Category Archives: Sport & Fun

Surfing in the Sand

With a sudden hiss, followed by a low rumble the sight of an absolutely perfect wave formed behind me as I started paddling forward. Moments later I was up on the board. Surfing. In the desert. On a real wave!

There really seems to be little that you can’t do here in the UAE and now I can add surfing in the middle of an area that by rights shouldn’t even be able to dream of hosting World Class surf competitions to the list of the seemingly implausable that is, in fact, possible.

Aquathon race
At the end of the race, with my shiny new medal

I had signed up for my first competitive race of the new season here in the UAE, an aquathon held at the waterpark, Wadi Adventure in Al Ain. A very early start and a couple of hours drive east of Dubai found me in the shadows of Jebel Hafeet, one of the mountains that many of my cyclist friends have spent time peddling up, and the site of what can only be described as a water sports enthusiasts’ dreamland: Wadi Adventure.

The race itself involved swimming an initial 400m in one of the white water rafting lakes, followed by a 2.5km run around the park, then back into the lake for a second 400m swim, and ending with a final 2.5km run to the finish line. The swim was fantastic, with the water perfectly clean, cool and actually very refreshing, something that was certainly welcome the second time around after the initial run in the rapidly rising desert heat. It would appear that my training over the summer months has actually paid dividends as I had a really strong race and was pleased to come over the line in a time of about 43 minutes and in 10th place in the Open Male category.

One of the perks of competing on the day, other than the shiny new medal and the post-race breakfast, was that we got to stay in the park for the day if we wanted. Well, seeing what was on offer in terms of activities, I certainly wanted.

Wild WadiAfter befriending a fellow Brit, who had ventured out from Dubai by bus and taxi only to find the park didn’t open for another hour, we purchased our various activity bands and headed in for an active day. Charles was starting his day with a surf lesson whilst I had an hour and a half to just kick back, relax and read before my first activity of the day: rafting. They have built some impressive infrastructure at the park and after an initial briefing and kit check we were out on the lake to practice our rafting skills around the more pedestrian, slower rafting circuit before transferring to where the real fun was to be had with some proper white water.

Many of the rafting and kayaking instructors are Napalese, such is the rich whitewater heritage of the country, and ours was incredibly skilled as he navigated us round the various twists, turns, drops and bumps of the circuit, shouting to us when to paddle, stop, get in the centre of the raft, and generally be useful as opposed to increasing the risk of a capsize. Having said that, after a few tours round we were given the option of whether we wanted to turn the raft over. No question really: of course! I have GoPro footage of being in the raft and then rather rapidly not being in the raft and bobbing along as I was swept downstream, popping into the lake that is both the start and end of the circuit. Amazing fun!

Next up was kayaking, which was a lot harder than I think I had been initially expecting. Having done a little kayaking many years ago I thought I would have been a lot more comfortable being submerged but actually found being so rather uncomfortable. Still, we knew what to do to free ourselves from our kayaks in the event that we did end up head under and so all was good. There were four of us in our group, and after some initial tutoring from our guide set off on the route. As with rafting, we started with something a little more measured and I felt very confident paddling up to, over and through the various drops and obstacles. I did, however, discover how easy it is to tip over in a kayak at the final section of the course – I would like to say that was the only time I did so but I would be lying πŸ™‚

Starting the session I had assumed that, as with rafting, we would hone some basic skills in the slower section of the course before graduating on to the serious white water. Thankfully that didn’t turn out to be the case, as all of us were more than happy with the workout we had in the first course. As I said, kayaking was a lot tougher than I thought and I think it would be safe to say that we’d have all spent considerably more time in the water, or under it, than we would in our kayaks had we ventured into rougher waters.

By the time I had finished the kayak session I was very ready for lunch. However, whilst en route I was stopped by one of the surf managers whom I had spoken to earlier in the morning. The surfing gets booked out a long time in advance, by as much as a month, and so I had asked whether I could be informed if anyone did not turn up. The chances of that happening were, according to most, pretty slim, but on this occasion it seemed as if my luck was in as a gap in an intermediate session had just opened up, starting about 5 minutes after our conversation. So it was that I was to get my surfing fix afterall.

waves at Wild Wadi, Al Ain
Perfect waves on demand

Paddling out to join the five other surfers on the water was incredible if not initially a little daunting, as from the shore the wave that was generated was pretty big so I wasn’t quite certain what it was going to be like up close and personal. The group I was gatecrashing were French and had come together from both Oman and Dubai to do a couple of hours of surfing. The last time I had been surfing was in California and I wouldn’t necessarily have called myself an intermediate. However, in the interests of nabbing the available slot I was willing to give it a go. As it turned out I was actually pretty ok, standing up and surfing far more than stacking it, helped I am sure by the sheer perfection of the synthetically generated wave, which rose from apparently nowhere every 90 seconds.

