Saturday, May 26, 2012

Paddling Abu Dhabi

YAS Marina SUP 008
I look more confident
than I really was.
Photo: Lucy Osaer

It was a leap of faith, buying an inflatable stand up paddleboard (SUP) at the last minute before leaving for Abu Dhabi. My SUP experience was limited to a paddle in the Sacramento delta after an RYC July 4th BBQ on Fig Island some years ago. That day I told Mark that I thought we should look into getting a board, and he did some research.

Flash forward to summer 2011, and after months of uncertainty, Mark had a contract and a plane ticket to the UAE. As I was packing up our life and getting ready to fly over I realized that, with all the calm water surrounding Abu Dhabi, a SUP might be nice to have. “Look at the ULI website,” he said.

Before I knew it, I was talking with Steve at ULI in San Diego, ordering an 11-foot board. It’s big but stable, good for beginners and larger people, so I figured both Mark and I could use it. $1800 went onto the credit card. What am I doing? We can use it on Wildcard when we get home, I rationalized. We’ll be sailing in Southern California and Mexico . . . and I can also use it on Lake Tahoe, which is only a half hour drive from our place in Nevada.

Zayed Mosque & Swimming 027
I'm often torn: bike or board?
So what if I have only paddled once? Oh, and a few minutes on Lake Tahoe.

When I told Mark over the phone that I ordered the board he seemed a little stunned, but to his credit, he didn’t balk. In just a few days, a large box arrived in Nevada. I unpacked it and set the board, with its pump, paddle, and carrying bag, in the pile of personal belongings to be shipped by container to the UAE – mostly shoes, electronics and scuba gear. It was mid-October, and we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t see our stuff until after New Year’s.

VOR SUP 3 UAE SUP & more
Don't you hate missing out? Photo: VOR

It wasn’t such a big deal to not have the board; I had a lot of learning and adjusting to do in this part of the world. Now that I look back, though, it would have been nice to have it sooner, be comfortable on it, and take part in the Volvo Ocean Race farewell paddle-out. I was dimly aware that there was a paddling event associated with the VOR.

Now I know that on January 14th 128 paddlers, the most ever in the UAE, gathered at the VOR Destination Village. On both SUP and surf boards, they paddled out with the race boats to see them off on Leg 4 of the race around the world.

Now that I’ve had the board for a few months and the winter sand storms have ended, I’m paddling regularly and it’s a blast! What freedom, to be able to get out on the water – albeit with a little warm-up workout with the pump – and paddle away. It’s like a bicycle on water! I don’t for one minute regret this purchase.

Biking 035
It was calm this day but the current rips here.

My first two paddles were at the Shangri-La hotel where my friend Terry lives, which I documented in the Caught at Maqtaa Bridge story already. Now it seems silly and overly dramatic to me. However I did bicycle under the bridge on a recent morning, when the conditions were just about the same as they were that day: swirly. I wouldn’t put in there in that current, that’s for sure!

An event that I saw in the paper soon after the VOR was the Yas Marina SUP Race on February 6th, which I read about it on February 7th. That made me aware, however, that there were SUP activities going on at Yas Marina. Race? Was I ready for that? Well, I could at least go and watch. So I joined the Abu Dhabi Stand Up Paddle Club and UAE SUP Facebook groups, to be watching for the next one.
YAS Marina SUP 002
It was breezy the day of the race. Photo: Lucy O.

Thus it was that on May 4th Lucy and I went to the Yas Marina for Splash @ Yas, just to check it out. The event included SUP demos and clinic with Jen Scully, the local SUP goddess, SUP races, and wakeboarding demos. The marina provided free SUP rentals, there were kids’ activities as well, and even a DJ blasting tunes at the Stars & Bars restaurant and bar. This is typical of Abu Dhabi events that I have been to – well organized, not crowded, and free.

We were there, ostensibly, to just observe. Still, I had my board in the car and before long I couldn’t resist getting out on the water. With Lucy’s help (what a great friend!) we inflated my board in the 100+ degree heat. We struggled to get it as close as we could to the recommended 20 pounds of pressure, but finally gave up at a little over 15. I paddled out across the marina. It was breezy and hot. In the shadow of the Yas Viceroy Hotel, there was some relief from both the wind and sun. I did half the course while Jen did a couple of clinic sessions. Then, with Lucy's encouragement, I decided to enter the race.

