ABU DHABI // With demonstrations of flamethrowing, flyboarding and all the other attractions on offer, visitors to the Volvo Ocean Race Village yesterday will barely have noticed that none of the fleet had arrived yet.
Hundreds of people descended upon the capital’s breakwater this weekend, gearing up for the arrival of the six boats taking part in the round-the-world race. The Abu Dhabi stop marks the end of the second leg of the journey for the fleet, which includes first-leg winner Azzam, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s entry.
As the three frontrunners continued their journey to Abu Dhabi, the 35,000-square-metre purpose-built Destination Village, which is expected to welcome tens of thousands of visitors during the fleet’s three-week stopover, opened to a rush of race fans soaking up the sports and entertainment on offer.
Watersports, unsurprisingly, feature heavily at the Village.
Twenty-year-old Abboud Naser gave flyboard demonstrations and performed stunts with a flamethrower and UAE flag, before teaching visitors about the sport, which involves being thrust into the air by water-propelled jet packs that are attached to people’s feet and powered by a jet ski.
“It is not difficult,” said the Emirati, who competed in last week’s Flyboard World Cup, in Dubai. “Come try it and fly with us.”
Mark Dorsey, an American expatriate and diving instructor at Al Mahara Diving Centre, encouraged children and adults alike to try scuba diving in a free-standing freshwater tank.
Diving is not only a fun way to keep fit, said Mr Dorsey, but also has educational value.
“It helps people become more appreciative of the environment because it becomes their playground,” he said.
And with the help of mascot Dana the Dugong, the centre is raising awareness about the protected species. The UAE has the world’s second-largest population of the herbivorous marine mammal, behind Australia.
Other activities include archery tag, where participants used rubber-tipped arrows to tag each other.
Noukhada Adventure Company is promoting kayaking and archery tag, which owner Mark Freeman, from the UK, hopes will be a hit in schools.
“It’s a bit like paintballing but without the mess or pain,” he said.
Visitors also queued to try their luck on a huge climbing wall provided by outdoor specialists Adventure HQ.
“It’s a real adrenaline rush,” said Karmel Arafeh, who made it to the top.
“It is a great day out. Obviously a lot of effort went into putting it together,” said the 38-year-old Abu Dhabi resident.
The Village also offers child-friendly activities, with Indian expatriates Sukarna Behera, 36 and his wife Nitasha, 28, taking their eight-year-old son Sathshree along on the opening day.
“I just want to play,” said Sathshree. “I want to do the kids’ activities.”
Other visitors took a more relaxed approach to the events on offer, and enjoyed the sunshine as they lay on bean bags by the water’s edge.
Rasha Shalaby, 30, and her husband Ahmed Hadad, 33, said they had stumbled upon the event by chance.
“We were at the mosque praying when we saw this,” said Mr Hadad, from Egypt.
The couple said that the beautiful weather, perfect for such an event, meant they would sample some of the activities on offer.
Danny Zephyrin, 30, of Yellow Boats tour company, encouraged visitors to try their “40 knot experience”, by the Corniche, which shows passengers what it is like to be on a sailing boat in rough water.
“We have had a lot of interest,” said Mr Zephyrin, from the Seychelles. “As the week goes on we expect to attract more visitors.”
Three of the fleet are expected to arrive in Abu Dhabi, from Cape Town, today.
The Village has proved as popular as ever, said Mohammed Al Zaabi, event co-ordinator with Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, which is hosting the Village.
“Friday morning we saw a steady stream of visitors, which picked up in the afternoon as people came to enjoy the waterfront setting, the sunshine and all the activities of the Village,” Mr Al Zaabi said.
“Popular attractions have been the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship chipping challenge, the Volvo Ocean Race ‘Another Day At The Office’ cinema, and the Heritage Village.”
The area has 22 exhibition pavilions and has six interactive zones covering culture and heritage, adventure, family, exhibitions, race teams, and the environment.
Children’s activities include a climbing wall, pump track for skaters and bikers, and watersports.
During its run, the Village is expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors and help to boost the capital’s international profile.
Opening hours are from noon to 9pm, Sunday to Wednesday, and 11am to midnight, Thursday to Saturday, until January 3. Entry is free.