Dangerous Dribble

Dangerous Dribble
The trials and tribulations associated with surfing in a country that doesn't "get" surfing.

2020 will no doubt be remembered as the year Covid 19 sank its teeth into every aspect of human behaviour, including surfing. However, living in The United Arab Emirates and trying to surf is a challenging enough concept any year if you restrict yourself to surfing the local waves. Under normal circumstances though, spoilt expat surfers can jump a cheap flight to Sri Lanka, drive to Oman or even jet off to The Maldives for the weekend if the urge is strong enough and enjoy real waves, not so in 2020!

I was hours off getting on a plane to Sri Lanka in March when I had to cancel, still waiting on the refund but at that point in time it all seemed to be a problem that would, hopefully, go away soon and normal life would resume. As the situation worsened and masks, hand gel and lockdowns began to dictate our existence my surfing habits began to fade into the Sharjah dust.

The UAE quickly introduced some of the world's toughest restrictions which included a seven week complete lockdown with almost total travel restrictions, 8pm to 6am curfews and of course, all beaches closed. There were no surfing options. Even swimming pools were off limits.

As the weeks ticked by the stress levels increased and the need for salt water became intense. Any hope for a holiday escape for waves completely disappeared as the UAE and other countries' Covid rules changed on an almost daily basis making travel way too risky to consider.

Finally the UAE authorities decided that international hotels could run at thirty percent occupancy and open their beaches to guests (most hotels have rock walls that keep their chunk of sand private). No long walks on these beaches!

Magicseaweed was not in quarantine or lockdown and the forecast for early May looked promising. A visual analysis of the Ajman coastline on google earth pinpointed to one hotel in particular where the waves would be unaffected by man-made obstructions and I occasionally surfed near this spot anyway in times of freedom so I was feeling confident. Before we booked I rang the hotel and made inquiries to ensure I could go surfing and I hung up thinking all was good as the activities coordinator had been contacted and clearly given me the green light.

Now the hotel, an older establishment but tastefully decorated, was very welcoming and our room offered a panoramic view of the beach. All it needed was swell and all indications pointed to the arrival of waves the following morning.

My afternoon chat to the lifeguard was my first mistake, I should have ignored his presence and followed my usual dawn patrol instincts. Instead I followed the hotel rules which, quite simply, meant no going in the water until 8am when the beach opened.

I awoke at 6am and stared longingly at the clean one to two foot waves. I wanted to be out there but told myself to wait. Just prior to 8am I went to the car park, got my board and climbed a few fences to avoid going through the lobby with my board and raising any concerns.

There was nobody on the beach, no lifeguards in sight and dribbly waves to ride, so, I paddled out. Lots of UAE beaches have nets and buoys strung out along their beaches to contain guests and prevent nutcases on jet skis from entering their private beaches, I was used to this and knew how to ride waves and dodge the buoys so no big deal. My wife was on the balcony with our new Nikon P 1000 ready to record the joy of surfing. It was time to surf, my first waves in a couple of months.

One of my favourite sayings is 'the best surfer in the world is the person with the biggest smile', I still firmly believe this. And despite the fact the surf was small and gutless and starting to feel the morning onshore I was definitely smiling. Riding waves at last. On my fifth wave which I rode through to the beach I saw the red and yellow attire of one of the lifeguards in the distance, he was picking up rubbish and seemed uninterested in my endeavours. This soon changed.

A minute or so later I heard a whistle and there on the beach was the lifeguard waving at me. I was fairly certain he was not waving at me in order to compliment me on my wave riding skills. Sure enough his frantic actions meant 'come in now'. I caught a great piece of dribble and rode it to the shore. He was politely informing me that the beach was closed due to the dangerous swells. I am unsure of what he thought when I started laughing. Perhaps he thought I was suicidal and held a strong desire to be ripped to shreds by the knee high waves. My "I have been surfing for over forty years mate, I can deal with these little waves" was not part of his limited vocabulary, so therefore of no use. I walked up to the lifeguard tower and all the time I tried to convince him that I was not scared and could handle the conditions. Finally, I asked if I could speak to whoever was in charge. He walked off and I saw him talk to another guy who upon seeing me looking at him quickly disappeared. The lifeguard returned and said "beach closed, too dangerous".

Marnie Greg looking at photos

In a way I felt sorry for the lifeguard who was now in a predicament he was not trained to deal with, so I didn't get mad, it was far worse then anger. In the UAE it is not a good idea to get in trouble with authorities so I went back to the car, ditched my board and went back to our room. My wife had seen it all through the camera and was as frustrated as me. I considered seeing the hotel manager, checking out and asking for a refund and other unpleasant scenarios. I opted for breakfast though hoping food and coffee would allow me to deal with the stupidity of the situation.

After breakfast we walked down to the closed beach where guests were swimming and frolicking in the high tide shore break. The lifeguard was nowhere to be seen and at least half a dozen guests were doing their best to swim in the rip that was right in front of the lifeguard tower (no flags). Doing their best to drown in a Euro 'don't understand surf' kind of way that is. A different lifeguard appeared and I enquired about the 'beach closed' status. A couple of Euros were even on bodyboards and being slowly swept out the back. Beach open seemed to be the status quo provided you do not go out as far as the bodyboarders that were struggling with the rip. So, I grabbed my board and surfed a fun little mid-break for a while until the midday heat got the better of me. The following morning I paddled out at dawn, the waves were ok, I got a few and then, too my surprise there was a lifeguard on the beach waving at me. Here we go again. It was lifeguard number one from yesterday, he said I could surf as long as I didn't go where the waves were. I smiled, agreed to his request and went and surfed the waves until boredom got the better of me.

When we checked out I asked the front desk people to thank the lifeguards for their consistent approach to safely taking care of guests.

I didn't go back. Eventually the beaches reopened, except for the carparks at the beach, they remained closed. Go figure.

called in due to dangerous conditions
called in due to dangerous conditions.

dangerous dribble with a buoy for companionship
dangerous dribble with a buoy for companionship

A country that does get surfing - Padang Padang Bali

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