Our guide to riding the wild surf in Dubai and across the globe. Be careful with this highly addictive hobby.
Surfing, the Polynesian Sport of Kings, began as the privilege of royalty long before it was taken up by the sunburned wanderers who now typify the sport. Imagine the sight of Hawaii’s royal family, gliding across the water on exotic hardwood surfboards in the age before big hotels and waddling tourists. Always in the shadow of royalty, Hawaiian commoners could distinguish themselves by their ability to ride waves, but the royals laid claim to the best breaks and the finest boards.
Yurfing, the Polynesian Sport of Kings, began as the privilege of royalty long before it was taken up by the sunburned wanderers who now typify the sport. Imagine the sight of Hawaii’s royal family, gliding across the water on exotic hardwood surfboards in the age before big hotels and waddling tourists. Always in the shadow of royalty, Hawaiian commoners could distinguish themselves by their ability to ride waves, but the royals laid claim to the best breaks and the finest boards.
You can see this pattern evolve as we jump ahead hundreds of years in time to witness the intimidation of famed Australian surfers Ian Cairn’s and Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholemew at the hands of a vigilante surf gang, as documented in the recent film, “Breaking Down The Door.” The film depicts how the singular and aggressive styles that defined these two Aussie greats in the water became the very thing that drove local Hawaiian to surfers threaten them physically. The essential crime of these two legendary wave riders was a mouthy brand of pride, and a healthy disdain for surfing traditionalism.
Surfing is something that you do essentially alone, but while in the presence of others. It’s a competitive sport, given to fierce territorial behaviors, but also the basis of a shared identity and often mutual encouragement. While the sport continues to grow every year at a breakneck pace, it seems that no matter how enormous the global surf community becomes, it will still be made up of surf separatists, each chasing a ride so transcendent that it can scarcely be retold.
I learned to surf in the chilly waters of a small Northern California beach town called Bolinas. I was born there and always felt a proprietary tug towards this particularly recalcitrant village. It was a place known for removing it’s own road signs to keep the tourists out. My father bought me my first board at age 12, and we were soon fixtures in the frigid wash, our company seldom exceeding one or two other surfers. That was twenty years ago and today a weekend swell can usher as many as fifty, mostly novice, wave riders into the cold green water.
Aside from my Dad, my chief surf partner of that era was a school friend named Nat Swinerton. Nat would grow up to be perhaps the best surfer I’ve ever known personally. His fluid maneuvers, dead-eyed wave selection, and overall fearlessness outpaced the surfing skills of everyone I knew. But it wasn’t always so, we’d started out equally novice and Nat hadn’t pulled ahead until we grew a bit older. Like many before him, his skill level grew
commensurately with his obsession. While we continued to surf together most weeks, Nat began to surf every day. He surfed by himself, in good conditions and poor, he was a stoic fixture in the water at a time when very few surfers frequented our home beach. I think it’s only fair to consider Nat’s dedication in light of his behavior later. Looking back at his dogged solitude, out in the water each day regardless of the wave quality, I can see now how his sense of entitlement grew, how he came to view the waves as his own.the peak of my own surfing life must surely have been the ten days that I spent with Nat, Dad, and my Uncle Andy on a small island in Magdalena Bay, off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. We’d flown in on a small passenger plane from San Diego, making one stop on main land Mexico to clear customs. “You’re my personal friends and no money has changed hands” shouted the pilot over the roar of the twin engine plane just prior to landing. He was part owner in the surf camp and wished to avoid sharing any revenues with the Mexican government.
After landing a second time at a small airstrip, we were ushered into a squat cinder block hotel where we were to spend the night. Nat and I made a circuit of the small town’s network of dirt streets before ordering fish tacos from a small taqueria adjoining a casita. We sat on stumps at the side of the road and watched as a neon green pickup truck rode it’s raised suspension and enormous treads around the town square over and over again. A pretty young woman we’d spotted earlier at the hotel stood with a wide stance in the bed of the truck glaring down some vague challenge each time she passed by.
The next morning we loaded our things into a series of trucks and rustic fishing boats and were transported to camp across dusty sand spits and intervening bodies of water. Surf camp was situated on a small unpopulated island out in Mag Bay, and was comprised of not much more than a scattering of tents and a central outdoor kitchen sheltered from the sun by a raised tarpaulin. We were hosted by our excellent cook Steve, who was brother and business partner to our earlier pilot. Steve had the enviable job of looking after guests, fixing three simple meals a day, and surfing whenever chores permitted.
As our final fishing boat slowed into the ragged waters near shore we clambered down from the vessel and stood waist deep in the bay passing our personal gear and several weeks worth of camp supplies overhead in bucket brigade fashion. Absent from this was Nat, who had retrieved his own surfboard and run ahead, scrambling up the cliff to check the surf. Nat didn’t return until the last of our cargo had been hauled up the cliff and into camp.
After we’d settled in and consumed a quick meal of black beans and rice with corn tortillas, Nat was the first to pull on his wet suit and paddle out. The rest of us set about washing up and then made our way down to the shore. As I worked