Desert Dash - Surfski at the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival 2011

Wednesday, 30 March 2011 10:50 | Written by 
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Tom Schilperoort, Jasper Mocke and friends... Tom Schilperoort, Jasper Mocke and friends... Credits: Western Region Development Council

This week South African surfski elites Jasper Mocke and Tom Schilperoort are in the UAE for The Al Gharbia Watersports Festival. They’re doing clinics with locals and racing in the Gulf, hoping to spread the reach of surfski to places where it’s never been to before. Tom wrote us this update from the desert. 

Bru, we’re going to the desert...

Two weeks ago Jasper Mocke and I received an email from Thea van der Westhuizen, a South African expat now living in Abu Dhabi. My first introduction to Thea was in Mauritius last year. She was a surfski newbie but that was no reason for her to be tentative. On a training paddle one day she tackled the deadly Le Morne reef pass at 10 foot, causing mild panic amongst the race organisers. Thankfully the gallant and brave Rice Family Lifesaving Team was at hand to shepherd her back without further drama. Her zest for life was rather impressive to most of us.

It was with this same zest that Thea told us about the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival. It’s an event she is involved in organising in the coastal desert region of Al Gharbia. Al Gharbia is a rural region west of the now bustling city of Abu Dhabi. It’s quite literally a place where the desert meets the sea. I like to see the landscape as minimalist, ultra simple. Sun, sand and sea, what more do you need, really?


Jasper Mocke and Tom Schilperoort in Al Mirfa

Jasper Mocke and Tom Schilperoort in Al Mirfa

Why Al Gharbia?

The Watersports Festival is held in the town of Al Mirfa which is very rural in comparison to the metropolis of Dubai. As I’m sure you are well aware of, this area is oil drenched and there is no shortage of capital. The local government is really keen on promoting the region as a tourist and investment destination and has structured major community development projects. This is where the Watersports Festival fits in. It’s a great way to get local and international tourists and athletes to the experience Al Gharbia. Kiteboarding, wakeboarding, traditional dhow boat racing, beach soccer and volley ball are all on the list of events with surfski paddling of course. A 10 -20km race will be held on the April 1st  (see bottom of page for more details).

Improving the living standards of the local people is high up on the government agenda and that’s where the opportunity for Jasper and I arises. The Western Region Development Council (WRDC) has brought us over with the aim of helping to promote surfski paddling in Al Gharbia. Surfski has really taken off in the United Arab Emirates with international events such as the Dubai Shamaal attracting hundreds of paddlers from all over the globe. The Development Council has shown a keen interest in developing surfski throughout the region. The race and clinics that Jasper and I have been giving are all free to members of the public and there are unbelievable prizes for competitors in all the different events. The surfski race is unique in that it has an equal prize purse for men and women.



Events area, Al Mirfa beach, Al Gharbia Watersports Festival

Wild West?

Jasper and I were a bit overwhelmed when we initially arrived in Mirfa. On our first day we were invited to sit in the presence of HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Hamdan bin Mohamed Al Nahyan at the opening ceremony on the beach. We were two of very few westerners and as we sat worrying whether every movement we made was acceptable in the Arabic culture, we couldn’t help exchanging one or two anxious glances. However, after a couple of shots of traditional Arabic Coffee and many welcoming smiles from the locals our anxiety faded. In fact my perspective on the Arabic people has been radically enlightened after spending the last week mingling. The people here are unbelievably welcoming and friendly and I have really enjoyed learning about their culture and traditions. It’s been great sharing the “stoke” of paddling a surfski with local people too. I’d like to think that they have also really enjoyed learning about the culture of surfski paddling. If smiles are anything to be go by, then we seemed to have done a good job.


Jasper Tom AGWF

"On our best behaviour" opening ceremony, coffee with the Shaik

The Race

The race itself takes place on 1st April and has over R50,000 available in prize money. Participants will no doubt mainly come from the Abu Dhabi Ocean Warriors (ADOW) and Dubai Surfski and Kayak Club (DSKC) the two hubs of surfski paddling in the UAE. Last year’s winner in the men’s category was the legendary Jonathan Crowe who is hoping to defend his title again this year. Rebecca Mehew has shown great paddling prowess this season and will be participating in the women’s 18km race.


Tom Coaching





Action at the Al Gharbia Watersports Festival

Hopefully future events will see more international participants in Al Gharbia. It’s most definitely an experience to remember!

For more info visit http//

Al Gharbia!

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