.

The 28-year-old Emirati winger tore his cruciate ligament while playing for the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union (AGRFU) during the 2008 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Dubai. He attempted a return in 2011 and briefly played for the newly-formed UAE Rugby Federation, but was never the same player.

Many would have cursed their luck, but the former Dubai Hurricanes and Abu Dhabi Saracens player returned to the waves that aided his recovery. Now he’s competing in professional surfing events, becoming – as he was in rugby – the first Emirati to represent his country.

“When I got injured and they told me I couldn’t play anymore it was very depressing, it was literally the lowest point in my life,” said Rahma in a chat with Gulf News. “But the ocean helped me bounce back. It didn’t just take care of my knee, but it also helped me mentally and took care of all my anger.”

The Etihad Airways business development manager, who also also used to play as a goalkeeper for Dubai Club, took part in his first professional surfing event – the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games in Peru – last October, where he finished 22nd out of 90 competitors.

He’s now looking to up the stakes at the Pantin Classic Galicia Pro in Spain from September 1-6, which is round 23 of the annual 37-stage World Surf League Qualifying Series. At the end of that series, the top 25 surfers progress to the sport’s highest level – the annual 11-stage World Surf League – where the likes of legends Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning compete.

“That’s what I’m aiming for but it will be hard to compete, the waves aren’t big enough off the UAE coast to practice and I’ve started at a late age,” added Rahma, who remains realistic despite looking to attend three more qualifying events this year and a further eight in 2016, thanks to his sponsors Surf Shop Arabia.

“I’m up against kids who grew up in front of the best waves in the world and I only took up surfing five years ago. If a big win eventually comes in, it comes in, but my end goal is to open a pathway to the next generation of Emirati surfers. I want to motivate Emirati kids and introduce them to surfing and become an ambassador for the sport here in the UAE.”

Rahma gets around the issue of poor waves off the UAE coast by travelling to Sri Lanka or the Maldives every other weekend to train. That’s something your average Emirati kid taking to the sport may not have the budget to do, but he insists locals can start to get their bearings in the wave pool at Wadi Adventure in Al Ain or follow weather forecasts predicting swell off the East Coast of the emirates from Kalba and Fujairah up to Dibba.

“It depends on seasonality, if we have hurricane conditions off the coast of Oman you can get good waves off the East Coast, but other than that it’s not consistent enough,” said Rahma.

“It’s not easy but the good thing is we have a facility in Al Ain, which is the perfect training ground for surfers here who want to practice. “Surfing in the ocean though is completely different, you can train in the wave pool every day but in the ocean you’ll get lost. It’s a challenge, but since we live in Dubai, the easy thing is we have some of the world’s best waves just a four hour flight away in Sri Lanka or the Maldives, where you can really get exposed to good waves.”

Surfing, he said, really has the potential to do well in the UAE as a result of his participation in big events, new facilities and the country’s relative locality to surfing hot spots.

“UAE nationals really have that spirit and personality, they just need someone to show them that surfing exists and that they can do it, all it takes is motivation.

“We don’t have enough sports in the UAE, so if you are not good at football or rugby you end up idle and that’s why we have a high rate of obesity and diabetes.

“Surfing demands a lot of fitness and upper body strength, but as well as that it is a very social sport and enables you to de-stress at the end of a hard day. In all there are a lot of qualities that I hope my fellow Emiratis can benefit from.

“So, I hope more locals take up the sport and that hopefully the next time I compete in the World Surfing Games I will have a full UAE national team alongside me instead of just being by myself,” he added.