Wait, you can surf in Dubai?
Strangely, I get asked this question quite a lot when people view some of my images on social media. It doesn't seem like the kind of place that would offer a thriving surf culture amid all the glitz and glamour, skyscrapers and rolling desert dunes. However, as we know, where there is the correct coastal topography and the right weather conditions to build a swell, there can be surf anywhere.
The Arabian Peninsula is surrounded by three bodies of water / seas. The Red Sea; while not necessarily applying to us here, has some of the most stunning and diverse marine ecosystems on the planet so is a world-class diving and research destination. The northern areas of the Indian Ocean and into the smaller Gulf of Oman, fringed by the Eastern reaches of the United Arab Emirates and Oman, boasts some big swell and exciting surf spots, as well as some easily accessible diving for those residents of the Emirates who want a bit more time under local water (can you tell that I'm also a diver?). The East Coast is certainly a beautiful and rugged part of the UAE and produces some good waves, though mainly during the summer months where we feel the effects of distant weather systems coming out of the Indian Ocean. The third and final Middle East puddle, where those that live in Dubai, Abu Dhabi & the Northern Emirates can enjoy on the daily, is the Arabian Gulf. The Gulf is a relatively small body of water, though when the winds are right, we get to enjoy some good swell and, spot dependent, surf right here, in Dubai.
While the majority of the Western Emirates are bordered by sea, due to the rapid growth of this inspirational country over the last 20-30 years, we have seen the development and industrialisation of most of the natural coastline to include hotel and resort properties and little of what once was. Fortunately, ocean swell and waves can still occur if the topography is right, so there are still many places where fairly decent waves can be ridden. Granted, we will never see big, fat slabs over gnarly reefs, but we can still enjoy some good enough surf. On a good day, when the swell is working, there are some awesome little spots to be found by seeing what the Northern Emirates have to offer, away from the city.
Dubai boasts a handful of spots, though arguably its most well-known is Sunset Beach, known by many as 'Sunnies.' This is a hugely popular beach break next to the Burj al Arab, flanked by 2 breakwaters which diffract the swell along the entire length of the beach, breaking far enough out from the sand to get a good 5-10s ride if you're lucky (and if you don't get wiped out, because when it's on, it's, err, busy...). There are bathroom facilities, absolutely roasting showers, a sometimes overworked (IYKYK) lifeguard service and plenty of parking, though don't forget to pay. You will always see a convoy of tourism buses lining up for a once-perfect view of the iconic Burj al Arab, though now the view is, unfortunately, somewhat obscured by the seemingly endless growth and resulting construction.
Sunnies has been somewhat of a foundation for surfing in Dubai for decades. Founded in 2005, Surf House Dubai has been the epicentre of the now thriving culture here, offering a hub of community, events, board storage and a café bursting with good vibes. Based just off the beach, you can easily rent boards and walk the 100 metres to the sand and into the blue waters, or link up with the instructors for a lesson. In the absence of swell and the water is calm and glassy, Sunnies is an ideal spot to jump on a SUP and go for a paddle around the Burj.
Read more about there story here:
Now, why is this piece entitled 'Telling the Story of Surfing in Dubai,' you might ask? Well, I guess for the same reasons that I like to capture the surf culture here in the UAE - there IS surf here, and more people should know about it. I was fortunate to be commissioned to film the 2022 Rip Curl Sunset Open, presented by Surf House Dubai, Rip Curl and hosted by the Kite Beach Center Umm al Quwain; you only had to attend for one of the days to see just how vibrant the community is and how much it grows year on year (testament to the work that Surf House, Dan and Scott do behind the scenes). The inclusiveness of this community is what has completely surrounded me over the last year and really fuelled the passion for surf and the escapism it brings.
Dubai can be overwhelming at times. My family lived here from 2001-14, while I, myself, have been here full-time nearly 8 years, and over this time frame have seen the pace of this city becoming more and more hectic as the years go by. Picking up a board and paddling out to the lineup, or simply sitting on the sand and watching the sun set over the Palm Jumeirah is a calming, peaceful way to end the day and balance out the chaos.
If you do, and if you see me down in the water or on the beach, don't hesitate to say hello. It's appreciated every single time. Don't forget to stay up to date with the Studio to see if I've caught your wave or a shot of you just enjoying it out there.