With the last census reporting Dubai’s population as having a scant three percent of people classified as “Westeners,” traveling Americans will no doubt stand out. And if you wanna really make it a cultural experience, bust the fins out while sporting a blond ‘Fro like Nate Tyler here.
The Las Vegas Of The Middle East
Words: Michael Kew
Photos: Chris Burkard
Where: Dubai is one of seven emirates (provinces) that constitute United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the eastern Arabian Peninsula, wedged between Oman and Saudi Arabia on the white-hot southwestern shores of the Persian Gulf.
What: The fastest-growing city in the world, Dubai is a cosmopolitan wonder. Once a flat, sleepy fishing village, Dubai has experienced a major facelift in the past twenty years, and fronting Dubai’s flashy, Manhattan-style skyline are some nice beaches with consistent windswell waves. It ain’t Hossegor or anything, but there’s plenty of rideable surf. Only recently have Dubai’s sandbars been noticed, however, and the city enjoys a fledgling expat surf population, which is very stoked about being able to shred in such a surreal setting.
When: Persian Gulf winds blow consistently from the northwest, and since Dubai faces directly northwest, you can find waves here year-round, although winter (December–March) is the most reliable season; it’s also a bit cooler than summer (Dubai’s summers are unbearably hot). Once there, be sure to hit it in the mornings as the onshore sea breeze starts midday. Mornings are typically offshore and clean.
Why: Once called “the world capital of living large,” Dubai must really be seen to be believed, and with consistent and fun windswell, why not? The city is anomalous, unlike anywhere in the world—where else can you spot big-time celebrities, watch camel racing, buy anything imaginable, and go surfing and snowboarding, all in the same day?
How: Dubai International is the Middle East’s busiest airport, well served by many carriers, and the city’s flagship Emirates Airlines offers direct flights from 90 destinations worldwide. Once in Dubai, you can either rent a car or take the bus to the various beaches—we recommend the latter, as rental cars are quite expensive, and for tourists the city can be quite dangerous to drive in. Taxis are another good, economical option. Better yet, hook up with a local surfer who has wheels.
Places To Stay: Dubai has literally hundreds of places to choose from, but unfortunately wintertime is the city’s peak tourist season, so prices aren’t exactly dirt cheap. If you roll deep, book a room in the iconic sail-shaped Burj al Arab megahotel (averaging US$1,600 per night), the world’s tallest and only seven-star accommodation, which also happens to have a nice view of the surf at Jumeirah Beach Park. Otherwise, hotels around Deira are much cheaper and more central, which is handy—try the Deira Palace Hotel or the Florida Hotel Dubai (www.floridahotels.co.ae).
Places To Eat: There’s an enormous range of options here to suit every taste and budget, from plucky street stalls to some of the finest restaurants in the world. Arab, European, African, Asian—you name it, it’s all here. The Lebanese bakeries are particularly choice for cheap, tasty grub, and you can find them on almost any street corner, especially in the beach zones.
Babes And Bros: It has been said that nighttime in Dubai the world joins and parties together as one big cultural melting pot—simply put, the place goes off. Dubai plays host year-round to almost every walk of life, including loads of singles ready to mingle, so whatever it is you are looking for, chances are you will find it (or vice versa). Top spots include the Peppermint Club, Buddha Bar, Trilogy, and 360 Degrees.
Crowd Factor: Dubai is home to a decent number of expat surfers, but it certainly isn’t crowded by world standards. The multiple beachbreaks are spread out, everybody is generally friendly and stoked, and there’s even a cool little surf school (surfingdubai.com). Who knows? Maybe Dubai will one day produce a WQS warrior.
Stuff To Bring: Dubai is in the Arabian desert, which means the climate is dry, dusty, and hot. Well-ventilated, light-colored clothing is a must, as are a good sun hat, sunblock, polarized sunglasses, tropical wax, and shoes. While surfing, aside from a white long-sleeved rashguard for sun protection, you only need boardshorts, and your average shortboard, fun shape, or longboard will do the trick. One big tip: excluding the tourist hotels, toilet paper is almost nonexistent, so unless you want to wipe with your hand, bring a few rolls. Hand sanitizer is key.
The world-famous Burj al Arab may be the tallest hotel on Earth, but we reckon Josh Hoyer holds the record for the highest air in Dubai.
If The Surf Is Flat: You can actually keep surfing, because there’s a FlowRider machine and a wave pool in Wild Wadi Water Park (wildwadi.com). Shopping is a major pastime (Dubai has more shopping malls per consumer than any other city in the world), especially inside the 2.4-million-square-foot Mall Of The Emirates, which also has a year-round indoor snowpark (skidxb.com) featuring five downhill runs. You can also watch camel racing, take a desert safari, go golfing … the possibilities here are truly endless.
More Information: Lonely Planet offers a comprehensive guidebook (Dubai—City Guide, 4th Edition) and an excellent pocket guide (Best Of Dubai, 1st Edition). For surf-specific info online, check out surfersofdubai.com and wannasurf.com/spot/Middle_East/UAE/index.html. Dubai’s official Department of Tourism site (dubaitourism.ae) has loads of general info, same with tourism-in-dubai.com, dubaivisits.com, dubaicityguide.com, and dubai.com.