Why This Adrenaline-Pumping Sport Is The Perfect Workout For Luxury Travellers

6 min read
Waves at Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives are at their best from April to October.

As one of the newest sports added to the Paris 2024 Olympics, surfing’s popularity both in the Middle East and all over the world is rising like an unstoppable swell. Here’s why there’s no better time to get on board

Picture the scene. You’re miles from the demands of modern life, the sun is shining, and you’re sitting on a surfboard in the Arabian Gulf, waiting to catch the perfect wave. Intrigued? No longer the reserve of laid back beach bums, surfing is currently one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, with a long line of well-known faces who regularly take to the waves to get their fitness — and fun — fix. Kate Bosworth did it back in the day to land her lead role in Blue Crush. Cameron Diaz and Gisele Bündchen were charmed into the ocean by Kelly Slater. Reese Witherspoon and Helen Hunt even took surf lessons while on holiday in Hawaii.

What’s more, in response to the meteoric rise of surfing globally, the sport also made its debut in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 2020 and, come 2024, all eyes will be on the Teahupo’o wave in Tahiti (where the Paris 2024 Olympics will host its surf competitions), which will offer a true challenge for the athletes and treat fans on the island and around the world to a breath-taking experience.

So, what is it about this exhilarating sport that has got everyone jumping on board? From its unpredictability to the lack of proximity to any kind of digital device, the sea offers a myriad of different charms, so it’s no wonder surfing holds such an allure. “Yes, absolutely,” says founder and CEO of Surf House Dubai Scott Chambers when we ask him if he is seeing a growing popularity for surfing among women in the UAE. “The sport grows exponentially year on year. It’s unsurprising, as more of the global population are now able to try surfing thanks to greater access to the coast and wave pools.”

There are plenty of destinations marrying adventure with luxury, all within a stone’s throw of the Middle East.

Offering a full-body workout focusing on the legs, shoulders and core, it’s a great activity for improving your agility and overall fitness — even just sitting on a board requires the constant use of your core muscles. “Surfing has cardiovascular benefits as well as strength benefits, from the prolonged balancing and posturing of one’s body, to paddling well and for long, extended sessions,” explains Nathan Kemp, who runs the active sports and surfing activities at Niyama Private Island Maldives. Niyama is the only luxury resort in the Maldives with its own wave breaking on to the shore, making it especially popular with luxury travellers who are in search of an active escape. “It’s low impact, too, which also means you can surf daily well into later years without detriment to joints,” adds Scott.

And that’s not all. As a sport that’s guaranteed to get your heart racing, you can expect to burn anywhere between 300 to 500 calories per session in the water, but this is dependent on the surf spot, how long you are out for and the type of board — short or long — you use. “Most people can only surf for between one and two hours before needing a break and some food,” adds Nathan. “Over time you will develop a strong core, shoulders, chest and back to paddle efficiently, and for longer periods of time.”

Therapeutic benefits of surfing are also being recognised. A 2018 study investigated the potential of surfing to help military personnel with PTSD, depression and sleep problems. Initial results suggested that surfing can lead to a decrease in symptoms of depression. Then of course there are the benefits of being in salt water which, rich in magnesium, helps to relax your muscles, reduce stress and relieve any nervous irritability. It also contains bromide that relieves muscle aches, pains and soreness caused by physical and emotional stress.

Catering to HNWIs looking to take up the sport while on vacation, a rising number of luxury resorts around the world are now getting in on the act, offering everything from lessons to surf safaris. “Niyama is unique in that we have a private wave to surf breaking right on the island,” explains Nathan. The resort’s bicycles, its main mode of transport, are equipped with surf racks so you can carry your board easily. “A short paddle out and you’ll be surfing a first-class wave. What’s more, because it’s a private wave only accessible to our guests, it’s never crowded, allowing guests a better experience than they would in most locations.”

Leave your assumptions about surfing behind and take expert-guided lessons at the luxurious Amenera property in the Dominican Republic.

Then there’s the Amanera in the Dominican Republic, part of the uber-luxe Aman group, where guests can enjoy exclusive lessons with expert instructors and learn all aspects of surfing, from balancing and manoeuvring the board to understanding the ocean knowledge required to read the waves and perfect their surfing. You can also get out on the water with One&Only Group, particularly at its resort on the secluded Mexican Baja Peninsula, where world-class TropicSurf pros design exhilarating surf safaris for guests — both beginners and regulars — at one of Los Cabos’s many exceptional surf spots. If you’re lucky, you might even see whales and dolphins frolicking offshore.

A little closer to home, surfing in Dubai is seasonal, with the best time to hit the waves from October to June. Make the iconic Sunset Beach in Umm Suqeim your first port of call, while a little further afield Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah are also popular emirates for the sport. At Fujairah in particular, head to Tim’s Reef near Snoopy Island, which just so happens to be the only reef break in the UAE. Unlike a beach break, a reef break is a spot where waves break over rocks or coral sea beds, widely considered the most challenging break of all due to more fast and powerful waves.

“Oman is a great shout for the summer, as is Socotra in Yemen and Lebanon, too,” adds Scott. Check out the latter’s four main surf centres of Jiyeh, Byblos, Batroun and Tyre for some of the best surf schools in the country. It looks like your biggest decision will be where to head to first.

What To Pack

Whether you have big vacation plans or will simply be learning to tackle your first swell this summer, infuse your wardrobe with a little bit of surf style

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  • Words by Naomi Chadderton