Dubai's 'merman' ready to go the distance for 25km swimming challenge

Egyptian long-distance swimmer Shehab Allam will attempt to journey from Dubai Creek to the Dubai Canal on Friday morning, and he will do so wearing a fiberglass monofin

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Shortly before dawn on Friday, Shehab Allam will secure his feet into a fiberglass monofin and plunge into the Dubai Creek.

From Al Seef, he will swim for 25 kilometres. He will pass the abras of the creek and the historic merchant areas of Al Fahidi and Shindagha, splash around Port Rashid and glide through the waters alongside Jumeirah beach and up the Dubai canal.

Then he will emerge, six or seven hours later, under the bridge by Jumeirah Beach road.

For Mr Allam, it is the challenge of a lifetime.

“It’s about talent,” said Mr Allam, who, at age 30, has been finswimming for 18 years.

Over 25 km, I'm going to experience everything

“The monofin doesn’t suit every swimmer. Not every swimmer can do the monofin.”

Indeed, it is a niche sport. Monofins look like a mermaid’s tail.

A monofin swimmer keep their legs and arms locked and undulates the body from the shoulders to the hips to propel themselves forward.

Even small movements can generate great power.

“You swim like a mermaid,” said Mr Allam. “So, it requires a very strong lower back, a very strong core and very strong legs. It’s mostly core and lower body legs and endurance.”

Mr Allam grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, where his mother trained him and his brother in all manner of sports, from running and swimming to shooting.

But when he got a monofin at age 12, he discovered his calling.

“We bought one to try, to see how it feels and yes, that sport was mine,” said Mr Allam.

“It was the best type of swimming for me. Because with the monofin you feel the power, you feel the speed, and you feel like you’re not just like a human trying to find a strokes or swimming, no, it’s like you’re part of marine life.

“I tried to swim with dolphins once and it was like we were all together, all the same.”

The monofin was invented in the 1940s but was almost unknown in Egypt when Mr Allam was growing up.

Endurance swimming champion Shehab Allam trains a day before he is set on creating a world swimming record in Dubai by braving a 25km stretch from Al Seef to Dubai Water Canal.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

The monofin can help to generate great power, according to Shehab Allam. Reem Mohammed / The National    

He went one to compete at global events, which have taken him from freshwater lakes in Columbia to icy canals in St Petersburg, Russia.

“Actually it doesn’t matter. We never even worry or think about the water we will swim in, how deep or how dark it is, we just go swim and go,” said Mr Allam.

“In Columbia, it was a really big lake and this water was coming from a waterfall, so it was a green water, fresh, not salty. But you know, when you start to compete, you don’t even think about the temperature or whether the water is salty or fresh.

"When you do long distance swims, after the first kilometre you start to feel a pain in your leg from the fin and when the pain comes, you really forget everything else. The water is the last think you think about.”

The Egyptian swimmer began training for Friday’s challenge two months ago, adding an extra three to four hours of open-water swimming to his regular fitness routine.

“Over 25 km, I’m going to experience everything,” said Mr Allam. “I’m going to experience surrender, I’m going to experience pain, I’m going to experience hunger and I’ll have to go through the feelings and get over it.”

It took about a month to organise a string of permissions from Dubai authorities.

Open water swimming requires an additional focus on navigation and attention to ocean currents.

A support boat and kayak will be alongside him at all times.

The swim is sponsored by Enhance Fitness, where Mr Allam works as a personal trainer and swimming coach.

He is looking forward to the challenge in his adopted home of Dubai, where friends can come and support him from the shore.

With months of preparation under his belt, the day before the challenge was dedicated to mental preparation.

“I’m just motivating myself with some nice movies, like Alexander the Great,” said Mr Allam on Thursday. “These were people who had determination.”

The Monofin Challenge begins at 6am on Friday, October 16 by Al Seef and will end under the Dubai Water Canal bridge on Jumeirah Beach Road around 1pm.