An hour of perfect, regular wave riding was enough to really feel good and ready for food so surfboard returned, it was off to lunch and one of the most welcome, if not biggest, lasagnas I have ever eaten. By that time it was late afternoon and so with one last set of activities to tick off the list, namely the climbing and zip-line, thoughts were turning to getting home to Dubai. The climbing consisted of a couple of levels of high-wire obstacles, much like Go Ape, and we nipped round both levels swiftly before heading up to the zip line for a ride over the lakes, which was great. I honestly think it would be so awesome if there more zip-lines in normal, everyday life. How brilliant would it be to be able to zip line between buildings rather than having to walk or grab a cab? The final activity of the day was a log swing, which after having had bad experiences on those pirate ship fairground rides in the past, I wasn’t too upset about only going on once. Still, it was on our list so had to be done, and done it was.

The entire day was amazing fun and super active, with the surfing certainly being one of my key highlights. It was so surreal to be spending the day in water with a mountain in the close background, but I have learnt to expect such surprises here in the UAE. I certainly intend to go back and booking a group of friends to go surfing would be an excellent way to spend an awesome day together.

Downhill all the way!

mountain bike ChamonixTeeth clenched, eyes fixed ahead in a state of complete focus and with the almost audible buzz of a brain doing overtime, processing the rapidly changing scene flashing past. This is what it was like to experience downhill mountain biking during my time in Chamonix. The rush of hurtling down a mountain, on what I can only assume is usually a ski run in the winter, clad in impact padding and relying on a combination of balance, balls and the sheer hardy and tough awesomeness of the incredible bike I was riding, was amazing and I am so glad I decided to bite the bullet and hire a bike for the day, even though I was convinced that I was going to break myself in the process.

Mountain bike, ChamonixHaving only ever mountain biked maybe twice before, and neither time being that extreme, I wasn’t really sure what I was signing up to when I headed into the rental shop in Chamonix and spoke with the friendly British owner, Spencer. I ended up agreeing to rent the best bike in the shop, a downhill monster (Nukeproof, for anyone who cares to know), with all the pads and helmet thrown in for good measure, and so I returned later that day to pick up my steed for the following day, in addition to some tips on where would be a good playground for a novice such as myself.

The first challenge I faced, even before getting to the top of any run, was how to get my swanky new yet beefy bike into my tiny car! After being somewhat put off the idea of removing the front wheel – something I later discovered was stupidly simple to do – I faced the puzzle of fitting the bike into my little Skoda, which I just about achieved, albeit after having to ‘close’ the boot with the use of my Sat Nav’s power cord to tether the door closed, followed by a very careful and smooth drive back to the chalet, all the while praying that I avoided any local members of the Gendarmerie.

Mountain biking in ChamonixApparently I had rented quite a nice bike unbeknownst to me, as several of the guests at the chalet soon gathered to collectively ooh and aah at what to me was simply a heavy yet bouncy bike. It did leave me with a sense of being that person who has all of the gear but generally no idea – some pressure, it seemed, now existed to do something with my apparently awesome toy the next day. Two of the guys at the chalet, brothers Rob and James, were both there solely for the purposes of spending each day hurtling down mountain tracks on their bikes. They very kindly offered to take me under their collective wing and let me join them the next day, which in hindsight was a much more enjoyable and rewarding option that just going off on my clueless own. I was assured that the next day would be epic!

And epic it was! A relatively short drive up the valley saw us arrive at an area known as Les Tours, right on the French-Swiss border, and a classic Alpine picture postcard of grassy slopes with small herds of bell-clad horned cattle shuffling along or sitting leisurely chewing their cud, all with an acoustic soundtrack of gently chiming bells, which had the effect of making me feel as though I could have been in Tibet.

The epic mountain bikers in ChamonixPadded up and psyched up, with lift passes excitedly clutched, we headed up for the first run of the day, and my moment of truth. I think it would be safe to say that the first descent for me was somewhat slower and more leisurely than Rob and James were used to and in spite of their excellent tuition, especially when it came to effective sharp cornering, I still ended up off the track and on my backside more than once. Still, with the amount of padding I had on it didn’t actually hurt so there was no disincentive to feeling a little braver and bolder as the day wore on. In fact, by the end of the day I found myself hurtling down the green run feeling almost like a pro, and whizzing past other groups, whilst the guys went and got their fix by tackling the championship downhill course that was on-site, complete with rather insane looking jumps!

