Words by Mat Arney / Images by James Harvey
Mention the name “Dubai” to many surfers and they will probably recognize it either as an airport layover that they had on their way to tropical perfection or as the location for the most famous wave pool since Rick Kane upped and moved to the North Shore. But to some surfers, Dubai is home. And right now, their last remaining surf break is set to be suffocated by sand and super yachts, an innocent victim of the emirate’s relentless development.
During winter in the northern hemisphere (winter is a fairly loose term on the Arabian Peninsula) strong northwesterly Shamal winds blow down the length of the Persian Gulf generating short period waves in the waist to head-high range that break on the shores of Dubai. Over the past two decades Dubai’s surfing community has grown from a core group of friends and acquaintances from Dubai’s expatriate community (with the additional occasional surfer visiting the city for work) to a group of over a thousand regular board riders who enjoy the waves and the water on all manner of surf craft.
Unfortunately, however, there has been a negative correlation between the number of regular surfers in Dubai and the number of surf spots available to them. Slowly but surely hotel developments, marinas and the famous “as seen from space” palm and world islands have claimed beaches as their own or blocked any of the limited swell that the beaches are open to. The last bastion of natural wave riding in Dubai is Sunset Beach (Umm Suqeim Open Beach), in the shadow of the iconic Burj-Al-Arab hotel, and waves or no waves the water is often packed with board-riders of one type or another. Recent plans announced by the neighboring Jumeirah Beach Hotel to extend their marina would block swell from approximately 70% of the beach and confine Dubai’s growing community of regular surfers to a stretch of sand just a few tens of meters long – an untenable and potentially dangerous situation that would surely sound the death knell for wave riding in the Persian Gulf.
“If this project goes ahead it would filter a gigantic crowd into what might be only 10-20% of the beach as it exists today. Regular beach goers can always just scoot to another beach or another spot in the sun, but this break means an awful lot to the “not so small” surf community that now exists in Dubai.” – James Harvey, Local resident, surfer and photographer
What we’re talking about here isn’t the headline grabbing loss of a destination wave or bucket-list surf spot – just as importantly, this beach is the last hope for a large, passionate and growing community of surfers whose only other option if this wave disappears would be to travel abroad or alternatively pay to surf an artificial wave. This beach is the focal point for Dubai’s enthusiastic surf community and they stand to lose it for a parking lot full of expensive boats, suffocating the fledgling pastime of surfing that is bringing enjoyment and access to a healthy outdoors lifestyle to so many people. They hope that a compromise of some sort can be reached.
Just imagine if every single surf spot on either side of your favorite beach had slowly but surely disappeared, and now your local beach had its neck in the noose. It’s not a pleasant prospect to consider is it? But it’s an unfortunate reality for the surfers of Dubai.
If you would like to show some surfing solidarity, you can find out more and even sign a petition to be presented to the government of Dubai at Change.org.