February 9th, 2010 by garrettcortese

Not what you'd expect sunrise to look like in the desert.

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The lifestyle of the wakeboarding editor/photographer can often be a glamorous one. Most of that glamor is pure hype, trust me, but there is definitely a kernel of truth to it. I mean, how can I deny that hanging out with some of the best riders in the world on a regular basis, getting to travel the world, and document all of it is pretty awesome? It’s a good gig, and somebody has to do it, right? So when a chance came up to travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to do a little riding with an international contingent of shredders, I immediately said yes. Yes, even this trip sounded glamorous to me. Abu Dhabi: crazy skyscrapers, world class beaches, camels… Cool.

Well, let this trip be proof that glamorous isn’t always a guarantee. The purpose of the trip to the Persian Gulf was to create press/media content leading up to the Wakestock Abu Dhabi contest being thrown the first weekend of March (it will be the first in a series of WWA sanctioned World Series events). The athletes making the journey were Aaron Rathy, Amber Wing, Nick Davies and Dan Nott while folks from Alliance UK and Wakestock UK were on hand to help organize everything. I came because… well, actually, I don’t know if I really had a purpose for being there specifically (welcome to my life)… But I knew I would be making a cool trip/story out of the adventures that came with being with a group of riders in Abu Dhabi.

We all arrived on Sunday night safely and in high spirits. This carried over into Monday morning when we did a photo shoot right on the city’s waterfront district, with high rise buildings popping up through an insanely cool looking layer of fog. We were all stoked to be there in such a unique spot and getting to ride/shoot. Stokemeters were pinning. The glamor was palpable. Then lunchtime came. As soon as I stepped off the boat I knew something was wrong with me. Seconds later this was proven true when I vomited. Nothing kills glamor like vomit. The rest of lunch consisted of everybody else eating an awesome meal at an awesome noodle house in an awesome hotel on an awesome stretch of water while I made repeated trips running to the bathroom in order to power….. you get the point.

This trend of everybody else doing really awesome glamorous things while I did my best to kill the glamor continued on for the rest of the day. I’m just thankful I didn’t spew any anti-glamor into the chase boat. That would’ve truly brought things down a notch, or ten. The next day I could barely move. I was drained and felt much more garbage dump than glamor shooter. I had to stay in at the hotel and get better. Of course, with my sickness out of the equation, the rest of the crew immediately went back into glamor mode. They had another epic morning of shooting, this time out by Abu Dhabi’s brand new F1 race track and hotel — The Yas Hotel (it’s a 5-Star). After the shoot they got to tour the race track and the hotel, as well as consume from the very glamorous buffet at the hotel. Following lunch they continued to shoot in some more epic conditions, even in front of the yet-to-be-opened theme park known as Ferrari World (only Abu Dhabi would have a theme park named Ferrari World — very glamorous, indeed). Needless to say this day was a big success for the crew. I sat in the hotel trying not to vomit while drinking Gatorade and eating the Abu Dhabi version of Ritz crackers (known as Fritas).

Fortunately for me my bout with anti-glamor was all over by the next day. I woke up feeling much better and ready for action, but the day was not meant for action, as the riders had to meet with the local media for interviews, demos and other PR type things in preparation for the contest next month. We tried a little action in the afternoon, but a stiff breeze had picked up and prevented much from happening. Ever the optimist, though, I knew Day 4 would have to be better. I was due, right? Wrong. Abu Dhabi’s Mother Nature had apparently decided that as long as I was around and trying to shoot things were going to be tough. Day 4 was literally a sand storm. It looks like fog, but it’s dirty, and it gets everywhere. Wind blowing from the inland deserts carries sand out to sea (and into your eyes, ears, hair, mouth, boats, camera equipment, clothes, etc. etc. etc.). Wakeboarding during a sandstorm isn’t an option. Day 5 (final day)? Rain. Yes, rain. In the desert. At this point I was convinced that I had become a walking case of wakeboard photo shoot killing karma. The next day we all got to fly home (for Rathy and I heading back to Florida, that meant a nice little 14-hour jaunt to New York, then a quick hop back down to Orlando).

Needless to say I came home from the trip feeling a little less than glamorous. So if you want to get into the “glamorous” world of wakeboarding media, don’t get food poisoning… or just don’t hang out with me…

Obviously, I say most of this in jest. As with most things in life, you should always take them with a grain of salt… or sand. Abu Dhabi, despite my lack of glamor luck, was an incredible trip. It proved to have some incredible riding spots, not to mention scenery. Plus the trip was actually a success. The Wakestock UK guys in conjunction with the group organizing the Wakestock Abu Dhabi event were able to put together some awesome pieces of media for the event. The day after the riders met the press and did demos, our group of wakeboarders was featured prominently on the cover of a handful of local newspapers and websites. TV and radio clips soon followed. Several guys from the UK who were down in Abu Dhabi weeks beforehand, even successfully launched a System 2.0 “Beginner’s Park” open to the public from the start of the press day until the contest begins in March. This park was built for the sole purpose of bringing wakeboarding to the people of Abu Dhabi, whether they are locals trying it for the first time, or a vacationer from far away who happens to be in town and wants to strap in. And all of this just adds to the fact that everybody in Abu Dhabi is so courteous, interested in what we’re doing, and kind that it is almost unbelievable.

So the glamor wasn’t necessarily missing from the trip by any means. And I would go back in a heartbeat if I could (but fortunately for everybody involved with Wakestock Abu Dhabi, I have a wedding to attend in the States that weekend, so me and my glamor-killing mojo won’t be there to ruin the contest).

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