Atart of the downhill, ChamonixAfter a leisurely mountain-top lunch and an attempted descent into Switzerland, which was quickly abandoned when it transpired how a) technical the route was and b) the fact that the time was pushing on such that we’d have more than likely had to catch a train back round to ‘our side of the mountain.’ Several more descents, each one getting a little faster and way more exciting, and it was the end of the adrenaline fest that was our day mountain-biking. The journey back into Chamonix was a little more assured now that I had been shown how to remove the front wheel, and I returned my steed to its stable in plenty of time. A great day and no broken bones or missing teeth, so a result all round!

 

Scaling New Heights

Mont Blanc, ChamonixFollowing the initial few days in Switzerland and skydiving just over the border, with the Alps on the immediate horizon, my recent trip took me into the heart of the Alps and Chamonix, my base for the next week.

Chamonix is regarded as the alpine capital of the Alps, and it is easy to appreciate why, with the town nestled snugly in the valley that is dominated by the breathtaking Mont Blanc, and the various peaks that collectively make up the Mont Blanc massif, including the famous Aguille du Midi, which is worth taking a cable car up to even if just for the briefest of glimpes out over the valley thousands of feet below. Chamonix is somewhat unique in that it is pretty busy and active throughout the year, whereas a lot of alpine resorts go into more of a summer hibernation outside of the manic ski season. In addition to being charmingly pretty, with the requisite array of cosy coffee shops, pubs, alpine supply stores, restaurants and chalets, the town just buzzes with an energy that comes from being full of people with a common goal: to experience the best that the surrounding natural resources have to offer, whether that be miles and miles of trails to run or hike up and down, alpine slopes and the valley spread out below over which to paraglide, or the wealth of climbing on offer, both rock and alpine, with an ascent of Mont Blanc itself being the focus of many visitors’ attentions. Even if you did not describe yourself as an active, outdoorsey type, after even just a couple of hours in Chamonix I could see you reaching for the hiking boots and standing in line for a lift pass, such is the lure of the surrounding terrain.

My accommodation for the week was a beautiful chalet a few kilometres outside of Chamonix, Chalet Tissieres, situated in the shadow of the Boisson glacier, one of the many huge glaciers that extend down into the valley from the snowy heights above. Run by a lovely lady by the name of Renske and her husband, and staffed by a young English couple, the chalet was a welcoming sanctuary, with the other guests all climbers and outdoor enthusiasts themselves, making for inspiring dinnertime conversation. With a warm, comfortable bed, great company and hearty food available, the chalet was the perfect launch pad for the week’s various adventures. The fact that it was situated a few kilometres down valley of Chamonix itself was not an issue thanks to my trusty little rental car, which did a famous job of ferrying me along the alpine roads and offering the freedom to explore at my leisure.

Paragliding in ChamonixOne of the first activities to tackle on my list of ‘absolute must dos’ was paragliding, or parapenting as they say in France. I had been very tempted to sign up to a course to gain my license to paraglide but figured that a) it would significantly limit the time available in which to engage in other mountain-based activities, and b) who knows, I might even hate it, in which case committing to a full course would be a bind. Of course I didn’t really imagine for a second that I wouldn’t enjoy it, and that is exactly what the case was as I found myself soaring like an eagle over the valley and town, skirting along the sides of the surrounding peaks, with my pilot Simon in control and my place being seated in front, taking in the incredible views from the armchair-like comfort of my harness. Surreal was the word I used to describe the experience at the time and it really was, from literally running off the side of the Brevant to gliding noiselessly through the crisp alpine air, with fellow flyers above, below and around us as would birds. I am used to flying under canopy as a skydiver, but paragliding is so much slower, gentler, smoother and relaxing, in large part down to the fact that you spend significantly more time in the air compared to a skydiving canopy flight, during which you only ever fly down, whereas paragliders can ‘catch a thermal’ and rise higher, a bizarre sensation indeed. In the right conditions, and with the appropriate level of skill, paragliding pilots can literally spend hours flying. I find that amazing!

Danny Uhlmann, First Light Mountain GuidesSoon after landing I arranged to meet up with my mountain guide for the latter part of the week, in addition to organising a mountain bike rental for the following day’s fun. Danny, my friendly American guide whom I had been put in touch with by a mutual friend and fellow alpine guide, was simply brimming with enthusiasm and ideas for what we could achieve during our four days together. The first thing we did following our initial coffee was to go on a kit run, identifying the various bits of essential clothing and equipment that I would need for my time in and on the mountains, pointing out that which I would be best purchasing and those bits of kit that should be hired. Purchasing such items as alpine climbing trousers and an expensive ‘puffy’ jacket when I live in a part of the world where the temperature rarely exceeds about 25 degrees celcius seemed odd but its amazing how swept up in the mountain climbing fever one can become, coming precariously close to further credit card bashing when I nearly justified to myself the idea of buying my own pair of mountaineering boots. I did relent, reminding myself of the fact that a) I lived in the desert, and b) had no idea when I would next be on a mountain, meaning that on a scale of ‘unessential to absolutely must-have’ mountain boots fell quite low down. Still, by the end of the day I was suitably attired and equipped to tackle the surrounding peaks with Danny like a true alpine climber. First, however, was a day of downhill mountain biking fun!

