Kayaking on city waves
When kayak trucks hit the streets of Muscat city even before ice cream trucks, you know that it reflects the sultanate’s seafaring history.
A kayak truck sprung up at the Marjan beach at Ras al Hamra (also commonly known as the PDO beach) six months ago and brought along with it a colourful spread of kayaks. At RO5 per hour, anyone can rent a kayak and paddle into the sea to discover the rocks, corals, caves and small islands accessible from Marjan beach.
Entrepreneur Bassam Hamad al Jabri, the brain behind the portable business, wanted to re-introduce the younger generations living in the city to sea activities. Initially the idea was to start a broad range of sea activities - jet skis, canoes, snorkelling etc - but Jabri opted to narrow it down to kayaks as they were safer, less noisier than jet skis and permissions were also easier to obtain. Having lived in Ohio, in the US, Jabri became a disciple of kayaking and river rafting which are common activities there. The rules and safety measures that he learnt from his instructors in the
US helps him in organising and planning kayaking trips for his clients in Muscat. Along with a bunch of his friends, he operates kayaking trips out of the beaches in Muscat.
“People can opt to paddle around the vicinity, go to Shatti Qurm, Crowne Plaza hotel or check out the caves near PDO,” says Jabri. Experienced kayakers who have good stamina can choose a bolder adventure and paddle towards Fahal islands, which takes roughly around two hours to get to.
Getting them back to the sea’
The sultanate’s coastline has something to offer everyone for recreation. There’s a diversity of underwater flora, fauna and corals, and the sea is ideal for snorkelling, diving, paddling and other such activities. Jabri says that people do not have to go far from the city to enjoy these activities.
Initially when he parked the kayak truck at PDO beach there were hardly any customers. It gradually gained popularity and people sitting on the cliffs saw more and more kayaks in the sea. “Word got around and people were curious to come and try it out after they saw the pictures on Instagram and Facebook,” says Jabri.
Earlier his customer base consisted mostly of expats, “They are familiar with kayaking and canoeing back in their home countries so they are excited to have this experience offered to them here in Muscat too,” he points out.
Kayaking has now gained momentum in the city as people call up and reserve kayaks in advance.
On weekends, Jabri organises group trips to Fahal islands and there are also competitions held at regular intervals to promote kayaking as an accessible activity in the city. “People have also started kayaking for a good outdoor workout session. It tests endurance and stamina,” says Jabri.
There are different types of kayaks for people who wish to pursue a more advanced level says Jabri and shows a surf-ski kayak mounted atop his vehicle. Then there are also sit-on kayaks and sea-kayaks, which are faster than the regular ones.
Recently Jabri also started classes for Omani women who wished to learn kayaking. But experience is hardly necessary if you want to try kayaking.
Aidan Thomas a designer who regularly uses the PDO beach for snorkelling decided to try out kayaking. Jabri’s friend Ayman al Ghafri who helps out with the business gave him precise instructions. He begins with “Hold the paddle with your hands perpendicular to your shoulder,” and goes onto explain how to get back onto the kayak if it topples over.
“It was always fascinating for me to watch people go in to the sea on kayaks or surf boards, but I never had the courage to do so myself. One day I decided to do it,” says Thomas. “It was undoubtedly a refreshing experience and now I try to go kayaking at least twice a month.”
Safety is a priority
Despite it being a low risk activity, Jabri and his group are still cautious and adhere to safety measures. “After all it’s the sea,” he points out. They check for weather warnings and sea conditions everyday. If the sea is rough they advice people to not venture far out. “Life jackets are a must for everyone who rents the kayak and we even provide them with waterproof phone cases, incase they want to reach out for help in between,” he says. Jabri along with Ghafri and his team members usually accompany groups on kayaking expeditions as and when required. “If people wish to go on their own, we ask them which direction are they heading towards to be aware of their whereabouts.”
Typically a team member waits for 15-20 minutes past the allotted time before they decide to go and check on a person who has not returned back. “If we see them in the vicinity we know that they are probably extending their trip but if we don’t see them, we go in and check if any mishap has taken place,” says Jabri.
Just when kayaking was flourishing at Marjan beach, PDO authorities put up a signboard indicating that the beach will shortly be closed for public access. However Jabri points to his kayak-on-wheels and assures customers that the operations will shift to nearby beaches.
“There’s also a huge network of wadis here in the sultanate which can be explored on a kayak,” says Jabri and hints that he is planning the logistics and trying for permissions to operate at the Wadi Dayqah dam.