Wear sunscreen. Time Out has shared that advice many times. What we might not have said before, however, is that it should be waterproof. The type that doesn’t run or smudge if you get hit with the slightest of splashes. Because watersport season is here and this is the time to be on, in, above and around the sea.
High-speed thrills, muscle-popping workouts, chakra-focusing skills and team-building exercises in water are all available in Abu Dhabi. Whether you are wanting to reconnect with a favourite hobby or try something new, there are watersports for all abilities. Here are the best aquatic activities worth trying in the emirate.
Banana boat ride
Perhaps being dragged along on a giant inflatable banana is not technically a sport, but it will almost certainly leave you in the water. Cling on for as long as you can as this is the aquatic version of a bucking bronco, and a lot more challenging than it looks. High speeds and a skimming bounce as you hit a wave mean it is a fun activity to try with friends. Get a few of your pals on the same “banana” and see who can stay on the longest.
Dhs55 per person (minimum of two people). Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort, Corniche Road, www.sheratonabudhabihotel.com (02 697 0272).
First you must show off your courage, coordination and strength – only then will you truly understand the way of the dragon. So say dragon boat enthusiasts, anyway. The fun and social watersport also happens to be a great workout. If you have never seen it in action, picture 20 paddlers in what looks like an extended kayak, with a dragon’s head carved on the front, and you are more or less there. There are numerous teams, races and even a festival in the UAE every year. Regular practice sessions are organised, with many teams welcoming newcomers. If you sign up with the Desert Dragons, the first three sessions are free.
Prices vary. Desert Dragons Abu Dhabi, Eastern Mangroves Marina, www.desertdragonsad.com.
This is one of a new breed of watersports. It was developed by boundary-pushing beach types who wanted a new and interesting way to propel themselves in and out of the water, sky or any surface they can get their feet on. The notion is simple: strap on a pair of jet-propelled boots, which are powered by a constant stream of water, and then fly into the air. You’ll reach as high as eight metres if you have the skills and balance. But the first few times you’re more likely to fire yourself face first into the sea. After a few turns, some perseverance and a lot of courage, however, you will be levitating above the water. And looking mighty cool as you do so, we might add. Remember to strike your best Superman pose.
Dhs300 (30 minutes). Abu Dhabi Marine Sports, Sheikh Khalifa Highway, near Kite Beach, Yas Island, www.flyboards-uae.com (050 817 3071).
Best described as “underwater diving without breathing apparatus”, this is a sport that requires great stamina and control. Anybody can gulp in air and hold their breath underwater, but it takes training and expertise to be a good freediver. Freedivers say the lack of equipment – all you need is an underwater mask and flippers – means it is quieter and stiller than any other form of diving, creating a sense of calm. Training can increase the duration and depth of each underwater dive on a single breath. Freediving UAE is a group enthusiastic about the sport and only too happy to introduce divers in the region to a worldwide community of passionate aqua people.
Dhs399 (beginner course). www.freedivinguae.com (050 613 0486).
The seven-kilometre manmade sea channel at Ghantoot Marina has some of the best watersport conditions in the UAE. There are virtually no waves, meaning it is perfect for jet ski rides, races and manoeuvres. Basically involving a motorbike on water, jet skiing is one of the most popular solo motorised watersports to try and the out-of-town location is perfect for full throttle moves without disturbing animals or sunbathers.
Prices vary. Ghantoot Water Sports, Ghantoot, www.ghantootmarina.com (02 562 9168).
If you want to get your paddle on, there are a few options in Abu Dhabi. White water at Wadi Adventure, open water in one of several beach clubs or, our favourite, through the mangroves. A couple of hours paddling through the Mangrove National Park is a solid workout and also an opportunity to see flora and fauna up close. Flamingos, turtles, sea snakes, fish and more wildlife can be spotted, but the trees and water are impressive enough.
Dhs160 (adult), Dhs130 (children under 11). Noukhada Adventure Company, Sultan Bin Zayed The First Street, www.noukhada.ae (02 558 1889).
Once you have accepted that we don’t get the best surf conditions in UAE waters, you can move on and look for the best alternative. The answer, for many, is kiteboarding. The sport is a cross between parasailing and surfing, and involves being pulled along the water’s surface by a kite. Variations include racing for speed and more expressive free rides, where stunts and form are the most important measures of success. There is a strong kiteboarding community in the UAE, with Abu Dhabi and neighbours in Dubai having select areas where dozens of kites can be spotted in the air above a beach. Kitepro is a mobile kiteboarding school offering lessons, plus equipment sales for beginners and more experienced boarders alike.
Dhs350 (one-hour individual lesson). Kitepro, Yas Island, www.kitepro.ae (050 544 1494).
This is a variant of waterskiing, where the participant kneels on a specially constructed board and is towed along the water while holding onto a rope. Al Forsan International Sports Resort has a cable park system, meaning there are no ripples or waves. Instead, an overhead cable zips kneeboarders along at between 30 and 40kmph. The benefit of this is that up to 13 riders can kneeboard or wakeboard at any given time, so there is less waiting around for a boat to come back to get you for your turn. Ramps in the water mean jumps and tricks can be performed. Rad!
