Rajendra Shrestha’s voice reverberates through Abu Dhabi’s Jebel Hafeet mountains as we navigate the treacherous twists and turns of the rapids.
“He fell off! He fell off!”
Shrestha screams as I am abruptly pulled beneath the churning water. Emerging back to the surface, I desperately flail my arms, searching for something to hold onto, hoping to regain stability.
“Relax, relax,” he reassures me, his voice cutting through the chaos. Shrestha reaches out, hauling me back into the raft. He places my paddle in my hands, and we forge ahead, resuming our journey.
This is no ordinary river; it is the result of a $50 million man-made park constructed between Abu Dhabi’s arid mountains on one side and a sprawling desert on the other.
Located in the oasis city of Al Ain, just an hour and a half from Abu Dhabi’s city center, Al Ain Adventure Park proudly claims the title of the Middle East’s first destination for white water rafting, kayaking and surfing.
It’s an unusual sight in a region where no natural rivers exist, and summer temperatures often soar upwards of 120 F (49 C).
In a country where nearly everything is artificially created, including beaches, snow, and even rain, Al Ain Adventure follows suit.
The park boasts a world-class kayaking and rafting experience. White water channels span 1.2 kilometers (0.75 miles), providing a challenging journey for kayakers and rafters of all levels.
Shrestha is a seasoned watersports enthusiast who has spent most of his life rafting. He’s competed professionally in world rafting competitions in Nepal, Japan, India and the UAE. He served as captain of Nepal’s national team, twice.
Shrestha joined the Al Ain Adventure team back in 2010, bringing a wealth of experience to the park.
He says his favorite part of the job is the unique combination of thrilling sports all in one location.
A proving ground for the pros
Al Ain Adventure Park has gained international recognition as a hub for sports professionals seeking to hone their skills in various disciplines.
Drawing athletes from across the globe, including surfing champions, rafters and Olympic kayak teams, the park has become a preferred training destination.
Each year, from November to March, slalom kayakers from Europe and Russia converge on the park for intensive training sessions. The park says it regularly hosts 300-plus athletes from 35 different countries.
Notable competitions held at the park include the prestigious World Rafting Championship organized by the International Rafting Federation in 2016, as well as a series of slalom kayaking training and other competitions.
Maintaining a water park in the middle of a desert environment poses unique challenges that require meticulous upkeep and careful management.
The park relies on desalinated water sourced from another emirate in the country, Ras Al Khaimah, located over 300 kilometers away (186 miles).
This process involves converting seawater into freshwater, which is then treated to meet quality standards.
Overall, the park says it utilizes around 12.4 million gallons of water at any given time.
Al Ain Adventure Park reopened in December 2022 after a three-year hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
For Shrestha, being back in business is a breath of fresh air.
He says the park plans to add more activities – including a cable park for wakeboarding and a zip line course.
Al Ain Adventure Park aims to offer a unique experience where action-packed water sports can coexist in the UAE’s harsh desert climate.