Surf Oman

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Early morning and a mobile-phone message comes through as we are making our final expedition preparations. It is Sid ‘The Surfer’ Ward sending us a startling wake-up call: “Have you seen the tropical storm brewing off Masirah Island?!”

Sid is known by his nickname to many in Oman’s expat community because he is just about the only regular wave-rider in over a thousand miles of sun-blessed, wave-washed coastline.

It is true that in recent years Masirah has acquired an enviable reputation as a place of pilgrimage for kite-surfers, but the winds that make the island a paradise for them render it unsuitable for surfers. In any case, within hours of Sid’s alert even the most hardcore of these wind-riders are fleeing – along with the island’s inhabitants – towards the mainland as the terrible wrath of Cyclone Phet is unleashed on Oman’s coast.

Far to the north, in Muscat Harbour, the dhows and yachts are doubling, tripling, quadrupling their mooring ropes against what they fear will be a horror-filled night. The plans that we have been fine-tuning for the last six months have been thrown into complete disarray, and a new batch of phone-calls, texts, and emails fly out from what has become temporary expedition headquarters in the bar of the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Just as we are getting reports of immense nine-metre breakers crashing onto Oman’s southwest coast, big wave surfer Pablo Gutierrez is unloading his boards from a Qatar Airways jet at Muscat Airport.Within a few hours, the Spanish surfer – who has made a name for himself in the big waves of Hawaii – has been joined by French soul-surfer Damien Castera, and American pros Brett Barley and Jesse Hines. Last to arrive is nomad surfer Raine Jackson, the only female pro in what has now become our cyclone surfer strike force.

By midday, 18 surfboards and all provisions for a ten-day ‘surfari’ have been loaded up, and four gleaming, new Land Rover Discovery vehicles are heading for the desert. I take the wheel to the tune of Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now as the storm clouds begin to unleash their torrents into a hundred dusty wadis on the flanks of the Hajar Mountains.

In a desperate attempt to outflank the full fury of the feisty Miss Phet, we have decided to make a quick overnight ‘dummy run’ over the edge of the mountains before cutting south to charge directly across the endless lizard-baking expanses of the Empty Quarter. All through one long day of driving, the black strip of the highway ripples ahead of our wheel like an agitated rope. Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm wails out of the sound system as the tarmac bubbles under 45°C of blistering desert sun.

The next day, 1,290km south of Muscat, we camp on the slopes of the Dhofar Mountains, finally almost back within scent of the sea again. It is still too hot for tents so we park our Land Rovers as windbreaks and sleep in our board bags for further shelter from the sand.

Shortly after dawn our little convoy is already threading between wind-twisted palm trees and onto a beach that seems to stretch endlessly in both directions. We switch our vehicle’s onboard computers back into sand mode and the Land Rovers gently inflate their suspension to give us valuable extra clearance over the rutted high-tide line. We drive along the beach with a huge flock of seabirds taking flight at the roar of our engines. On the horizon dolphins leap as they chase the great schools of sardines that traditionally hit the coast at this time of the year.

Further up the coast Damien Castera paddles his longboard out and turns to drop down the face of a perfectly peeling right-hand wave. He eases the big board up, trimming high through a long classy nose-ride. Already this is probably the best ride ever achieved in Oman. But within a few minutes the others are in the water, with Damien’s O’Neill team-mate Brett Barley and Rip Curl’s Pablo Gutierrez both scoring spectacular tube-rides. As the first surfer ever to catch a wave here, the Frenchman is given the honour of naming it – and is almost instantly over-ruled by a unanimous decision that, like it or not, this spot will henceforth be known as Baguette Point.

By mid-afternoon we have checked every likely surfbreak for hundreds of kilometres north of Salalah, and even the most well-travelled of our jetsetting surfers are thrilled by world- class waves of a standard that few had expected on this unknown coast.

But surfing being what it is, the right conditions can often be hard to come by even in the most consistent spot; so, the next morning we are parked at Baguette Point looking at a disappointing onshore mush of sloppy white-water. The wind is blustering hard straight out of the south, so we head onward to a point that the map suggests will be in the lee of a landscape dominated by spectacular cliffs.

Perfect waves have been breaking, un-ridden, on this spot since long before the first fisherman threw a net overboard at the village that is known today as Hasik. Within minutes of unloading the boards a large crowd of locals has gathered to watch and hoot as their waves are ridden for the first time.

We are a world away from the crowded beaches that are increasingly the norm in what has become the world’s fastest-growing sport. As I paddle into another peeling Omani wave on a 1970s-style Kun Tiqi surfboard made entirely out of balsa wood, I reflect that this is surfing as it was always meant to be.

There are only seven of us in the water, but by now a crowd of perhaps a hundred has gathered on the beach. Out of respect for local customs Raine Jackson has donned a wetsuit (suffering heat stroke later as a result). When she comes out of the water she is all but mobbed by the women and children who want to greet this blonde, blue-eyed surfer-girl who seems to be able to fly over the surface of the ocean.

By the time we leave Hasik the words ‘surfing’, ‘surfboards’, and ‘surf’ have become a fixed part of the vocabulary for many of the village’s youngsters. Hasik is not likely to develop into an Omani San Diego in our lifetime, but for now it looks like one of the Middle East’s most exciting adventure destinations, set to add a brand-new activity to its repertoire.

The word is going out in line-ups all over the world that it is finally open season on waves in Oman!

Muscat, Oman
Distance: 739 km
Flight Time: 1 hour, 20 mins
Frequency: 31 flights a week

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