There’s Just Something About That Wave Pool in Dubai

There’s Just Something About that Wave Pool in Dubai

By Sandra Tinari

It’s an odd thing…turning our backs on the ocean to head inland to seek out waves, but as the sun dips toward the city coast line behind us, we hit the road.

Driving deep into the desert, we cut through the dusty haze, passing endless sands and the odd camel. We’re in search of the Middle East’s wave pool for a night surf under starry skies and spotlights.



As the tarmac rolls on, lifelong notions of what we know and understand of surfing have to be set aside. It’s both exciting and strange at the same time. Does surfing in a pool feel like surfing? Can the waves ever be good enough? Would Huey be disappointed that we’d traded his ocean swells for machine-generated lines?

The Wadi Adventure wave pool is set against a stunning rocky mountain backdrop in an isolated edge of the city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi. An unusual location for surf, not Australia nor California, but a desert home two hours from the coast.


Why here? As you enter the park it makes sense. A handful of South Africans, Americans, Aussies and Brits lounge poolside. Almost-perfect waves roll through every 90 seconds, like clock-work.

The Gulf is full of expat workers. Some are surfers, who, out of necessity, have moved to the desert in search of work. They’re either starved of waves during Dubai’s flat summer season, or the hardcore kind…those who work miles inside the desert’s interior or offshore.

The wave pool has become their respite. Sure, it’s been made infamous by visiting surf pros…and it’s not unusual to arrive and see the likes of Sally Fitzgibbons launching airs, but in the main, the man-made waves offer relief from the heat and sand for the surfers, who live and work in the Gulf; and expats and local Emiratis alike.

And they’re not let down. The wave is phenomenal, both in it’s perfection and just in the sheer fact that it exists. Seeing it for my own eyes, it’s still hard to compute…you can surf whatever style of wave you desire, from steep, peeling lefts or loggable rights to perfect a-frames and fun close-outs. It really is bizarre to surf for hours on end, past sunset, under the black of night and miles from any sea.

According to Wadi Adventure’s Clinton Howes, an expat South African surfer, the mechanics of the wave pool are quite simple.

“At the back of the pool you’ll find 10 chambers – these extend from the pool’s water level to above the logo on the back wall. These chambers are filled (using five 420kw pumps) and then released to displace the water at the back of the pool, forming waves! Each chamber is sealed at the water level with a “trap door” – the trap doors are released in different orders at different times to generate the different wave settings. The size of the waves is determined by the length of time that the chambers are left to fill up – the longer the chambers stay closed, the more water is pumped into the chambers, and the more water will be displaced in the pool when they are released, so bigger the wave.”

A private session, booked for two of us, sees us trading an unending succession of waves, where only a determined paddle gets you out in the line-up in time for the next drop…delirious, knackered and free. It’s addictive, and we can’t resist but to stay mountain top and return the next morning to surf again, despite the 40ºC heat (wintertime it’s closer to 25ºC).

Despite their perfection, for me, wave pools will never replace the purity of surfing in the ocean, but I sense that parks like Wadi Adventure aren’t trying to fully take over for mother nature. They’re there for a fun alternative and for when local beaches are flat or unreachable. But, after dodging the surf crowds of European summer, Dubai, Australia’s west coast and eastern Noosa Heads over the past few months, it is nice to escape to the solitude of the desert and trade waves in quiet isolation; the line-up all to ourselves. That’s something that can be seriously hard to find these days.

For more from Sandra Tinari for Korduroy:

Surfing the Slow Life

Portugal’s Surf Essence

Artist Interview

Surfing Sandcastles

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