As he crosses over the Nile every morning en route to work, Mohsen El Shaarani has to fight a strong urge – strapping on his wakeboard and riding the river’s waves.
A wakeboarding pro, El Shaarani finds this habit hard to shake off. “It’s addictive, he says, “the first time I jumped over those waves I knew there was no other sport I’d rather play.
“It’s the adrenaline rush . there is no feeling like it.
Last November, El Shaarani’s board whizzed by 11 Arab riders, carrying him to first place and earning Egypt a gold medal in the Arab Wakeboard Competition in Qatar.
During his sophomore year at college, El Shaarani and a friend took on water skiing as a hobby. But soon enough Ihab Ghaly, who El Shaarani refers to as the “Godfather of wakeboarding, took them under his wing.
With him they started practicing “Classic Ski which to El Shaarani is now considered “basic stuff, with double skis such as “doing crosses or lifting one leg and so on.
Watching wakeboarding on TV prompted them to test the waters themselves. “At first it felt very awkward, I wasn’t well trained yet . but with practice, I started to like it more and more. He later started training with the Egyptian Water Ski Federation that often brought in foreign instructors.
El Shaarani is driven by his keen appetite for more tricks. He would rely on individual efforts, such as online research be it through reading or watching videos, to hone his skills.
Extreme sports on the Nile
Conveniently, El Shaarani maneuvers his board around the Nile. “If I didn’t have the Nile, I wouldn’t be able to practice, he said.
There is a common misconception, he says, about Egypt’s river. “People think it’s dirty, but they don’t see it deep in the middle where it is clear. The river’s current, El Shaarani explains, acts as a natural cleanser.
He usually takes off from the river’s banks in Maadi, Giza and Zamalek – which he says offers the best conditions for wakeboarding. “I never fully comprehended that Zamalek was actually an island until I circled it, he joked.
Wakeboarding in Egypt
El Shaarani takes pride in the fact that wakeboarding is not common in Egypt. “We’re doing something that not a lot of people do, he boasts.
However, by the same token, he is optimistic that the sport will catch on. Proof of that is its spread in beach resorts such as the North Coast. “It is very common among the North Coast community, El Shaarani said.
He also sees the wakeboarding competition held at the coast’s Hacienda Bay last summer as a great launching pad.
While he sees people only taking it on as a hobby during the summer, he still hopes this sport will grow further and “is practiced all year round on various water surfaces in Egypt such as Aswan and Alexandria.
El Shaarani hailed the fact that the Gouna resort is listed as one of the top water ski spots in the world on the International Water Ski Federation’s official website.
Wakeboarding for dummies
To break the sport down to its most basic tricks, El Shaarani explained that balance and timing are key. The rider’s weight should be balanced on both legs, otherwise the board will involuntarily turn. The handle should be in the center of gravity of the rider’s body, he said.
A wakeboarding boat generates two waves in an inverted V-shape, to execute a basic jump – that can go as high as two meters – the rider typically jumps off one wave exactly when it hits the center of the board, landing on the other. The waves act as a cushion, lessening the landing’s impact.
To take those waves, a rider has to be armed with a board, a non-stretch rope (to avoid any slack during a jump which can cause a rider to lose balance mid-trick), a handle, a life vest, bindings and a wakeboarding boat; that is equipped to control the waves’ curvature according to the rider’s preference.
Riding for the gold
El Shaarani showed off his tricks at four different competitions; the National Tricks Competition in 2000 (second place), the National Wakeboard Competition in 2002 and 2007 (fourth Place and second place, respectively), and finally the Arab Wakeboard Competition in 2008 (first place.)
He recalls wowing the judges in Qatar with two specific tricks that earned him – and Egypt – the gold medal. The first of which is the 360 Wake; where the rider jumps, spins 360° on his own axis while passing the handle to the other hand and landing on the other wave.
The second trick, called the Back Roll, involves jumping and emulating a cartwheel in the air and landing on the second wave.
Currently a member in the Egyptian Water Ski Federation’s technical committee, El Shaarani has his eye on international competitions but realizes it will need discipline.
On his part, El Shaarani trains aspiring riders on a friendly basis as well as others under the auspices of the federation. He is confident that the wakeboarding fever will catch on, “because the first time you land a new trick, you get hooked.