I arrived in Dubai at 530am and it was already 26deg outside. The taxi ride from Terminal 3 to the Reynolds house always blows my mind. Dubai has to be home to the most radical architecture in the world. Driving through the city at daybreak, you feel as if you’re in a scene from Star Wars. Ultramodern glass and steel skyscrapers reach out and touch the purple morning skyline and the streets are as busy as Cape Town CBD at 4pm on a Friday afternoon. The maglev train system that runs parallel to the highway I’m travelling on really captures my imagination. The stations that periodically break the monotony of the elevated concrete train track, look like star ship space ports ready to receive the next load of alien travellers from the outer reaches of the galaxy. It’s not too dissimilar to how I feel anyways, an alien from another planet.

The first couple of days I spent with the Reynolds family in their wonderful villa in Jumeira 3, a suburb on the gulf coast just north of the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel. Theunis and Vera are probably the world’s best hosts and I felt immediately at home again. You eat like a king and sleep like a baby at the Reynold’s house.

After a decent 3 hour post travel recovery nap I headed down the street to Rob Klok’s place. Rob’s the Fenn agent in Dubai and a typical Slummies boy. I don’t think he’s ever worn anything more than shorts, tee shirt and slops to work and his super mellow charisma is typical of most chaps from the Eastern Cape. His other job entails running the famous Wild Wadi Water Park; naturally complementary tickets are handed out like advertising pamphlets at the traffic lights on Wynberg Hill. I unwrapped my brand new Fenn Elite, allocated to me for the week, and took it for a spin on the bath water of the Arabian Gulf that afternoon.

The next day I met up with a crew from the semi-famous DSKC (Dubai Surfski and Kayak Club) for a downwind. We loaded our skis on the club trailer, drove 8km down the coast to a beach at the base of Palm Jumeira , paddled out 8kms to the edge of the Palm and then had 8km of rather tame downwind slop back  to the DSKC Club House.  Afterwards, legendary Aussie Ironman Jonathon Crow, famous for dating C.J. Parker (Pamela Anderson) in the Baywatch Series, took me for chow at a spot aptly named “Eat and Drink”. Naturally we ate and drank ourselves silly.

Crowie’s been in Dubai a couple years now and his input and experience, along with that of Hayden “H” Smith, has really upped the standard of paddling in Dubai. There is a regular training squad of about 30 guys and girls that train every morning at 6am from DSKC. I joined them one morning for a series of intervals. There’s no need to set an alarm clock in Dubai. At 5.30am every mosque in town cracks the morning silence with a call to prayer over a loudhailer. There must be a mosque every kilometre down Jumeira Beach Road and every one of them competes for your attention. You’re rudely woken by an army of clerics screaming: “Aaaallllllaaaaah al aaaakkkbbbaaaaa” in your ear every morning at 5.30am, without fail.
The Mockes arrived from Hong Kong on the Monday before the race. Dawid, Nicki, Sam, Janice and Japs, the house was full! The vibe stayed really chilled though and everyone was really relaxed, including Sam who must be the most well travelled one and a half year old in the world. We chose to lie low for that week leading up to the race. In previous years it’s been too easy to get caught up in the hype at headquarters. When we were there it was to paddle.

Race day and the 10 knot northerly wind we had expected didn’t materialise. It was going to be a hot, flat battle of wills Because the race was only scheduled to start at 14:30 we had the entire morning to wait around in anticipation. The starting point was only a 5 minute drive from the Reynold’s House in Jumeira 3 so after a late breakfast, three coffees and a dip in the pool, we gingerly made our way to the starting beach. After a decent warm up I was ready to race.
It had been planned that the start would be a mass “lifesaving style” jump start. Basically everybody lines up next to one another, just off the beach, in 3 feet of water. On the start siren horn we would jump into our skis and paddle off. As is the norm with these types of races, the start never seems to go to plan. Half the field was sitting in their boats with one minute to go, so naturally I did the same. The pace out to the turn bouy, about 4km off shore, was frantic. Most off the work was being done by Grant vd Walt and Ben Allen. We were going at 14.5kph into the wind. The rest of the race I suppose is history. Full credit must go to Ben Allen. He was definitely the strongest paddler on the day.

I think most of us that crossed that finish line had very little left in the tank. The heat along with the flat conditions and ultra competitive field meant I had taken my body to its physical peak. I find it fascinating how you can sculpt and train your body for months for one particular event and at the end of it feel completely weak and useless. It’s a satisfying feeling to realise that through commitment to training you are able to squeeze the absolute best out of your body.