YAS Marina SUP 007
Lucy wanted free SWAG too.
Photo: Lucy O.

Of course signup was free, and I got a free racing jersey and UAE SUP t-shirt. What a deal! I entered the shortest heat, just once around. The race is all for fun, so if you sign up for the short course but want to go for the longer race you can. You just keep paddling. Or if you decide you don’t want to do the long race after all, you can stop any time and they will score you for a shorter race.

race course
The course was a grand tour of the Yas Marina.

Yas SUP race Jen Scully
Can you spot Lucy in the flowered sundress?
Photo: UAE SUP

After the race briefing where the starting line and course were explained, the racers paddled into the starting area. Based on my sailing experience, I decided that it would be good to be already moving at the start, but I noticed that none of the other racers seemed to think that way. They were sitting on their boards right on the starting line, waiting for the countdown when they would stand and get ready to paddle.

There were all kinds of people of all ages – young men and women and middle aged people like me. Some were on racing boards and others were on Yas Marina rental boards.
Yas Marina SUP 016 (2)
My board has three short fins because
it rolls up for storage.

My strategy worked and I was one of the first off the line. Then I realized: I do not have a fast board. Everybody I was with just pulled away from me. But, no worries, there were plenty of people behind, and soon I was pacing with a couple of guys at the back of the pack who looked like they were in their late 20’s or 30’s.

I finished my lap and wasn’t last, but almost. There were, maybe, four people behind me. I took some solace in the fact that they were all much younger than I am. The more serious racers continued paddling, but Lucy and I had to leave. We had a Cinco de Mayo chili cook-off party to get to. Even though I was almost last and we missed the end of the race and the prize giving party, the day was a big and successful step for me. I had gotten back on my board. I had met Jen and seen how relaxed and friendly the group is. And I even raced!
YAS Marina SUP 003
I chatted with Jen, who I had heard of
but never met.
Photo: Lucy O.

I was signed up to join the Full Moon SUP Social Paddle in the Eastern Mangroves the next evening, organized by Jen Scully, even though there was a sailboat race that day as well. Since our other races had ended around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., I figured I would have plenty of time to get to the Eastern Mangroves by 8:00.



Snapshot 1 (5-26-2012 8-34 AM)
Dr. Yalla-Yalla Jr., far below us.

That weekend Mark was in the US and Emiliano was sailing in Croatia, so I sailed on Unwind with Paolo skippering and Marco, Matteo and Alessandro, and me as crew. Who would have thought, last year at this time, I would be sailing with four Italian men in the Arabian Gulf while my San Francisco sailing friends were sailing the Great Vallejo Race? Since they all spoke Italian, I couldn’t understand much of the commentary, but when it comes to sailing it doesn’t much matter.
Dolphin Snapshot 1 (5-23-2012 1-16 PM)
Ciao, dolfino!

The race was a long one; 14.5 miles. We were way ahead of our competition. The dophins were playing with us.

Then the wind quit, about two miles from the finish. The sun was setting. It was getting later and later. When we finally started the engine, motored to the slip, and put the boat away, it was past 7:00.

Now, the paddle I had been so looking forward to seemed almost undoable. It would take me more than half an hour to drive home. I had to change. I hadn’t eaten all day. I was dying for a beer. On the bright side, the put-in is just minutes from our apartment, so I could get there right at 8:00, if I was lucky. But I would still have to pump up my board by myself.

Or I could just crack open a cold one . . . but, no. I would never get another chance to paddle the Abu Dhabi mangroves under a “super” moon. I needed to at least drive to the put-in and see if I would have time to inflate my board and join the group.

When I got there people were still arriving, and I pulled out my board. I was relieved to see that the woman who pulled in after me was also inflating a board, although I soon realized that hers was about half the size of mine. Everyone seemed to already know each other. After a few minutes Jen came over to see who I was; it was hard to see in the dark. She helped me finish pumping, and showed me an easy way to carry my inflated board in the crook of one arm while navigating down the rock wall to the tiny beach. What a great leader and organizer for the Abu Dhabi SUP community.
Supermoon J Humphrey
The "super moon" appeared much more
dramaticat home in Nevada.
Photo: John T. Humphrey

Finally our group of ten was paddling away from shore. It was magical! I had noticed that others were wearing headlamps. “Don’t worry,” Jen said, “it’s just to see the fish in the water at night. Abu Dhabi never gets dark.” And it’s true – this is a city that never sleeps. Outside our bedroom window the lights make it look like dawn all night long.

