Surf's up at Dubai's second boarding contest

Number of entrants in annual contest almost doubled this year.

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - February 5, 2011.

NATIONAL: James Cargill (cq-al), 7, left, and Alexander Needham (cq-al), 10, right, both of Dubai, compete in the "gromments" (cq-al) division of the Surf Dubai Sunset Open 2011 in Dubai on Saturday, February 5, 2011. "It's good fun," said Cargill who has been surfing for 18 months. Amy Leang/The National
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DUBAI // Dozens of surfers took to the water this weekend for the UAE's second annual surfing competition.

Both children and adults took part in the two-day Surf Dubai Sunset Open, and the wind whipped up ideal conditions.

“We are trying to build a surfing culture here,” said Daniel Van Dooren, a managing partner at Surf Dubai. “When it gets windy, it’s only surfers out there.”

The contest has grown in popularity and participant numbers have doubled to 71 since last year.

The surfers were cheered on by relatives and friends gathered on the beach near the Burj Al Arab.

The sandy expanse off Jumeirah Beach Road was packed with swimmers, beach lovers and tourists, who watched closely as competitors swerved on the waves or toppled off their boards. Performance was judged on style, the tricks they performed and their selection of waves.

In the Under-14s segment, Daniel Hobson, 14, placed first. His win was followed by Omar al Abar, 14, and Joshua Pickering, 10.

“I love the feeling of flying in the water,” said Joshua, after his win.

Any hint of a swell makes surfers such as Daniel hit the water, and enthusiasts say they race to the beach on receiving alerts on their mobile or on Facebook.

“During a competition, you have to be specific of the kind of wave you ride,” said winner Daniel. “Surfing is exhilarating, it’s action-packed.”

In the women’s open, Janice Smith, 40, from Peru came first, Brazilian Maria Louisa, 27, came second and Australian Rachel Sherif, 33, placed third.

In the men’s open, South Africans Wesley Van Zyl, 23, and Brad Van Dervyver, 30, placed first and second and Brazilian Cesar Rocha, 34, came third.

When this year’s competition toppers moved to Dubai four years ago from South Africa they never imagined it would be surfer-friendly.

“I didn’t realise there were waves here,” said Mr Van Zyl, who often heads off to Fujairah to ride higher swells. “You get some good waves in Dubai’s winters.”

Both men have won surfing competitions in their home country.

“You cannot compare the waves to back home,” said Mr Van Dervyver. “But it’s fun meeting people from all over the world because Dubai is so multicultural.”

The UAE surfing season runs from October to April when surfers ride waves that can reach four to five feet.

The sandy beds of Dubai beaches are ideal for beginners – unlike the rocks and reefs of surfing beaches around the world.

Surf Dubai is the UAE’s first and only surfing school. It was launched by Scott Chambers in 2005 and is sponsored by surfwear manufacturer Quiksilver. The school now has more than 1,500 students.

Mr Chambers and his friends taught themselves how to surf back when the coastline was not dotted by construction. Sunset Beach is Dubai's last remaining surfing beach.

“The fitness you get from being in the water is unmatched,” he said. “It’s a sport that sells itself because of the attraction of being one with nature. The majority of our members are kids. Our main goal is to increase the number of children who take up the sport.”

Australian Dean Cockle, who won the men’s longboard competition, enjoys teaching his young children how to surf.

“It’s good for children to be strong swimmers, especially when they may lose their boards,” he said.

Surfers delight in the unusual experience of riding the waves. “It’s the only way to stand on water,” said Cesar Rocha, the third place winner. “It’s a unique experience and everyone should try it.”