Words & photos by Blair Alley

It’s not everyday that a random email can result in an unexpected eye-opening and semi-life changing trip halfway around the world, but in our industry that sort of thing can happen. So when I got invited to check out the tenth anniversary of the Dubai Desert Extreme contest going down in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, it was worth a reply. Getting someone to pony up for the airfare took some time and back and forth emails in completely different timezones, but somehow on a Monday morning I had an itinerary in my inbox for a flight to Dubai leaving the next day—I almost forgot to call my mom to tell where I’d be for the next week in case she needed to get a hold of me.


Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Shahriar Khodjasteh and Kader Hadri from DDE and Rage Skateshops were beyond hospitable in getting us all to Abu Dhabi after 24 hours of planes, trains, and automobiles. Checking into a four-star hotel on the beach with shisha and cold drinks waiting can wipe jetlag right off your face. The next four days was a blur of sightseeing amid blazing Middle East heat, long days at the contest site guest judging and shooting photos, and even longer nights at the bars and beaches of Abu Dhabi. Scroll on down and get filled in on the rest of it all—the article is broken up into several pages, so to be sure to click through to the next pages at the bottom.


First stop on the first day, a guided tour of the world’s largest Muslim mosque. Can’t help the skater’s eye in us all. Perfect marble ledge that will never be skated.


All marble columns inlayed with precious gemstones from around the world.


Women had to wear headscarves to enter the mosque, us dudes just had to take our shoes off.


24 karat gold Arabic writing on the inside of the domes.


Our tourguide Mohammed. Like McLovin said in Superbad, it really is one of the most popular names in the world.


Shahriar and Finnish vert vet Jussi Korhonen checking out the gemstone and marble walls inside.


Event announcer flown down from the UK, Andrew Critchlow and Jussi.


That’s Alex Mizurov taking an iPhone photo of the Muslim prayer clock. It’s got the 5 times of the day they have to pray to Mecca, the sixth time on the clock denotes sunrise.


The big boy chandelier in the main prayer room that weighs two tons. Women ain’t allowed to pray in here, ya heard.


The person giving the service stands in that gold-filled alcove which helps amplify his voice. On the wall in Arabic are the 99 names of Allah. This is the wall that is prayed towards as it faces Mecca. We learned a grip of interesting stuff about the Muslim faith. Impressive for sure.


Did I mention how tight our tourguide was?


FYI, this is the world’s biggest Persian rug. It was made in Iran, then had to be cut into sections to transport to this mosque. It has raised lines in it so at prayer time, people can line up properly.


Jetlagged and sweating on the first day, but here’s our crew: Drew York, Blair Alley, Darryl Tocco, Sam Beckett, Jussi Korhonen, Andrew Critchlow, and Alex Mizurov. Flossin’ marbs.


Oh, just tryin’ to get artsy.


The marble out here was especially chosen since it doesn’t retain heat. It was 100 degrees this day and you could stand on the white marble barefoot, but if you touched the colored parts, it was super hot. This mosque can hold up to 50,000 worshippers at once, has 70 domes all topped with 24 karat gold, and 1,000 marble columns.


Another one of the Grand Mosque’s grand skatespots.


More touristing! Next stop was the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, an authentic replica of a Bedouin encampment before oil wealth struck the area. Stuff in here dates back 4,000 years.


Across the water, construction was booming. Yes, there are a ton of brand new all-marble spots in Abu Dhabi.


A traditional souq, or marketplace. We loaded up on the souvenirs and keffiyehs.


A recreation of mud-brick houses in the foreground with modern-day Abu Dhabi skyscrapers in the back.


I think you can take camel rides here, but maybe it was just too hot this day.


The DDE Championships was in a big indoor event site shared by a car show. People in the U.A.E. are really into their cars, so here are a few flicks for you gearheads. One of the freshest Impalas I’ve ever seen.



Local auto enthusiast with the skate set up in the back.


‘Lac hittin’ switches.


All the hipsters buying vintage motorcycles will never have a bike this cool.


This fool won mad awards. Never seen so many Lambo doors on Asian cars.


Okay, on to the contest course. The kids in U.A.E. love them some flatground.


In between heats stress relief, or mega ramp training?


Local photogs totally vibing me.


It kinda felt like an ASR show at times. Some things are the same no matter where in the world you are.


Hopefully you’re still with us after all that tourism! Vert demo time. The UK’s finest up and coming vert skater, Sam Beckett.


Jussi Korhonen going frontside.


“Critch” is a natual on the mic. Give him a cup of tea and let him loose.


You may have heard the U.A.E. is really strict on its alcohol and drug laws…


A small sampling of the crew that made this all possible: DDE Marketing’s Kader Hadri, ramp master Phil, and BMX bowse Drew York.


You know Arabs love their drifting. Outside they were burning the tires off these Skylines going 120 m.p.h. The reason this photo is foggy is because going from the air conditioning in the building to the stifling humidity outside fogged my shit up.


Local ripper Evan Collisson, Alex Mizurov, and local Mark Issa. Alex was there to do demos, the other two competed in the DDE contest.


One time world SKATE champ Alex Mizurov put on precision-tech demos everyday. He can flip in or out of these switch crooked grinds on call and played every kid there in SKATE at least twice.


Evan Collisson is the perfect ambassador for Dubai/Abu Dhabi skateboarding. Mellow, very nice, and super buttery style. It’s no surprise he’s on Stereo flow out there.


Evan Collisson, back Smith.


The kids out there love their spread-eagle tre flips. Mark Issa is consistent.


Boned out kickflip from local Karim.


Mark Issa 360 flips from the deck to the vert ramp. He qualified first in the semis of the contest, but couldn’t put it down as hard on finals day.


Local Omar Al Abbar took the drop from vert deck into a bank to kick off his runs.


Mr. Mizurov with a backside triple flip with minimal effort.


Evan Collisson ended up taking first with his flowing lines and smooth gnarliness. Omar Al Abbar in the red shirt took second. This was the first contest I ever helped judge—it was fun as hell!


Not only did this dude wreck his knee in the BMX contest (hence the wheelchair), he still placed and had the best name of the weekend.


After three days’ hard work, it was time to unwind and let loose. Shahriar being the accomodating host that he is had us VIP in every club and made sure our glasses never ran dry. Here’s the Persian Tornado briefly captured by my iPhone.


The view of Abu Dhabi from the top of club Aloft. There will probably be buildings in all those holes the next time we’re in town.


On the last day, the weather actually cooled off and there was a nice desert breeze. This is the beach at our hotel with constant construction across the way. After this was shot we were off to the Dubai airport for a mind-bending 24 hours of travel back to the good ol’ U.S. of A. Mucho thanks to the Rage and DDE staff that made this trip possible. The locals in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have a really positive tight-knit scene, not to mention some of the best spots on the globe at their disposal. Everyone we met and hungout with was unbelievably cool and from such varied backgrounds. Epic friendships were made and hopefully we’ll all be back in the magic of the U.A.E. soon. The worldwide brotherhood of skateboarding never ceases to amaze.

DDE Champs video filmed by Tamer Ramadan