We took the same channel that the kayak trip had taken, and then took a smaller cut to the left, among the mangroves. At one point a group of kayakers emerged out of the darkness, going the other way. It was peaceful, relaxing, and companionable.
sup race abu dhabi yas marina
That's Pippa in the foreground. Photo: UAE SUP

I talked with Pippa, a teacher from the USA whom I had met at the Yas Marina and also lives nearby. Pippa is very independent, and she told me that she paddles the mangroves alone all the time. “It’s completely safe,” she said. That was just what I wanted to find out, because living so close I wondered if I could just bring my board down and go for a morning paddle, before it gets hot. Yes!
Since I didn’t have a waterproof camera, I couldn’t take photos. I didn’t want to risk ruining my Sony camera, and I didn’t trust my balance at night. But a couple of days later, I went for a morning solo paddle with my camera in a plastic bag. It wasn’t very safe, but better than nothing. I managed to get some photos and even video. By the time I returned to shore I knew for sure that I need a waterproof camera.


The next paddling adventure was with Tom and Lucy. Tom had never paddled, so one Friday while Mark was still gone I took them out with me on the board. We were going to paddle out into the mangroves, land on a beach, and then take turns paddling around on the board. My vision was that the two of them would be sitting while I stood and paddled, kind of like a gondola.

Ha! The minute I stood, down I went. There was no way to control the board with two other people wiggling around on it. So we all three sat. Next, I noticed that most of the board was under water. Hmm. Very slow. But I didn’t want to give up, for a couple of reasons. First, we had gone to all the trouble to inflate the board. Second, and more importantly, I had my pride. The kayak rental company guys were at the put-in getting ready for a school group to arrive. They probably thought we were crazy, and I kind of agreed. But I knew it could work, had to work, just to get us to the island.
Me Lucy SUP
We're a good team.
Photo: Tom O.

Eventually we did work out a good system, with our weight distributed so that the board was mostly floating, one person kicking at the back, one stroking on the front, and me paddling in the middle.

Deb SUP 001
Deb "warmed up" by helping with the pump.
I need a little traveling compressor.

A few days later, Deb surprised me. “I want to try that board,” she said. Wow! The woman who was reluctant to get into a kayak wants to try the board! Absolutely, we can do that. So early one morning, we drove over to the Eastern Mangroves launch and I gave Deb a beginner’s tutorial on the board. Everyone is very wobbly at first; it’s a totally different feeling, standing on a floating board.

Deb SUP 009
Shortly after this, Deb was in the water.
But, no big deal!

Deb didn’t fall until the end, when her legs, ankles and feet were fatigued. Standing and balancing on a board uses muscles that we don’t normally exercise. A few years ago, when we first met Deb in the Caribbean, she had a broken ankle. That’s another story, but the point is that even years later, an injury like that can come back to haunt you.


Evening SUP Social Yas 020
Yas Marina still has lots of empty slips.

Finally, I want to mention SUP Yas Marina Thursday Evenings. Again, you can get a rental board for free and paddle around the marina at sunset. Afterward, you want to get a cold beverage at the marina restaurant, Stars ‘n’ Bars. There’s music and dancing, as well. They also open the marina to paddlers on Friday mornings, with free rentals. Call the marina office at 800-MARINAS if you are a local and want to try it out.

Evening SUP Social Yas 009
Pete and Terry.

We went this past week, and met Terry and Peter there with their son Christopher, who is preparing to begin an internship in international law, with a focus on human rights issues. It’s a great way to start the weekend!

Evening SUP Social Yas 038
Tres Amigas.

Thanks for reading.
And wherever you are, bring on the summer!


bobcarlson said...

anne you guys obviously need a carlson pump! thsiu is the import opportunity you have been looking for

sup pumps

bob c

Anne Schreiber Thomas said...

Bob, does your pump go to 20 psi?

Mike Bishop7 said...

Thank you for sharing your story and your photos with us Anne! Me and my girlfriend can't wait to go sailing in Croatia next summer. Thank you again for sharing with us.