Learning to Wakesurf in Dubai

My, oh my, I believe that I may have found my new favorite sport, wakesurfing (yes, for real). And it is awesome. Wakesurfing takes a couple of my favorite things, a boat and surfboard, and combines them into one. One sport to rule them all! So to kick off my series of U.A.E. travel blog posts, I'm sharing about my experience learning to wakesurf in Dubai. Last month saw me travel to my first Middle East country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on behalf of Fairmont. I could hardly contain my excitement upon arriving, so much so, that I was on the beach my first day there, ready to go, before the sun was even up. Alright, so maybe that was in part due to jet lag, but still, after the previous weeks upon weeks of snow in Northern California and Nevada, I was ready for 80-degree beach days.

It was on Fairmont The Palm’s private beach where I met Rhett, a South African and my Dubai wakesurfing instructor, who threw me a wetsuit before we jumped in a speedboat and were cruising toward Dubai’s skyscrapers. The view alone was worth the price of admission.

But what exactly is wakesurfing? By most definitions, wakesurfing doesn’t require a tow rope, like wakeboarding requires, for example. You're simply riding the waves created by a speedboat (though many use a tow rope to get up on their feet). At Fairmont The Palm, they technically refer to it as surfboard training session, as I had a grip of the tow rope the entire time (when I wasn’t falling into the water). As Rhett describes it, by standing up on the board so long, turning and responding to waves, you’re able to get so much more time upright on a surfboard than if you were in the ocean paddling.

Be that as it may, it was one of the most fun hours of my life, and I spent much more time on the board, and less time in the water, than any other time surfing.

To begin the lesson, we rode out toward the Dubai skyline before jumping in the water, each with our own surfboard. The first 15 minutes was about safety and initial instruction, sitting upright, and responding to the water and waves that were constantly changing with every passing boat.

It wasn’t long after that when we got to the action. I jumped off my surfboard, and flipped over so that my back was just below the surface of the water, and my feet were on the surfboard, toes up. Rhett tossed me a tow rope and started instructing me how to get up on the board. The way he described how I was supposed to get up sounded a bit like a magic trick. The boat would start slowly moving, the tow rope tightening, and as it did, I would bend my knees, my body moving closer to the surfboard. From there, the combination of the boat’s movement, the water resistance against the surfboard, and my body’s movement would pop me up on the surfboard. Sounds like magic, right?

Dubai boating

I was not convinced. But here went nothing. Rhett gave the thumbs up, and he, sitting on his own board, started guiding me through it, as the boat started moving. “Hold the rope high, arms straight out, bend your knees, and now up.” Holy shit, I was up, on the first try. It was a magic trick, and I was surfing with the assistance of a rope and speedboat. Rhett, riding directly beside me, kept one arm on my shoulder, guiding me for the first 30 seconds or so until he let go, and I was riding directly behind the boat.

After getting up on the board so quickly, it was onto making turns (after of course biting it and drinking salt water). Although I wasn’t sure if this was a tutorial on turning or a tutorial on tricks, as Rhett told me to hold onto the rope with one arm and look to the left. But that was in fact part of the turning exercise, as I would drop some of my weight, and look at the direction I wanted to turn, in some ways similar to snowboarding.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, we continued this, with about half the time spent upright on the surfboard. The last run, I was upright for nearly five minutes. Five minutes! Do you know how long I would have been upright surfing a wave in the ocean? Five seconds if I was lucky.


Perhaps the best part, however, was the backdrop. What an amazing experience learning to wakesurf in Dubai to the backdrop of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Needless to say, I highly recommend learning to wakesurf, especially if you’ve never gone wakeboarding or surfing, as it can be a fun intro to the sport.

Beyond the surfboard training lesson, Fairmont The Palm also has a number of other Dubai watersport experiences, including water skiing, wakeboarding, banana boat rides, speed boat rides, kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing lessons. While there are many destinations where you can do these watersports, there’s not just anywhere you can do them on such calm water and to such a beautiful urban backdrop.