From Dhs30 per hour. Al Forsan International Sports Resort, Khalifa City A, www.alforsan.com (02 556 8555).
White-water rafting simply should not be possible in the UAE, for the simple reason that there are no white-water rivers. Enough people must have crossed their fingers and wished for a solution, though, as Wadi Adventure emerged from the sands and stones of Al Ain. The impressive simulator here has three degrees of rapid difficulty, including waters challenging enough to host the World Rafting Championships, which is on until November 5.
Dhs100 (one hour). Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
There’s sailing, and then every other watersport that’s desperately trying to be it. That is what yachting enthusiasts will tell you, anyway. We’re not talking floating hotels of billionaires, but actual real-life sailing. Port, starboard, masts, anchors and, well, sails. Skilful solo or team pursuits will help you learn about navigation, seafaring skills and lots of cool knots and jargon. You don’t need to be a boat owner, but can learn the basics alongside other enthusiasts with a love of the open water.
Prices vary. Abu Dhabi Sailing & Yacht Club, www.adsyc.ae (02 658 3333).
You can snorkel anywhere you can swim, and we’re big fans of Dibba and Fujairah on the east coast, where you can spot sharks, turtles, coral and massive schools of fish. If you want to stay more local, however, then a short boat trip to Bahraini Island is an excellent way to explore local waters. To the north of the island, you will find the Al Maya Island Resort, which has a well-stocked watersports centre with plenty of activities. If you prefer to go solo, then it is possible to weigh anchor on the other half of the island’s waters if you have access to a boat. Dive over the side and snorkel the waters here before arranging a beach barbecue at sunset.
Prices vary. Al Maya Island Resort, www.almayauae.com (02 667 7777).
You don’t get to take the captain’s wheel and guide the boats yourself, but The Yellow Boats are as fast and exciting as anything you will experience in these waters. The 30-minute speed tour of Abu Dhabi is known as the “Ultimate Thrill Ride”. Hold on tight and get a feel for what high-speed boating feels like as you skim across the surface.
Dhs1,500 per person. The Yellow Boats, Emirates Palace Marina, www.theyellowboats.com (800 892).
The popularity of stand-up paddleboarding in the UAE keeps growing as the sport makes a splash at more venues. Abu Dhabi Stand-Up Paddlers (www.abudhabisup.com) is a social group that organises get-togethers and competitive meet-ups across the UAE. We’ve seen yoga, races and guided tours all taking place on boards, but it will have to start with lessons and the tentative steps of a beginner. You will fall in. Don’t worry. It is a watersport, so getting wet is part of the fun. An organiser like Hydro Marine will have you standing up and paddling around the seaside in no time.
Prices vary. Hydro Marine Sports, Eastern Mangroves Hotel, www.hydromarinesports.com (050 243 7382).
First of all, we need to make it clear that you can surf Abu Dhabi waters. The waves might not be as easy to find as in other parts of the world, but if you want natural swell then it is possible to find some modest action. That said, the best in the land is undoubtedly found at the artificial simulator in Al Ain’s Wadi Adventure. State-of-the-art technology means perfect waves can be created every time. Lessons are offered for beginners and you can build up to waves as high as three metres. Future Johnny Utahs, apply here.
Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
Wakeboarding is to water-skiing what snowboarding is to skiing. Or, to put it another way, you stand on a single board and perform funky tricks as you’re dragged along behind a speedboat. Kitesurfing without the kite, if you will. As you may gather, it is another way of skimming along the surface at high speeds. Wake Evolution, like many watersport providers, recognises their activities are as much about a lifestyle choice as they are about pure sport, and the friendly crew are happy to talk up the activity. Check out the cool drone videos on their Facebook page and fall in love with wakeboarding. Then book a lot of lessons.
Dhs200 (20 minutes, weekday), Dhs250 (20 minutes, weekend). Wake Evolution, Eastern Mangroves, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Street, www.wake-evolution.com (050 154 5385).
At first glance, this might seem very similar to wakeboarding. And, truth be told, it is. Subtle differences are there, though, and it is in the differences that extreme sports like this are created. The board is longer and closer to a conventional surfboard in design. As with wakeboarding, the rider is towed by a boat to pick up speed, but the sports go different ways as a wakesurfer lets go of the rope and literally surfs on the waves created by the speedboat. Tricks and jumps are possible on the waves, which are created by enhanced ballast on a specially constructed boat. Some degree of surf experience is recommended, although Eywoa offers beginners’ lessons.
Dhs140 (ten minutes). Eywoa, Yas Marina, Yas Island, www.eywoa.com, (050 166 9396).
While most watersports are races, rides and dives, this is basically football in a pool. The fast and ferocious team game is an organised version of the informal chuck-a-ball-around game people try in swimming pools themselves. The Abu Dhabi Hammerheads are a competitive team that organises training and matches, with some formal rigour to the game. Strong swimming ability is advisable, but no prior experience is required to play.
Dhs50 per session. Armed Forces Officers Club, Khor Al Maqta (056 126 7276).
