Surf's not up on Dubai public beaches, no thanks to threats of fines

The UAE Surf and Stand-up Paddle Association has advised businesses to halt operations on Dubai's public beaches following the threats of fines to Surf Dubai.

Scott Chambers, MD of Surf Dubai, teaching students how to surf at Jumeirah beach in Dubai. The company's operations have since been halted over a dispute with the municipality over appropriate permits. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // Several businesses on Dubai’s public beaches have suspended operations in recent weeks after a prominent local surf school was threatened with fines.

It  began when Surf Dubai, one of the oldest surf schools in the emirate, was told to stop operating on public beaches. The UAE Surf and Stand-up Paddle Association advised other businesses to halt operations until it was clear why.

The dispute with the municipality arose over a residential premises the school had been using commercially. But Scott Chambers, the managing director of Surf Dubai since 2005, insisted his school had submitted all the necessary paperwork, trade licences and insurance and said his company was “operating above board”.

“Now, regardless of where we are doing business from, we have trade licences to teach surfing and to rent [boards],” Mr Chambers said. “But they’re saying we can’t go down to the beach and operate from it and they are saying you can’t teach from the beach.”

For businesses to operate on the beach, they must first secure a trade licence and then proceed to Dubai Municipality for authorisation to work on the beach with a no-objection certificate (NOC).

Ms Aliya Al Harmoudi, head of the Coastal Management at Dubai Municipality, explained: “Companies that want to operate on public beaches must go to the investments section of the Assets Department and apply for permission there. The section will evaluate each request separately and decide whether to award a NOC.”

Exact requirements vary depending on the nature of the activity, she said. A NOC can, however, become invalid if the municipality feels it was issued based on incorrect or incomplete information.

“We’ve found the people were the problem, not the municipality,” said Tim Abdelrazek, acting chairman of the UAE Surf and SUP Association.

“For years, they closed their eyes and told them to get their papers in order. But it took a bit of time and they didn’t correctly comply so fines were the result. If people have the right papers and correct agreements Dubai Municipality will allow them to operate,” he said.

Mr Chambers said he had already submitted new paperwork to the municipality and was awaiting approval. “There is no ABC of how to open,” he said. “This is inventing a new wheel for the surf and paddle boarding schools.”

Local businesses agreed the red tape had been unnecessarily confusing.

Emily Jane of SUP Yoga Dubai, who stopped her operation on Sunset beach to show solidarity with Surf Dubai, has since moved classes to Mina Seyahi Hotel’s private beach.

“I’d prefer to be out on the public beaches and went to the meeting to see what I have to do to get back down there. We have to see how to get through it and it’s not massively clear. Everyone needs a NOC from the coastal department but no one knows what you need to get it,” she said.

“If you have the trade licence and the business, what are they objecting to?”

Surf Shop Arabia, which also holds lessons on the beach, heeded the surf association’s warning and ceased its beach lessons last week.

“It’s been very stressful and a large part of our income is the surf school,” said Mari De Villiers, marketing and communications at Surf Shop Arabia.

Before the clampdown, the company opened a second Stand-Up Paddle school at a hotel on Palm Jumeirah. That school, she said, would continue operations.

The story also attracted the attention of local surf enthusiasts, who started a petition to “save” Surf Dubai and gathered 500 signatures. Most said the schools was an important asset to the city that taught people how to surf and how to respect the ocean and its surroundings.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Al Khan