Riding High on Man-Made Waves in Dubai

Potential harsh times are averted by the ghost of Johnny Cash.

It is 107 miles from the airport in Dubai to the United Arab Emirates’ most consistent surf spot. Located in the shadow of the great-ish mount Jebel Hafeet, the wave is not a point break, or a reef break, or a sandbar. It is a concrete pool in the middle of the desert. The break is highly chlorinated, was built by the son of a sultan, and looks like an Islands Resort for the Sand People of Tatooine. As far as surf trips go, it’s a weird one. Add who knows how many milligrams of edible THC to the equation, and consider my mind blown

It started when I was researching an upcoming trip to the Maldives. Looking for cheap airfare to get me from my home in California to the other side of the world, I landed on an Emirates flight that routed me through Dubai. It saved me $1,000. The only catch was that after the 16-hour flight, I would be subject to a 12-hour layover. Ever the optimist, I imagined that would allow enough time to get through customs, hail a cab, go surfing at the Wadi wave pool in Al Ain, and make it back in time for my connecting flight to sweet Indian Ocean bliss. My other option was to kill time at the airport bar. As much as $15 Heinekens sounded like a good time, I convinced myself that wave riding under the Arabian sun was the right decision.

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different remedies to ease my disdain for extremely long flights—Valium, Xanax, Ambien, weird pills from Mexico and Sri Lanka, all of them at once.

Image via kwmcmillan/VSCO

A month later, my board bag was packed and I was at the Tom Bradly International terminal at LAX. I checked in and went straight to security. The day before my trip, I’d procured a handful of THC-infused cherry candies. Being a seasoned traveler, I mixed them in with a bag of miscellaneous other candies, double bagged them in Ziploc bags, and didn’t think twice about it. I figured the TSA was too busy looking for people with ounces of coke taped to their nut sack to go through my bag of Wonka delights. I was correct. I breezed right through security and onto the skyway.

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different remedies to ease my disdain for extremely long flights—Valium, Xanax, Ambien, weird pills from Mexico and Sri Lanka, all of them at once. One time I took a handful of something while on the runway in Fiji. Next thing I know, we were touching down in L.A. Awesome, but I’m not that huge a fan of blacking out and drooling on myself. Thankfully, Jah herb comes in ever more discrete edible form these days—perfect for turning a long haul into a mellow cruise. A couple candies, a couple glasses of red wine, some dinner and a movie, and I was flying the irie skies.

Melted into my seat 15 hours into my 16-hour flight, the candies had worked remarkably better than I’d anticipated. Isn’t that always the case with edibles? I’d had a nap, enjoyed a few new releases, dominated onboard Tetris, and seen the North Pole out my window. 

Image via nowiplus/VSCO

In no time I’d be landing in Dubai, with five or six confections left in my bag. I had to dispose of them somehow. Mind you, the United Arab Emirates is a country where flogging, stoning, amputation, and crucifixion are accepted forms of punishment. Women have limited rights. The government tortures dissidents. Homosexuality is a capital offense. Probably not a great place to get caught with a little weed. But being a good stoner, I couldn’t flush it. I mean, what a waste. I began chewing.

The airport in Dubai—high or not—is really shiny. It’s an international crossroads with tons of oil money spewing into it. Everything’s new. Everything’s big. Everything’s fucking shiny. Except the women. They have to dress in all black, head to toe and hide their faces. As the THC level in my body climbed, all I could think of was how hot they must get. The temp on the ground outside was 112 degrees.

I chatted up the customs official in the green uniform as if I were a man with nothing to hide. All I had with me was a backpack and a small travel guitar I’d bought in Nicaragua for $100. My other baggage had been checked through. I was about to enter what’s essentially an Islamic police state, and somehow I had absolutely no worries. On my visa papers, I made sure to omit the fact I make a living as a journalist. Custom officials took my photo. I smiled like Shaggy. I was checked into the country with a stamp.

Out of the airport and on the curb, a shiny black town car pulled up. The driver, a friendly, middle-aged man with a bushy salt-and-pepper mustache, asked me where I was going.

“Surfing,” I said.

It was awesome…except for watching a 12-year-old girl get hit by a three-foot wave and almost drown. While required by law, hijabs are not the best surfing attire.

I showed the driver where the wave pool was on a Goggle map I’d saved on my phone. No problem. The ride would cost less than $100 each way. Agreed.

Going into the desert was a lot like taking Interstate 10 from L.A. to Las Vegas, but the architecture was less trailer park and more Prince Ali, and there wasn’t as much trash on the side of the road. We passed a camel-racing track. This struck me as being pretty funny. I’d never really thought of racing camels before. When my driver went too fast an alarm in his car went off. He explained that his vehicle’s location and speed was constantly monitored—translation: The machine is watching.

Image via sonna/VSCO

After an hour and a half, we pulled into the parking lot of the Wadi Adventure complex. Besides a fantastic wave pool, they also have rock climbing, white water rafting, zip lining, and wake boarding. I rented a board, changed into my board shorts, and got ready to hit the water. It really had all been that easy. There wasn’t one single hiccup. I was still high as fuck. It was awesome…except for watching a 12-year-old girl get hit by a three-foot wave and almost drown. While required by law, hijabs are not the best surfing attire.

For the next two hours I surfed. The wave pool can be set to break as a left; so I worked off the road grime up on my backhand. The pool also has a right-hander. When the operator switched the setting, I played around with my frontside turns. I was surfing in the middle of the desert with no one else. It was blowing my mind. Like every other surf spot in the world, eventually the wind came up. In this case a dark sand storm blew through. I would have been cool getting a beer and just watching the weather, but alcohol’s illegal in the country (except at the airport).

He was a scimitar short of showing up in an Indiana Jones movie.

After getting changed, I waited in the lobby for my cab to pick me up for the ride back to Dubai. Bored, I plunked the strings of my guitar. Almost immediately, a huge sheik-looking dude walked over. A wave of paranoia swept over me—I must finally be starting to come down. This was it. The dream run was over.

The guy stood an easy 6’6”. Dressed in a long, white robe, his oversized head was wrapped in the traditional red and white checkered ghutra. He was a scimitar short of showing up in an Indiana Jones movie. I tried to hand him the guitar, gesturing for him to try and play. Maybe this was the first guitar he’d ever seen? Maybe I was about to ignite a revolution? Or not.

He grunted, mumbled something in a language I’ll never know, and pushed the instrument back at me. After some serious non-verbal communication it became clear he wanted me to play something. So I did. Hitting those oh-so iconic eight intro notes, I chunked into “Folsom Prison Blues.” I’ve always been a shitty guitar player, still am, but long ago I told myself if I could at least play a few Johnny Cash tunes, I’d be all right. And I was. I made it through every verse without stumbling.

By the time I was done, the sheik guy’s buddy had come over. Equally as tall, equally as scary looking, his teeth blown out by a couple sand storms too many, they wanted to hear another song. So they got a stirring rendition of “A Boy Named Sue.”

How do you do? By the time my pick had tickled the last chord, my cab driver was standing there. I said a quick thank you, shook the hands of the sheiks, and like that disappeared into the Arabian night…and I still made it back to the airport in time for a couple of $15 Heinekens. They were amazing.