Wet & Windy

I think I may have overdosed on adrenaline! A recent trip away from the heat and humidity of Dubai, and the Emirates, saw me head back to Europe, principally to attend the wedding of some good friends. The destination was Switzerland, or more specifically the small but fairy-tale looking lakeside town of Nyon, a short drive outside of Geneva. After the wedding itself I packed up and drove my nippy little hire car out of Switzerland and into France, directly towards the hypnotizing and impressively majestic Mont Blanc, which my now married friends have an unrivaled view of from their townhouse, across Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman, to give it it’s local name).

wakeboarding, Nyon, Lake Geneva
Perfect conditions for wakeboarding on Lake Geneva

The adrenaline rush started, however, in Switzerland, after I had stopped in at a small skate shop in Nyon whilst out for a morning run to enquire as to whether there were any options to wakeboard locally, something I was keen to repeat having indulged in the activity on the lake several years before with my friends, and also off the back of the fact that I had been practicing here in the Middle East at the lakes in Abu Dhabi. Fortunately the owner of the job had a friend with his own boat in the town and so gave me his number to see if he might be heading out during the weekend. As such, the following morning, after the fun, games and excesses of the wedding, I roused myself with an early morning breakfast Swiss style, grabbed my board shorts and Go Pro and met Stefan, his girlfriend, Charlotte, and their mutual friend and fellow watersport enthusiast, David, down at their boat before casting off on to the crystalline and tranquil waters of the lake.

Wake board, Lake Geneva
Refreshing & exhilirating!

There is no better way to blow away the cobwebs and be left feeling amazingly refreshed than to jump into the cool waters of an amazing lake, with blue skies, the sun shining, and a majestic panorama of snow-capped peaks in the distance, and to then rip it up on a wakeboard. It was awesome, and although I didn’t quite grab any major air, the very sensation of being out there was fantastic. The best part of the experience, however, was then getting to try my hand, or rather feet, at wake surfing, a totally new concept for me but the main reason for why Stefan and Charlotte had purchased their fancy wakeboard boat in the first place.

Wake surfing, Lake Geneva
Wake surfing

Wake surfing basically sees you start in the water, much as you do with traditional wake boarding, being pulled up onto your board, which in this case is a small, mini surfboard. The aim is to then find the sweet spot in the large wake created immediately behind the boat and to then literally surf it, meaning that you discard the help of the rope pulling you initially and rely on the fact that you essentially surf down the wake/ wave towards the boat. It really was surreal to be that close to the boat and yet moving without the pull of a rope. Although I wouldn’t say I was an instant natural, or even stayed standing on the board for very long at a time, it was an amazing experience and something that I can actually see the appeal of over wake boarding, which is pretty much what Stefan and co had moved away from. Those people who are well practiced, such as my fellow lake playmates that day, can start to pull off some funky trickery on the board, which was great fun to watch.

The fun very much continued as I headed off into France to continue my activity fueled vacation. The first stop was a small airstrip in Annemasse just over the Swiss-French border, and home to the local skydiving fraternity. With a runway that points directly towards Mont Blanc, the views of the highest peak in Europe are unrivaled and it was clear that jumping there was something that I had to make happen. Unfortunately by the time I arrived en-route to Chamonix it had become too windy or me to safely skydive. Not one to be deterred though I simply made the decision to return early the following morning, hoping that the winds would prove to be lighter – which they did – and spent an entire day jumping over one of the most incredible landscapes I have had the pleasure to freefall towards so far.

Skydive, in plane, Annemasse, Chris & instructorOne of the aspects of skydiving, or indeed most adrenaline sports, is the friendliness and general feeling of comararderie that you get with other participants. I jumped initially with one of the instructors, who took along his Go Pro to record the jump, and had a blast as we pretended to swim through the air and generally lark about as we took in the amazing views that are abundant from 12,000 feet in the air, especially when there isn’t a single cloud in the sky. A leisurely lunch at a traditional French cafe in town was the perfect intermission before donning the flight suit and chute again, this time jumping with Lucile, the attractive girl who I had first had the pleasure to speak with when I arrived the previous day. That jump saw me leave the plane first, with Lucile diving out afterwards before we ran through a fun ‘routine’ before breaking away and making our own way under canopy. High fives all round on the ground after successful jump number 2!

