It was 34 degrees Celsius at first light. Summer in Dubai is not for the faint of heart. My wife and I had a choice to make. We could either lay around the pool until the temperatures reached the somewhat unbearable 47 degrees forecast for that afternoon, or we could head 2 hours inland, into the desert to Al Ain, to go surfing. I was struggling to wake up, feeling somewhat disorientated and dehydrated, and feeling a bit boxed in up there on the fifth floor. I felt myself leaning towards the pool option, with an escape clause of heading to the A/C of the hotel room when it all got a bit too much down there in what could easily be described as hell, albeit a version that includes girls in little bikinis. I decided to go ride some waves.
Situated 2 hours from The Palm area of Dubai, the Wadi Adventure facility – Wadi – boasts arguably the best wave pool in the world. It’s a long drive, and it cost about 300 AED (R800) to get there in a registered taxi. On arrival we were greeted by a Durbanite at the front desk, running the surf bookings, who told us that the wave pool was fully booked for the day, as well as for the night. The only way to get into the wave pool was to book in advance, and no, there were no gaps. Bitterly disappointed, we were getting ready to muster up enough courage to pay the R800 to get home without surfing when it was mentioned that there might be a cancellation on the schedule, so we hung around. When operating at full capacity, the wave pool is capable of producing a wave every 90 seconds. With the maximum of six surfers in the water, it takes nine minutes for every one to get a ride. At a squeeze you can fit in 6 waves each, but it’s most likely going to be 5 waves each. Your session finishes on the exact stroke of the hour.
The pool gets booked out well in advance, with people booking 2-hour sessions and more in order to make the journey worthwhile. There are other options, of surfers booking out the whole pool for themselves for a few hours as well. Either way, you need to do everything well in advance, of which we knew nothing. While waiting for our possible slot, we were introduced to the Wadi Adventures Operations Manager, Lennard, who happened to be from South Africa as well. We chatted about life in the desert, life in South Africa, and surfing in the pool. Turns out there had been a cancellation, and we had a slot in the pool in two hours time. My wife hadn’t surfed in a few years as a result of bringing two kids into the world, but the waves looked friendly and it was so hot. After a few snacks in the restaurant we sipped on some icy water, covered ourselves in sunblock, and headed out to catch a few waves in the desert.
Situated at the base of Jebel Hafeet, this mountain forms a unique backdrop in a country that is primarily level sand and scrub. Sitting in the bath-warm chlorine water, looking up at the mountain range and waiting for an artificial wave to get bounced at you while people sit on the concrete walls watching you were all very unique experiences. To catch a wave you need to sit quite near to the concrete wall. The wave comes at you from the far side of the pool, rebounds off the wall where you are waiting, and it comes at you really quickly. You paddle hard for it, and as you feel it grabbing, you paddle harder and spring to your feet quickly or run the risk of the wave leaving you behind as it continues on to its concrete beach. The speed takes a little getting used to, as does the fact that the wave appears to be coming at you from the wrong side. For the first 30 minutes the waves break along the right hand wall, forming right-hand breaking waves, and mid session the waves switch and break off the other wall forming left-breaking waves.