DUBAI // Bathed in the moonlight, a group of friends gathered on a beach to celebrate a birthday underneath palm trees that normally provide shade from the midday sun.
Crystal Ringor and 14 of her friends counted down as the clock struck midnight and she turned 25. They were far from the only people on the beach. Scores of people flock to places such as Jumeirah Open Beach late into the night during the summer months. Some say the extreme heat during the day makes a trip to the beach unbearable. Others just want to escape their cramped living quarters or come to spend some time with friends.
"I didn't have space in my accommodation for a party, so I decided to come here," said Ms Ringor, who is from the Philippines. "I work six days so it's fun to be together with my friends." Well past midnight people continued to arrive to the Open Beach, where the light of the moon illuminated the water to reveal the silhouettes of dozens of swimmers. People sat on blankets spread out on the sand, while others slept under the stars. Several young children played close to their families, while others started a game of beach football.
Mahmooti Manima and his friends were enjoying what has become something of a ritual for the taxi driver, 31. After working long hours and nonstop night shifts, once a month when he meets his target he drives down to the beach and goes for a swim. "It's a very nice time to be with friends. I come here to enjoy," Mr Manima said. Nearby, Mustapha Helmi from Egypt contemplated going for another swim. After working late, the 26-year-old accountant was enjoying his time away from the office.
"There is so much sun and the water is too hot during the day," he said. "I come here with my friends, to swim and have fun." Despite the still steamy temperature at night, the beach has been a refuge for those caught up in the recent Sharjah blackouts that left many without air conditioning. Hakim, 31, said the conditions were preferable to his apartment in Sharjah, where there was no electricity. "Here by the beach there is cool and nice air," he said.
At 1am a group of friends had just arrived, armed with a shisha pipe, food, refreshments, beach mats and towels. For Ibrahim and his friends who work seven days a week at a Dubai restaurant, finishing at midnight, it is the only time they can enjoy the sand and the sea. "I want to see my friends and I want to be happy because I work hard," said Ibrahim, 23, a Syrian who moved to Dubai five years ago. "It's tough to work every day, but when we finish at midnight we come here and stay until 4am or even 6am."
Haris, 33, from India, has worked at the small kiosk on the beach for the last year. During the summer his shop is open late into the night, selling refreshments, food and beach supplies. As well as customers, invariably there are people who stop looking for help, because their wallets, mobiles and even clothes were either stolen or lost. "They come crying," he said. "Sometimes they come in only their underwear because someone took everything."
To help them out, Haris gives them T-shirts and shorts from his shop."But, they always come back later to give me the money," he said. Standing by the kiosk near the 2am closing time, Siraj, 31, a businessman from Bangladesh and long-time Dubai resident, said he has been enjoying summer nights on Dubai's beaches for a decade. "There are more people coming here now," he said. "But, there is still no rush, it is very relaxing and I feel more free."
As people flock to Dubai's beaches at night during the summer months, civic and police officials are urging the public to be aware of the safety risks. Colonel Abdullah Khalfan, the deputy director of the Ports Police Station, which is responsible for coastal areas, urged people "to take care". "You cannot stop people from swimming, but you can advise them to follow the rules that are posted on the beach," Col Khalfan said. "The other main thing is to take care of your valuables and don't just take a chance." Lifeguards in several towers dotted along the Jumeirah Open Beach monitor swimmers during daylight hours only, according to Ibrahim Juma, the head of Dubai Municipality's coastal engineering unit. "Our advice is that it is not recommended to swim after sunset," he said. Dubai's public beaches are patrolled by uniformed and undercover police officers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. Col Khalfan said the aim is to secure the location and to detect any illegal activity. "Any behaviour that is against the law, we will not accept it," he said. "We want the people to feel comfortable while they are on the beach. They go there to enjoy their time." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Follow this and our other hot-weather series of stories at www.thenational.ae/summer