At that point I had made up my mind that the day’s freefall fun was over as I had every intention to head back to Chamonix, but the lure of a sunset jump with Mont Blanc glowing in an ethereal light, was just too much to resist. “Besides,” I thought, “I’m on holiday!” It was worth hanging around for, as I joined three other skydivers for the jump, which again was caught on film and awaits my editing attention. A top day and adrenaline sport number two of the trip already ticked off. On to the rest of the week then…

Scaling New Heights

climbing equipment, shoes, harness, chalkSitting in the Times Square Mall in Dubai, diners on the second floor have a view out over the Adventure HQ climbing wall and high wire course, a really fun attraction to have in a mall in my opinion. Watching a group of kids all scale the climbing tower just drove home to me in a sort of epiphany moment just how incredibly rewarding climbing is and how it’s such an incredible activity for both a healthy body and mind.

It is that perfect combination of an activity that not only exercises the body – and it is a full body workout – but also engages the mind in such a complete manner, with no room for distraction or dwelling on the day’s trials and tribulations. It requires laser focus to do it well and, most importantly, safely, and as such offers the mind a much needed break which I am convinced allows your sub conscious to then do its thing and make sense of those issues or questions you may have been puzzling over. It is, in essence, a form of vertical, active meditation.

As an activity for kids it is perfect, offering the ideal combination of exercise, fun, mental challenge and providing valuable returns in terms of feelings of achievement when a move goes well and the chance to think, appraise and reform ideas in the event that a move does not work out as initially planned. These are all essential skills for children to acquire, and definitely ones that adults alike should continue to cultivate and improve on.

Of course, the other wonderful aspect of climbing is the social nature of it. Both a solo sport and yet one that actively promotes close cooperation and interaction with others. What closer social experience is there than carefully looking out for someone’s welfare whilst they tackle a wall by acting as their belay partner? A solo activity that can then be discussed, critiqued, reviewed and enjoyed by friends. Perfect combination in my opinion.

Pampering is Compulsory

What do you tend to do to mark your birthdays? I made a vow to myself back when I turned sixteen that I would spend each birthday either “doing something different or be somewhere different,” and I am pleased to say that to date I have managed to stick to this informal plan. To date the experiences have included enjoying chips and champagne with investment bankers at a rooftop bar in the Square Mile, London; diving in Turkey; exploring Florence and Pisa in Italy; and getting my skydiving license.

This year as I turn 21 again (amazing how one can do that, isn’t it?!) I find myself kicking back and relaxing with a very agreeable view over the Yas Marina and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit, as I sit writing in my room at the rather fancy Yas Viceroy hotel. When deciding what to do to mark my ‘annual addition of 1’ I figured why not just take advantage of the fact I live close to some of the very best hotels in the world, and the Yas Viceroy certainly fits that category.

The hotel is actually the only one to be built pretty much on top of the F1 racetrack, and the room that I am staying in is located in the Marina Building, connected to the main part of the hotel by a really funky skybridge, which literally takes you over the track – a great viewpoint I am sure come race day.

The first thing you notice about the hotel is the crazy web-style shell that it has covering the entire hotel, which makes it look as though it is encased within a pure white exoskeleton – a great way to smooth out and curve what would otherwise be a typically straight edged building. It has the effect of making the place look quite space-age, which I daresay was the intention, especially when you see inside the rooms, all of which are very modern, clean and, well, I guess I would say minimalist.

birthday cake at Yas ViceroyFirst thing was first upon arriving…. order food! There is something very indulgent about ordering room service, even when it is just soup that you request, although the hotel went and did a fantastic job of adding some “WOW factor” to this simple transaction, by including a lovely handwritten note and a birthday cake – yes, a birthday cake – with my order. Nice move Viceroy! Nice move indeed πŸ™‚ Thoughts of cake thus spurred me on to seek out the hotel gym, which I indulgently had all to my self and so could pretend that I did indeed live here in my own, big, expensive millionaire pad!

Before too long the place has seen my bags metaphorically explode and in spite of having only been here for about 12 hours, the room looks like I moved in days ago and have no intention to leave πŸ™‚

yas viceroy, pool
Not a bad way to kick start a birthday stay

Last night saw me suit it and boot it before enjoying the delicious culinary wonders of the hotel’s Indian restaurant, Angars, with so much food that I simply couldn’t force it all down. It certainly meant that I slept like a log and had the pleasure of waking without the assistance of an alarm, to remotely open the curtains (silly, simple but a giddy joy) on a stunning Abu Dhabi morning. What does any self-respecting hotel guest do of a morning? Check out the pool is what. No day is a bad day when it starts with a swim and when the pool is as calm, quiet and, well, awesome as the one here then who can fail to feel rejuvenated and ready to take the day by the horns?!

