Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SUPing at the Shang

Paddling against the wind
Photo: Terry Mercer
Last Wednesday I finally got to try out the ULI inflatable paddleboard. My friend Terry, the one I went to the Camel Festival with, invited me over to her place, a residential apartment at the Shangri-La. A paddle boarder from Florida, she was interested in trying out the ULI.

The Infinity Pool with view of the Grand Mosque
According to Terry, the 5-star Shangri-La Hotel’s nickname is “The Shang.” Talk about a sweet deal! Terry and Pete live in a furnished two bedroom place on the ground level with a patio, looking out to the water, just steps from the beach and pool. Twice weekly maid service is included. It’s like being on permanent vacation. Terry showed me all around, including the two resident pools where hotel guests are not allowed, and the Infinity Pool for hotel guests, which residents are encouraged to use as well. Poolside beverage and food service is available everywhere. The hotel has a souk with clothing, jewelry, art, perfumes, you name it. Terry mentioned that the official dinner for the Volvo Ocean Race was at the Shag, and Coldplay, the headline act for the event, stayed there.

Finally around noon we dragged the 30-pound bag out on the beach and unrolled the board, which came with a pump, 3-piece paddle, and patch kit. No sooner did we begin to pump it up when two guys, one a lifeguard and the other, who we found out is the director of the Shang’s athletic program, insisted on doing the pumping. In no time it was inflated, and I jumped on.

There was a nice little calm spot
Photo: Terry Mercer
All morning we had been observing and discussing the wind, which was blowing about 12 knots straight onto the beach, and was a little chilly. And I wasn’t sure about current. We have seen some pretty decent current at the mouth of the channel, but they don’t have tide charts here so it’s hard to know what the current is doing. As it was, the tide was out a bit, and the wind blowing onshore. “We just have to always paddle upwind first,” I told Terry. “Then we know we’ll be able to get back.” The nice thing was that we were in a little protected swimming area between two rock bars, so there was no danger of being swept away. As I was getting my bearing and my balance, the athletic director couldn’t resist calling instructions to me. I listened and nodded, and in a few minutes he said “You are doing good,” and went on his way.

Al Seef where Mark and I live is just minutes from the Shag

I’m happy to say that I’m now an enthusiastic member of the “ULI Nation.” I love this board! Even in the wind it was easy to paddle and maneuver, and plenty stiff enough even though it’s an inflatable. You can’t beat it for portability; it fits into our little Honda’s trunk, right along with the bicycle rack. My only complaint is with the special bag I ordered to go with it. It has two serious design flaws: a handle that forces you to carry it with one hand, and metal clamps which rub your legs. But I know lots of people who can help me come up with a better bag.

Terry knows what she's doing
Terry treated me to lunch and a birthday Bloody Mary on the beach between paddles. Thanks Terry! Now she’s thinking of buying ULI’s for herself and Peter.

 I think the ULI will be great to have on trips and on board Wildcard when we come back from the UAE. Easy to store and inflate, we can use it in the Delta, Catalina, Mexico . . .
I know lots of people are wondering how it works, so I will continue to post updates on it as I use it in different conditions.
The ULI in its bag -- I've seen people bring
bigger gear bags on sailboat races.

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