There are a few waterskiing spots in Abu Dhabi, but nowhere is it so central to a club’s philosophy than at Halla Walla. The specialist waterski club has introductory lessons for kids as young as three years old. With skis strapped to your feet, you are pulled along behind a motorboat creating your own surf as you go. Wakeskating, wakesurfing, air chair and even barefoot skiing are all taught as well, meaning there are a few varieties to keep you, literally, on your toes and in experienced hands.
Prices vary Halla Walla, Al Bandar Marina, www.hallawalla.ae (056 991 3800).
A cross between sailing and surfing, this is a watersport popular around the world at lakes and seaside resorts. Essentially a surfboard with a sail stuck on top, it is relatively easy to learn but tough to master. Take a few lessons with Watercooled, though, and you will be breezing across the surface in no time. Jumps and tricks will take longer to learn, but because it doesn’t require waves, boats or complicated kite equipment, it is one of the more accessible watersports. Like scuba diving, it is a skill you can take to any resort around the world and learning here means an abundance of fun on future travels.
Dhs100 (30 minutes). Watercooled, Hiltonia Beach Club, Corniche Road, www.hilton.com, (02 639 5997).
Not bothered about which watersport you are doing as long as it’s wet, wild and exciting enough to get you off the sun lounger and – if the world is ready for it – into a wetsuit? These activity centres have multiple aquatic opportunities to whet any appetite for adventure.
You need to get on a boat just to get here but once you arrive, you can try wakeboarding, kitesurfing, kayaking, kneeboarding, parasailing and banana boating.
Al Maya Island Resort, boat dock off Corniche Road, www.almayauae.com (02 667 7777).
The long list of facilities here includes waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, kayaks, paddleboards and a variety of boat trips.
Eden Beach, Le Méridien Abu Dhabi, Al Zahiyah, www.lemeridienabudhabi.com (02 644 6666).
The swanky hotel’s facilities are as excellent as you would expect from a five-star luxury resort. Try kayaking, paddleboarding, windsurfing, wakeboarding and waterskiing, plus plenty more for adults and kids. Keep an eye out for dolphins, too.
Emirates Palace, Ras Al Akhdar, www.kempinski.com (02 690 9000).
You will see plenty of folk soaking up the rays and going nowhere near the sea at this swish beach club. But there are also some watersports to try if you get bored of relaxing on the beach.
Nation Riviera Beach Club, St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Nation Towers, www.nationrivierabeachclub.com (02 694 4780).
We would describe Noukhada as an adventure company rather than a watersport specialist, although many of its excursions do take place in the sea. Kayaking trips, sailing cruises, paddleboarding and dragon boat sessions are all available here.
Noukhada Adventure Company, Sultan Bin Zayed The First Street, www.noukhada.ae (02 558 1889).
For starters, you get a free boat ride on the trip to Nurai Island. And when you’re there, you can try wakeboarding, waterskiing, flyboarding, jet skiing, paddleboarding, kayaking and banana boat rides.
Nurai Island, www.zayanuraiisland.com (02 506 6212).
Sheraton Abu Dhabi Beach
Drag yourself past the attractive lagoon pool and try waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, kayaking, paddleboarding and banana boat rides.
Sheraton Abu Dhabi, Corniche Road, www.sheratonabudhabihotel.com (02 697 0272).
This extreme sports spot in Al Ain shows that you don’t need the sea for watersports. Kayaking, rafting and surfing shouldn’t be possible in the desert. But they are. Right here.
Wadi Adventure, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
The Hilton Abu Dhabi’s beach club is operated by Watercooled and offers multiple motorised and non-motorised watersports in a specialist environment.
Watercooled, Hiltonia Beach Club, Corniche Road, www.hilton.com (02 639 5997).
Best known for the party atmosphere at sunset, you can find people posing away on jet skis and doing various other watersport activities here.
Yas Beach, Yas Island, www.yasbeach.ae (056 242 0435).
Buy these watersports gadgets
GoPro Hero 5 Black
Watersports, and extreme sports in general, are the key drivers behind the sale of rugged, waterproof cameras. The Hero 5 has been called the best GoPro to date. Stick it on your helmet when rafting, surfing, scuba diving and doing any other activity on this list.
Dhs1,599. Axiom Telecom, Abu Dhabi Mall, 10th Street, www.axiomtelecom.com (02 645 4735).
JBL Wireless Speaker Xtreme Blue
On the beach, in a boat or even at your feet in a dragon boat – you can take your music wherever you go if you’re careful thanks to these funky wireless speakers. They’re splash-proof, meaning it doesn’t matter if they get a bit wet. And 15 hours of battery life mean they are ready for a day of adventuring.
Dhs1,299. Carrefour, Marina Mall, www.carrefouruae.com (02 681 4266).
RS 3 Seascooter
James Bond would love a gadget like this. Grab onto the scooter and it will pull you along in the water for around an hour. There are two speeds for gliding along or rocketing down to the depths.
Dhs9,000. Adventure HQ, Yas Mall, Yas Island, www.adventurehq.ae (02 565 0996).