Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Emirates Kiteboarding Committee and the Emirates Sup and Surf Committee, on Thursday opened the seventh edition of Al Gharbia Watersports Festival under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler's Representative in the Western Region.
This year, the 10-day festival has attracted some 3000 participants of at least 20 different nationalities, all competing in about 10 different water and beach sport events.
Sheikh Ahmed hailed the continuous support being extended to the event by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
This year's edition is full of exciting activities for the youth, Sheikh Ahmed told reporters adding the festival is growing year after year.
He noted that the 2014 edition of the festival attracted 60,000 visitors and that it is expected to attract between 80,000-100,000 visitors of all ages this year.
The important message that the festival sends across is that the Western Region (Al Gharbia) is a premium tourism destination for the UAE people that also strengthens ties between the youth from the UAE and other countries.
Sheikh Ahmed also announced the addition of freestyle kitesurfing to the activities of this year's edition of the festival. Twenty Emiratis including three from Al Gharbia region are participating in this competition.
"In one race alone, the 60 feet dhow race, we have 2000 sailors taking part," said Obaid Khalfan Al Mazrouei, Manager of Al Gharbia Watersports Festival.
"For this seventh edition of the festival, we have a mix of traditional and modern competitions. There are five different types of boat racing, as well as kite surfing competition and the beach competitions. Altogether, we have more than 15 activities at the festival this year," added Al Mazrouei.
Al Gharbia Watersports Festival is being organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee – Abu Dhabi, in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
Organisers said that officially, the festival opens daily from 1 pm, but competitions' schedules may change depending on the wind and sea roughness conditions.
If boat racings are delayed, though, there is plenty to enjoy at the festival. For the first time in its seven years history, organisers had added several Emirati heritage activities, happening on the side-line of the festival.
"The heritage activities focus on fishing and pearl diving; we need to show the new generations our way of life in the past, the tools, equipment and methods used by our fathers and forefathers for fishing and diving," explained Al Mazrouei.
"For the first time at the festival we have set up a museum telling the story of pearl diving. We also have a traditional market, with at least 70 stores, selling traditional, but also modern products," he also said.
The souk shops all belong to Mirfa merchants and artisans, the market being one way of helping the local community to improve their economic means.
According to Al Mazrouei, the participants are well taken care of as well.
Jet ski riders, patrol boats and small traditional wooden boats were all testing the waters of the shores of Mirfa in preparation for the first competition of the seventh Al Gharbia Watersports Festival.
Following the opening ceremony, the official delegation toured the festival site, spread over 20,000 square meters along the white, sandy beach of Mirfa. Some 80 sailors were pushing their boats out at sea, preparing for the first competition of the festival: the tfarees race.
Tfarees are small wooden boats used in the past for fishing in shallow waters. They use along wooden stick, called "janaa" to move the boat.