United Arab Emirates, the land of the Arabian Nights, Aladdin and his magic lamp, gold, incense, sand for days and infamous 7 star hotels. It also happened to be the host to the 2013 WWA Wake Park World Championships and a destination that has been on my travel hit list for a while now, so I bought a ticket, jumped on a plane and here is where the story begins. 2030 the future is HERE! I wasn’t sure what to expect going into a country with strict Muslim beliefs like the UAE. I had warnings from friends and family to cover up outside, never go anywhere alone, and that if I drank any beer in public I’d end up in jail. Well, I’m sure there’s a hint of truth to those warnings, but the warnings in no way prepared me for the city of Abu Dhabi. A city which caught me completely off guard in so many ways.
It is known as the richest city in the world, planned in the 70’s during the oil boom to prepare for Abu Dhabi 2030. The place is mind blowing. Take the roads for example; they are made up of hundreds of round abouts at the end of long straight-aways, bearing a keen resemble to an Indy 500 track. I guess it’s supposed to be a form of traffic control, but it seemed slightly drastic to drive past my hotel three times before finally arriving at the entrance. Not to mention the rows and rows of empty houses along the highway just waiting for the people to come. It’s Field of Dreams, version 10.0.
When we arrived at Al Forsan the place was a dead zone and security gave us a funny grin. He informed us that the park doesn’t open till 3pm, and only crazy people would want to ride in this heat. Huh? I guess we missed the memo that life in the desert doesn’t start until the afternoon. The mornings are way too hot for even the local riders to do outdoor activities. Strike one for the Canadian and Aussie in their attempt to adapt to local culture.
We were left at the front gate sweating our faces off, jet lagged and confused, but we were in the land of Arabia and you can’t pass up an opportunity for adventure, right? I grabbed a tourist map, closed my eyes and pointed to the Corniche Beach. It was hot, but hey! When in Rome, you should always lie on a beach, in the blistering sun, in a Muslim country right? The Corniche is a pretty neat beach close to Abu Dhabi’s mall district right downtown. Apparently it’s kosher to rock bikinis on the beach, so we stripped down and jumped in the Persian Gulf. The water was so salty it tasted like soya sauce, so we only lasted a total of five minutes. Strike two!
At this point both Courtney and I were in desperate need of some A/C, so we decided to head towards the mall district. Back in the days of Aladdin and his magic lamp the Arabic people were known primarily as merchant traders. Zoom forward to modern day and those merchant stalls have become massive malls with indoor theme parks including Ferrari World, Ski Dubai (yes, a legit ski hill inside a mall), and aquariums large enough for scuba diving, all packaged up in incredible, mind-blowing architecture. Courtney and I, who had so far been on an absolute roll, decided to skip the modern malls and hit the local Hamdam Mall. The reasoning for this is simple; you always find the best gems where locals hang out, right?
When we arrived we were met with a condensed version Shoppers World, which is a Canadian strip mall filled with trinket shops, jewelry stands, dollar stores and knock-off vendors. Not to mention we were getting a lot of strange looks. Slightly disappointed, we made the most of it and bought some small things, then headed back to cable. We later found out that Hamdam is a sketchy mall where women are advised to cover up, so rocking short-shorts and tank tops definitely earned us strike three.
The Al Forsan Club is truly an unbelievable facility. In addition to the two cable parks, it has arguably the best go kart track in the world, three air-conditioned soccer domes that house themed paintball modules, a high-end equestrian facility and a gorgeous clubhouse with at least four different fancy restaurants for members. For those that are interested you can have ALL THIS AND MORE! For a mere $50,000 annual membership fee. No biggy.
Needless to say the cable was rad and there were no lines. Usually when you go to any wake park event you are waiting in line for at least 30 minutes. Not the case at Al Forsan. I think I learned more tricks in two days riding here than I did all year, shout out of course to coach Courtney.
Regardless of where you are in the world, or whatever strict prohibition laws lie outside of the hotels, the night after the WWA World Championships always ends up in a familiar state. One that leads to late night pool dips, shots of Jager and mind blowing stories from likes of “Muscle” Mike McComb, “French” Phil Good and James Windsor. Not to mention I managed to make finals in features only, and Courtney won her first world title. The icing on top of a solid week.
The next morning I literally had to drag Courtney out of bed kicking and swearing in some strange Aussie slang. It was the day of reckoning; the day we either passed, or failed to check all the items off our trip bucket list. With our party-hardy hats on from the night before, we stocked up on water and croissants, hopped in a cab and headed to the Sheikh-Zayed Mosque. Before we even stepped foot onto the ground we were flagged down by a security guard who told us to, “get dressed.” Despite the large number of tourists, we both stuck out like sore thumbs with our shorts and long hair. Whoops, strike four. We left the dressing room more closely resembling the students at Hogwarts, than Arabic women. Nevertheless we followed the crowds into the mosque. Everything was clean, pristine and detailed with Swarovski crystals. It was all pretty breathtaking.
Next on the bucket list was a desert safari. Learning from previous mistakes, we signed up for the 3pm tour. It included dune bashing, camel riding, sand boarding and a traditional Bedouin dinner at a desert camp somewhere on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. The driver didn’t say anything as we got into our jeep, he just looked at us in the rear-view mirror with a crooked smile. Twenty minutes later we made a sharp left turn off the highway straight up into the sand dunes. We skidded out over the top of the dune and dropped head first into a gully, with sand shooting up and covering the windshield as we burned out at the bottom.
Eventually we ended up at a camel farm, which is essentially about 50 camels roaming around free with tourists scattered throughout. For the most part, camels are pretty docile, they just stand there looking at you chewing, but occasionally one rears up and gets the group moving in a camel stampede. When that happens you make a run for it. Our final destination was the desert camp, a baffling place with working flush toilets in the middle of sandy nowhere. Courtney and I decided that we were going to show up everyone with mad sandboard skills, since we are such excellent wakeboarders and all. This was a stellar disappointment. They gave us old-school 200cm Option snowboards from 1995 with rope straps for our feet. We had to climb to the top of the sand dune in desert heat, and, once we got to the top, the boards just stuck to the sand. For those of you who have ever wondered if sandboarding might be fun…toss it to the curb my friend. We finished off the tour with a traditional Arabic diner, camel rides and Arabian belly dancers using an Arkah’s as props.
They next day Courtney had to catch her plane, but I still had a full day to kill. Fortunately we made friends with a local named Anne Cortes who offered to take me into Dubai. Since my flight was later that evening we had approximately ten hours to do a crash tour of what’s known as “the Greatest City on Earth.” We went to Ski Dubai, the Burj Al Arab 7-Star hotel, kitesurfing beach, the Burj Khalifa which is the tallest building in the world, and saving the best for last, The Gold Souk. The Gold Souk is part of Old Dubai, it’s an outdoor gold market with a maze of shops selling pieces of jewelry worth millions of dollars. If you are ever inspired to visit Dubai, make sure to put it on your list.
Overall the trip was definitely one to record in the life adventure book, and a place I would highly recommend checking out on your world travels. Shout out to the WWA for hosting such a great event and stoked to see where we end up next!