So I have a couple more hours to enjoy the hotel before checking out and heading off for some wakeboarding at Al Forsan resort. I may just have to make this a bit of a birthday tradition….. Oh, and I guess I had better munch my way through the cake πŸ™‚

cake eating at Yas Viceroy

 

Paddle to the Beach

Paddle for the Planet, Kite Beach, DubaiOne of the very best things about living here in the Middle East is the fact that we get virtually uninterrupted awesome weather all year round. Yes, it gets horrifically hot and humid in the summer months, something that I am yet to actually experience first-hand, but the fact remains that it is excellent weather for being outdoors. On top of that we have some incredible beaches virtually on our doorsteps and easy to access.

I have already discovered a few of the stretches of beach along the Dubai coastline, from Nesnass beach where the kitesurfing crowd hang out, to JBR beach, with the Palm to the right and the towering skyscrapers and apartments of the marina as a backdrop, and where I regularly play Ultimate with other like-minded sports enthusiasts.

Friday saw me check out one of the main beaches here in Dubai, Kite Beach, as I signed up to attend a charity event called ‘Paddle for the Planet’, during which loads of people got together for an early morning paddle out into the ocean in aid of ocean based projects globally. I had just seen the event posted on good old Facebook and figured “why not?” I was due to be off work on Saturday and there was no wind forecast, so no kitesurfing to be done. It just sounded like it might be a laugh, and it was.

Kite Beach, Dubai
Kite Beach, Dubai

Kite Beach is one of those classic stretches of golden sand that you see in holiday brochures, complete with permanent wooden and palm sun shaders, volleyball courts and a range of civilised beach amenities, such as showers. There is even a cool little gym called The Shack, which has the feel of a mini Venice Beach vibe going on. I am actually going to try and attend a session one morning as I can’t think of a better place to pump some iron than right on the beach.

The turnout was impressive, with a whole host of paddlers, from surf-skiers to stand-up paddle-boarders, to kayakers, to Dragon Boats, surfboards and more. There was a big group photo on the beach at about half past 8 before we were all given the go ahead to launch ourselves into the water and paddle. I headed out as far as most people would dare and decided to turn back once I realised that I was, in fact, on my own and didn’t really fancy the idea of drifting off to Saudi. The view on the way back to shore was breathtaking, with the Burj al Arab off to the right, the towering, futuristic spectacle of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, to the left and the low rises of Jumeirah, with the beautiful minarets of the many mosques punctuating the view. I hadn’t really fully appreciated previously just how azure the sea is in Dubai, with this being one of the key things evident on the paddle back to solid ground.

Slack lining
Harder than it is made to look!

After the hard (yeah, right!) work of paddling was done, there were loads of other fun activities to keep people entertained on the beach, from the mobile climbing wall, to a pretty awesome double decker bouncy castle, to a slackline, which I had to have a go at. Actually, several, as it was certainly a lot harder than people make it look. I think I managed about one to two steps each time before wobbling and promptly falling off. Still, it was a laugh and there were plenty of freebies in the form of energy drinks and snacks on offer to keep energy levels topped up.

As far as a cracking start to a day off goes, even if that day off started at 5am, I couldn’t think of a better one πŸ™‚

An Ode to a Snappy Pair

DWS, climbing in OmanAlas, I am in mourning. Not one to usually subscribe to fashion trends or fork out for ‘designer labels’ I must confess that I joined the crowd last year when I purchased a beautiful pair of ‘designer’ sunglasses whilst skydiving in the US. Adorning my head at any opportunity when the sun is present, which means most of the time now that I live out in the UAE, we sadly parted company yesterday but in a pretty awesome way πŸ™‚

A group of fellow adrenaline junkies and I here in Dubai all headed over to Oman yesterday for a day of Deep Water Soloing, or climbing up sea cliffs with only water to break our falls. I must confess that I have tombstoned before – an experience that I engaged in as a foolish youth (well, as a newly qualified vet anyway) and which resulted in my friend and I jumping from a cliff that was, in hindsight, stupidly high – but had never climbed in this fashion before. The experience was amazing and I am convinced that there is no better way to spend a hot, sunny day than with a group of like-minded friends bobbing round a stunning coastline looking for daredevil acts to engage in, whether it be climbing or diving.

So, what happened to cause the loss of your beloved then? Well, good question. I am glad you asked. The second cliff we climbed up led to the jump being significantly higher than our first stop and in hindsight choosing to wear my Gatorz sunglasses, a cap and hang on to my GoPro Hero3 was folly. Anyway, I jumped, landed and very quickly realised that the only items I still had on me were my board shorts and climbing shoes – who’d have thunk it but landing in water from a height actually involves a fair amount of force so it should have been no surprise that my oh-so-cool headwear and I were separated.

