Water sports are currently experiencing a worldwide boom in popularity, with ever increasing numbers of people enjoying the wide variety of diverse activities offered by different companies, from thrill inducing kite surfing, wakeboarding and speedboat rides, through to competitive sports like sailing and more gentle pursuits like canoe rides and snorkel trips. And this global growth in water sport activity is mirrored in Qatar.
Alongside the massive investment in infrastructure projects that will facilitate the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the government and private investors are also making huge investments in this fast growing sector, in no small part due to the rapid construction over the past decade of waterside developments featuring high quality accommodation and shopping malls, which has led to an exponential demand for leisure activities by those who live in waterside developments or visit them. Qatar might not be blessed with beautiful mountains and hills, but surrounded by water on its three sides and with regular, suitable winds, it has become an ideal destination for those interested or already engaged in marine-related leisure activity.
Qatar is developing its own professional rowing and sailing teams, run by the Qatar Sailing and Rowing Federation, where participants receive coaching from top class international instructors. French expat Thomas Pujo, who works as a coach for the Qatar Olympic Committee national team as part of the sailing and water sports federation, tells BQ magazine: “Luckily in Qatar, we are very blessed. The wind is good, temperatures are nice and you get a lot of different spots of water to use that are not too crowded.”
The rise of kite surfing
Kite surfing or kite boarding is one the most rapidly growing and exciting water sports in the world today. The sheer adrenaline boost of speeding along the surface of the water, creating an enormous wake, twisting and turning and then seeming to fly effortlessly up to thirty feet out of the water is an astonishing and addictive thrill for those who participate. It is generally performed on wide lakes and ocean bays where there is more than adequate space. Qatar’s winds and waves offer a superb playground for kite surfers. A growing number of residents are engaged in this sport to fulfill their passion.
Pujo recently produced a short video on kite boarding to illustrate and advertise Qatar’s growing importance to the international scene. He recalls his memories as to how he started out his journey on a kite board: “Back in 2000, I was sitting on a beach in France with my parents when I saw a few people on the water riding what seemed to be kites. It seemed awesome and I told my mum that’s what I want to do. I bought the equipment and started practicing with a friend. After about 11 years of practice and after finishing my studies, I passed my IKO certificate and started my first job as a kite surfing instructor in Dubai. One year later I moved to Qatar, and I’ve been enjoying and advertising its great conditions for the sport since then.”
According to Pujo, the sport is growing rapidly in popularity worldwide, mainly because it is a sport that people can learn at any age, involving fun on the water for everyone concerned.
“In Qatar, it’s very popular. It allows you to use all the wind that we get in Qatar in a positive fashion, instead of staying inside simply because it’s just too windy.” He adds, “However, I would say that the learning process can be frustrating, so you need to stay motivated and know that everyone went through a similarly tough time before fully enjoying the sport. And you always have to hunt for the right weather conditions.”
It is important that one get some good lessons before venturing out on a kite board in the water. The good news is that there are quite a few companies in Qatar offering kite surfing tuition. Netherlands expat Mark Kettenis offers such training. “Prior to moving to Qatar, I was a wave surfer but since Qatar did not have waves, I decided to try kite surfing here. I had to teach myself, as at that time, in 2007, there were no instructors in Qatar. I learned quickly and went to the UK to complete my instructor’s license, and then came back to Doha and started teaching.”
His fee for individual private tuition is QR 300 per hour, including equipment, but for a group of four the rate decreases to QR 200 per hour. Kettenis suggests group lessons are particularly good for beginners, but as soon as certain individuals get good enough on the kite board, private lessons are perfect for them.
Common equipment used in the sport of kite surfing include kites, twin tip boards, kite-surf boards, race boards, harnesses, wetsuits, stand up paddles, and wakeboard equipment. Anders Karlsen, a passionate kite surfer living in Doha, provides an insight with regard to the price of equipment.
“Kite surfing can be expensive in the beginning. A kite can easily cost QR 6,000 for a new one, and a board is QR 3,000. The good news is there is an excellent and thriving second-hand market for kites and boards, so you can save yourself some money by shopping around. A kite that is one year old has lost half its resale value, and after two years, it’s only worth a third of the original price.”
Both kites and boards come in different sizes in order to surf in different wind conditions, and they have to match body weight as well, so the perfect setup for a 65 kg surfer would not be an effective or pleasant setup for an 85 kg surfer. Therefore, if someone is new to the sport, he should get advice from the instructor, as buying the wrong kit can slow down progress.
Early kite boarders often used improvised equipment – homemade kites, water skis, experimental boards hacked together from other sports, and all these came with limited safety features. These riders and surfers pieced together the mechanics of kite boarding and surfing by means of trial and error, and often through accidents and crashes. But new technology and developments in lighter, stronger materials mean that not only have these safety challenges been met, but every year the equipment changes to provide the latest technology for rider safety, and to help them progress in the sport faster.
Retailers in the industry primarily sell sporting goods, camping equipment, and kite surfing products that are generally sourced from international suppliers and then sold to consumers in stores, or online. The dealers are usually kite surfers who are keen to help share their knowledge of the perfect set-up, which usually is made up of items from the particular brand they sell in their store. Fabien Hermel, owner of UAE-based company Eywoa marine sports, tells BQ: “The market has kept on growing for the past 15 years, particularly amongst expats, but in the last two to three years national riders have improved so fast that they have reached top three positions in almost every competition currently open in the GCC.”
The main aim of Eywoa marine sports is to provide high standard coaching, top range gear and to find the best water conditions he says. They are also looking forward to organising camps and competitions at the national level and within the GCC – as well as in Qatar. Hermel says, “Qatar is ahead, compared to the other GCC countries, in terms of planning ahead within the industry, organising training camps and competitions. We supply wakeboards, harnesses, eyewear, street wear and all types of kite surfing equipment. We have plans to open a shop soon in Qatar and are doing our best to see the opening of a cableway wakeboard which so far only exists in the UAE.”
According to Kettenis, there are more than 250 kite surfers in Qatar. The market for kite surfing goods is, therefore, still small, but Kettenis reveals some interesting facts about the way the market is evolving. “I previously owned a shop called ‘Fly-N-Ride,’ but the market was too small when we just focused on kite surfing, so ‘Fly-N-Ride’ has now merged with ‘Blue Marine’ to offer a whole range of water sports activities, and the most comprehensive kite surf packages are all available in one location in Doha.”
Kettenis now works as their water sports instructor for wake boarding, fly boarding and kite surfing, and will soon be taking lessons for the latest craze in the sport – hover boarding.”
He adds, “In my experience of the water sports market, as long as you keep it small you can survive but expanding the business is difficult. Shop rents are very high, a problem for maintaining adequate staffing levels, as well as for your business in general. One of the main challenges in this business is students sometimes fail to show for lessons, which can damage business projections, especially regarding demand.”
The future of water sports
Kettenis believes there will be growth, but Qatar currently remains a very small market. In his opinion, the main feature of the industry is the number of people who simply dip in and out of the business. However, the country is blessed with a large young population, who are becoming increasingly motivated towards attaining a healthier lifestyle, and Qatar is also developing, funding and training athletes in order to help them fulfill their own sporting aspirations. Industry players are also beginning to gear up in order to energise this growth, boost their revenue and enrich brand value. All these factors, coupled with an increasing fascination with all things to do with being active on and around the water, means the future of the industry in Qatar looks to be riding the crest of a wave.