Kite surfing catching plenty of wind and attention at UAE beaches

Easy to learn and suitable for all ages, kite surfing was once again featured at the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival and is taking off across the country, writes Amith Passela.

Emirati Saeed Al Dharif, 50, takes to the air during the kite surfing championships at the Al Gharbia Water Sports Festival on Saturday in Mirfa, Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National
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Saeed Al Dharif, 50, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, and Mateo Vieujot, 14, a schoolboy from Dubai, share the same passion of competing in kite surfing.

They have each spent almost the same number of years in the sport and are competing in the kite surfing competitions at the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival.

Al Dharif has not only used his zest to become one of the leading Emirati kite surfers, but he has become an ambassador to the sport, promoting Abu Dhabi across Europe as an exciting venue for the sport, with the year-round sunshine.

"I was into falconry and fishing, but they have both lost the appeal among my friends, so I decided to take up kite surfing, which was closest to my hobbies," Al Dhafir said.

"It didn't take me much time to learn and I was hooked. It is great fun and now four years on, I have wide network of members to go surfing every weekend.

"Apart from my work at Adnoc and the time I spend with my family, it is kite surfing for me."

He will be travelling to Egypt next week and has a few other trips set for later in the year.

"I have a good network of membership and it is great fun travelling to different parts of the world," he said. "It is a very healthy sport where you need only the winds and the equipment, which is easy to carry around.

"I take a lot of pleasure teaching youngsters as well as adults. There is no age limit for this sport, and anyone from eight to 70 can be enrolled for lessons."

Al Dharif has taken the sport to the next level. He became the first Emirati to receive an International Kiteboarding Organization Level 2 certificate.

As an instructor, he has drawn students from Europe, offering them optimum weather conditions in Abu Dhabi. Some of them have flown in to participate in the Al Gharbia Festival, which ends on Saturday.

"Kite surfing is one of the fast-growing sports not only in the UAE, but around the world," he said. "It is a great sporting event for those who love the beach and sea.

"There are not many competitions in the UAE, and the Al Gharbia Water Sports Festival is fast becoming an excellent venue for the kite-surfing enthusiasts to look forward as a regular venue."

Vieujot has big ambitions as he prepares to participate in the world championship junior category for the second time in two years.

"It was a real good experience for me to participate in the highest level of the competition," said Vieujot, who is from France and has lived in Dubai for more than 10 years.

"Hopefully, I can do better this time. I started to love the sport after a few lessons when we were holidaying in the Dominican Republic.

"My father was a watersports enthusiast and he supported me when I wanted to continue.

"Now, I want to spend as much time as possible. I still don't know where it will take me."

He took part in the hydrofoil world championship junior category in France last year.

Osama Shihab, a 29-year-old Jordanian, has combined his business with the sport.

"I am involved in the sale and distribution of sport equipment and it certainly would help me broaden my networking through the various competitions," he said.

Shihab has been in the sport for five years, but spends a significant amount of his time training with more competitions lined up.

"It brings the community together," the Dubai-based Shihab said of the annual festival in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi.

"I look at this as an important event with the cream of the local kite surfers competing. There are only around two competitions around the country in a year. We can look forward to Al Gharbia as a permanent venue."

Shihab participated in international events in South America last year. He plans to go a step further this year by taking part in the African, North American, and the South American championships, and the world championship in China.

The kite surfing on Saturday was called off due to a lack of wind.

"We are quite used to this," Al Dhafir said. "We got into the water to have a few tries and we will be back next weekend."

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