Gatorz, magnumCaps float so that was ok, the least expensive and most easily replaced item being easily retrieved from the ocean. Metal sunglasses – expensive ones at that – and considerably more expensive GoPro cameras, however, do not float. Which sucked! Thankfully, with the swift deployment of my snorkel and mask, which I was so glad I took along even just for the fact that there was some amazing sealife to observe during the day, I spied the GoPro (phew!) and was able to dive down to retrieve it. If it were another metre down, however, then I think I may have had issues as it was just about on my free-diving limit. Still, camera and footage saved it was then time to hunt for the illusive Gatorz. In hindsight, gunmetal blue may not have been the best colour to take along as everything looks sort of blue at depth and it soon became apparent that I was not going to find my sunnies. Boo! So, a gift to the ocean they were to remain and who knows, maybe some diver will come across them and be the new owner of what are an awesome pair of quality sunglasses. As for me, I had best get ordering a new pair – maybe red would be a good idea for next time, although the lesson I took away from the experience was NOT to wear sunglasses when climbing and then jumping down – they rarely stay with you!

What can you learn from a Fall to Earth?

Space jump – what lessons for vet students?

Jump from the edge of Space
A lot can be learn’t from Felix’s jump into the unknown

As Felix Baumgartner shifted towards the edge of his balloon capsule I was, like a good seven million others, already on the edge of my seat, waiting for a monumental feat of daring, planning and, some might say, down right stupidity to finally play out after five years of planning. As a skydiver myself I was hopelessly hooked on the idea of free falling from space, knowing first hand the sheer exhilaration of falling – although it feels more like flying, hence the appeal – at terminal velocity toward the Earth, surveying our wonderful planet from a vista from which it was intended to be seen. However, what Felix was attempting, and subsequently achieved, was of a whole other magnitude. Seeing the Earth from the capsule and watching Felix “go over” and then plummet toward the ground at speeds faster than a speeding bullet was the ultimate adrenaline junky buzz, and I could hear skydivers the world over jumping up and down and high-fiving one another. Although I very nearly missed the big event on account of a dog who chose that specific period of the day to start seizuring, despite not showing even the hint of a twitch all day, it was a big moment for daredevils, science and sheer real-life entertainment.

But what lessons, if any, can you take from a man who voluntarily leaps into the great unknown, with the risk of a pretty gruesome death a very real risk, that can apply to vet school and the task of applying? Surprisingly, quite a few!

Felix Jumps into…. Vet School:

1. Have a vision & believe in it – Felix had a big vision and in spite of many, I am sure, telling him he was insane and that what he was wanting to do was impossible, he ignored the naysayers, applied himself and stayed focused on his ultimate aim. How many of you are surrounded by people telling you that vet school is beyond your reach and that it would be better for you to focus on a career choice that is “more attainable?” Unless you have the focus and determination of Felix, then most of us might be swayed by such negativity and change track, possibly looking back years later to ask “what if?” Don’t be that person. If you believe that veterinary is for you and are prepared to research, apply yourself and strive for your ultimate goal, then go for it and like Felix, work hard toward making the leap.

2. Plan like you’re going to jump from space – Felix and his team left absolutely no stone unturned and planned for every eventuality in the five years leading up to the big jump itself. Although there were a couple of hold-your-breath moments during the ascent and jump, the thorough planning of the team and Felix’s skill and preparation saw to it that they were minor hiccups rather than catastrophes. You know you want to be a vet and you know when you need to submit your application. As such, sit down and do some serious planning. Make the most of excellent resources, like this newsletter and the new website, to ensure that you leave no stone unturned and make the big jump into vet school as smooth as a space-freefall.

3. Pick your team wisely – You’re probably thinking “team? what team? I’m the only one applying to vet school.” Thats correct but then Felix was the only one to jump from the capsule. What got him there, in large part however, was the support and guidance of some fantastically motivated and skilled people who shared the same vision. You should find such people to surround you in your preparations to apply to vet school. From enthusiastic and supportive teachers at school, to generous professionals willing to conduct mock interviews, to work-experience placement providers, and positive friends and family, your support network is potentially huge and with the right help and guidance from them, you will find the journey towards vet school applications a lot less lonely and so much more rewarding.

4. Prepare for the extreme – During his free fall, Felix started spinning rapidly with a very real risk that he would pass out from the effects, which would have been disastrous. He was, however, able to correct his situation and bring things back under control, ultimately leading to success. What enabled him to do that was a combination of focused preparation and practice, including ‘mock’ jumps so that he could get used to some elements of what he could expect during the real thing. Parallels with mock interviews are clear – by preparing and practicing under conditions that are as close to the real thing as possible, then you’ll find that when the unexpected does happen, you’ll avoid entering a spin of your own.

