Mo Rahma made history 10 months ago when he became the first Emirati surfer to compete on the International Surfing Association (ISA) Tour.
Since then, the 28-year-old has been facing athletes who have been immersed in the sport for large parts of their lives. In comparison, Rahma remains a relative rookie; he only picked up a board for the first time four years ago.
So how did the United Arab Emirates, a country with no previous reputation for producing surfers, end up with one on the ISA tour?
It all began in 2008, when a career as an international rugby star looked on the cards for Rahma. He lined up for the UAE national team and Arabian Gulf representative side on the wing and big things were predicted for the promising player.
But in a match against New Zealand at the Dubai Sevens, Rahma ruptured his ACL. It was an injury that ruled him out of competitive sport for an indefinite period, leaving his hopes of becoming an elite sportsman in tatters.
“With my injury, most athletes don't make it back,” Rahma tells Sport360. “After countless physiotherapy sessions, the doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to run again which was tough to take. Then one day when I was in the water doing rehab for my knee I saw people surfing and I thought it would be cool to give it a go. I tried and fell in love with it.
“After several months of surfing I realised I wanted to give it a go as a career. I've always been competitive so why not compete? I went to take part in a few events in Australia, Bali, Sri Lanka and I enjoyed myself so I felt it was time to improve.”
Dubai’s Mamzar Beach gave him the perfect spot to connect with the ocean and he surfed at every opportunity. When the sea was flat, he hit the artificial waves of Wadi Adventure in Al Ain to experience more consistent swells. But it was not enough for a man with big dreams.
— mo rahma (@MoRahma) August 2, 2015
“I couldn’t improve if I stayed in Dubai,” Rahma explains. “First of all, we don’t have those top, high-level surfers who can help me to progress. To get to the next level you need proper coaching and technique. With all the professional surfers training in America, I felt it was the best place to develop.”
Rahma’s next step took him to Los Angeles, where he trained for 14 months under the tutelage of renowned coach Sean Mattison, a former United States Surfing champion. The waves at Manhattan Beach and El Porto threw up new challenges but only served to increase Mo’s level of expectation and desire to improve.
“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to make the step to the next level in surfing. I train twice a day now. I'm in the water in the morning and gym in the afternoon. The focus is on Spain and achieving good results to put me in a good position for future events in the winter.”
In Spain, Mo will compete in his first World Qualification Series (WQS) event – the Pantin Classic in Galicia – a stepping stone towards the World Surfing League, which involves the top 25 surfers in the world.
“After this I'm in Japan in October, Taiwan and then the Maldives. My plan for next year is to do the European Tour and do eight or nine events next year.”
The UAE has been developing into somewhat of a surfing hotbed in recent years, with the wave height continuing to flourish during the summer months. Down on Kite Beach and Mazmar, surfers are out in force as a previously peripheral sport in the region grows in popularity.
Neighbouring Oman, too, gets incredible swells during the summer, which then sweep along the coast to Dubai in the winter. For Rahma, the challenge at home is clear: encourage greater participation from Emiratis.
“The beaches are world class and it is mind blowing. I'm trying to get UAE nationals out of their comfort zone and trying these new sports,” Rahma says. “It will bring new experiences and teach people different aspects and disciplines of sport and life. Things like this can happen, and if you’re dedicated and you want to do it, then you will.”
Mohammad Bin Mijrin is among a group of new rising stars from the UAE. His dedication is unerring and Rahma recalls how he once drove 16 hours to Fallala in Oman to catch an evening wave.
Such commitment, coupled with the persistence of personalities like Rahma, could yet see the Middle East join more illustrious locales in America, Australia and Hawaii as the newest surfers paradise.