5. Celebrate monumental successes – One thing we can all be sure of is that once back on terra firma, Felix would have had one hell of a party. And so he should have! It is really important to celebrate and recognise achievements, especially those that we have to strive for. Make sure you celebrate your achievements on your route towards vet school.

So there you have it. You can learn something from a man who throws himself from space!

Triathlon Trials & Tribulations

tired Chris 'Nerdy Vet' at finish of the London TriathlonThere is something about us humans, and especially those of us who are vets and wish to become vets, that is just that little bit crazy. That little core of determination and refusal to bow to pressure that means we can dig in and see something through to its conclusion even when the odds seem stacked against us and more ‘sane’ members of the species would accept defeat and opt for an easier way. How many of you that are currently contemplating applying to vet school or who are in the process of doing so have had people tell you that its “too hard” or that you should consider “something else” because the likelihood of success seems so remote? I daresay a few of you.

I was reminded of what it was like to have to grit my teeth and really dig in for the long, hard slog the other weekend during the London Triathlon. I have been competing as a triathlete now for about three years, with my first taste of competing at an Olympic distance being last year in Paris, France. This year I was fortunate enough to secure a place in the London event and was very much looking forward to lining up at the start line, in spite of perhaps not being at the pinnacle of my tri-race fitness. The event was amazing: huge in scale and buzzing from the moment the first competitors splashed into the dock on Saturday. I was in the penultimate wave of the entire event, on Sunday afternoon, and looked on with the sense of glum inevitability that comes with watching the British weather do its usual of promising so much and then delivering so much of the wrong thing. By the time we were limbering up and awaiting the start of our wave, the weather had well and truly closed in and a pleasantly warm, bright Autumn day had turned into a bleak Winter’s one. Still, the race must go on!

The first clue to what was in store came when it was announced that our wave’s swim was to be reduced from 1.5km to the sprint distance of 750m, due to the presence of “white horses” on the water. Any initial sense of macho indignation at being “demoted” to a shorter race distance was quickly replaced with a sense of huge gratitude and thoughts of “thank God!” as the waves that had developed in the dock (waves in a sheltered dock in London!!) turned my swim into a simulated drowning exercise. Now, I consider myself to be a relatively strong swimmer but I hated the swim that day as I not only ended up swallowing half of the rather grim looking water in the dock, nearly chucking up on more than one occasion, but resembled more of a doggy-paddling poodle than an athletic merman of a triathlete as I struggled through the water. Not a good look!

Next up was the bike stage: 40km, or two laps, past Canary Wharf and Docklands and into the heart of the City, with a turn at London Bridge. If I were to tell you that the wind was so strong that competitors were literally being blown off their bikes you would think I was joking. Well I am not. I saw several dejected souls pushing bikes back towards the ExCel centre as the rain and wind continued to batter us left, right and centre. By the time I made it towards lap two I had pretty much lost most of the feeling in my hands and was thrilled to be told by one of the stewards that they had heard the bike leg had been reduced to one lap. Alas, any hope of such fortune was short-lived as a second marshal confirmed that I did indeed have another lap to complete, and so back out into the unrelenting elements I headed.

As I powered my bike up the final ramp into the centre, thoughts turned to the fact that there was still the run to complete: 10km of it to be precise. The London Triathlon run comprises four laps of a circuit that takes you out of the Excel centre and down along the dock before looping back. The rain had been so heavy during the day that one section of the otherwise normally dry and level course had been turned into a water feature, more akin to something athletes would face in the steeplechase. By the third or fourth time though it became almost funny, with efforts made to come up with the most novel way of pretending to swim, or canoe over it providing some light relief. It has to be said that in spite of the lousy conditions, the level of support from the mental few supporters who remained outside to shout the competitors on was incredible. I think they may metaphorically have dragged several of the runners up that last hill and into the home stretch, so big up to them. The run is normally my strongest event but my legs felt pretty darn heavy by the third lap. Still, thoughts of the finish spurred me on and the sight of the line was beyond sweet. A monster race completed and a big two finger salute to the elements delivered. Would I do it again? If you asked me at the time I would likely have told you to get lost but as always happens with these things, I would gladly sign up again now.

The lesson that I guess I took away from the day was that in spite of being as prepared as I could be, in terms of having all of my equipment organised and being in the right places at the right times, occasionally circumstances beyond your control pitch up and change things, not always for the better. The choice at such times then is to either throw your hands up and accept defeat or to stick to the plan and just pull a performance out of the bag, relying both on your preparation and that little spark of something that seems to make itself available at such challenging moments. So, if you feel that the path to Vet School is proving impossibly tough in spite of your best efforts, remember to keep your eye on the prize at the end, dig in, grit your teeth and keep giving it all you have. You might still not make it but at least you can hold your head up at the end and say you gave it everything you had in spite of it all.

Good luck with everything.