Summer is finally in the air and with it comes some wonderful activities that bring friends together for trips to the beach, to celebrate and bond, while enjoying twilight skies and oceanic vibes.
In Oman, late afternoons and early evenings at the beach are reserved for not only picnics but also for intense football sessions, where teams of locals can be spotted sprinting across the beach in a soccer battle that usually ends with a friendly (and sometimes entertaining) argument, and possibly, a dip in the end. That said, I always ask myself what makes this recreational activity a summer favourite among young Omanis? The boys in Muscat enjoy the game for its family-friendly atmosphere and the open space that surrounds them, despite the humid heat. The ambience that carries the aromas from the ocean is unbeatable, and as they play, they work out a much-needed sweat making it a great overall training regimen.
Before going to the beach to explore this phenomenon, I did some quick research and realised that the best players come from coastal countries. Ronaldo of Brazil and Messi of Argentina are two celebrity footballers who are masters in their field, and they kicked off their passion at the beach before becoming professional players; and not forgetting our very own role model Ali Al Habsi who brought pride to the nation as one of the best goalkeepers. Is it a coincidence? I think not; beach soccer has been the breeding ground of footballers for years. And thanks to FIFA beach football, this sport became a widely recognised professional sport that has its own following across the globe.
Here, we have our own Oman national beach soccer team that competes in FIFA international matches and Asian Beach Games.
But if we put aside the professional aspect of it and focus on the sport being a recreational activity, we’d realise that it is more than just a pastime sport; it creates families of friends and revives the love for football.
Young men have always been passionate about football. They would play it outside their homes in the interiors and around Muscat in their early teens, and then a few years later would move a level up and hold friendly matches at the park, and finally, once in high school, would have a fixed weekly game at the beach.
In my childhood I would go to Qurum beach with my brother and his friend and play ball until sunset. Because of my size, I was usually the goalkeeper, but I used to enjoy every bit of it. So, has this cultural activity changed through the years? The answer is no. Even though we have grass fields spread across town, many still prefer to battle it out on soft, sandy surfaces, especially during the weekends.
To refresh my memory, I went to one of the hubs for recreational beach soccer, North Al Hail beach, and got excited watching young men of all ages passing the ball around and having a wonderful time. It was a lovely scene. And, I had the pleasure of meeting two young Omanis — Haitham Al Azri and Nasser Salim — who’ve been playing by the beach for years, recreationally, and shared their opinion on this fun-filled activity.
“Locals prefer the beach for its healthy air and the sea,” said Nasser, adding that the free, open space that surrounds the players and the families around creates a unique environment that transcends the idea of just-a-sport.
“It’s a great place to keep yourself busy and enjoy a fun challenge,” he added.
“It’s hard to play on the sand and it’s very healthy,” said Haitham, adding, “Nowadays, social media has made it easy, and you can make plans through groups and get the required number of players. If you’re short on numbers, people at the beach will join in, which makes it a fun and spontaneous activity.”
“Until a few years ago, we didn’t have enough football pitches. Now, even though we do, some of us prefer the vibe of playing on the sand,” said Nasser.
So, now that we know that Oman’s soccer passion is rooted in beach football, what benefits does it offer to the player?
When Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona Club chooses the beach surface to train his injured knee, then you know it’s a legitimate option. Sportsmen have taken advantage of beaches when they’re in need of a strength boost and proper physical preparation, as the beach has a surface that’s easy on the joints and perfect for their recovery. There are tonnes of other benefits that come with playing on an uneven, sandy surface. It is a great way to train your feet and get them used to the stinging sensation of touching a sand-covered beach ball, as playing barefoot will help you master the art of touch, and you’ll also get control over your movements.
Another thing about beach soccer is that the playing surface forces you to use extra strength, giving your body an adrenaline kick. The high level of intensity is what keeps many local folks hooked to this sport. “We need more energy while playing on the beach than on the grass, which trains you to run faster,” said Haitham.
Nasser also noticed that playing on the sand works to improve overall control of the ball. “If you are an aspiring footballer, then starting on the beach will help you hone important skills,” he said.
Beach soccer also improves your breathing and balance. “You might feel unbalanced and out of breath at the beach, but that is good exercise for you, and you will see great improvements when you play on grass fields,” said Nasser.
“The best part is, after all the mess on the sand, we get to swim and enjoy the beach before going home, which is what 80 per cent of Omanis do after the game,” said Haitham.
So, where can you play this sport in town? Al Qurum beach is the most popular hub for beach soccer aficionados, both expats and locals, especially after 4pm, when the beach is swarming with teams of players excited to battle for the title and take a dip soon after. For Seeb residents, North Al Hail is a great option, it stretches all the way to Seeb souq, and is full of all kinds of beach flavours and atmospheres.
As a community, we must continue to encourage youngsters to take advantage of this activity as it is a globally loved sport and a locally celebrated one. With tournaments being conducted and awareness being raised, this culture is here to stay. —[email protected]
Indoor activities during the summer
It is that time of the year when getting into your car that has been parked outside for a while during the day feels like you are entering an oven, when stepping out of the office or home feels like plain, brutal torture, and no amount of water or liquids is ever enough to keep yourself cool and hydrated.
It is summer and everyone is looking for excuses to avoid the wrath of the sun. So, while outdoor activities are going to be out of the question for the next few months, it certainly doesn’t mean that you need to rot in boredom all day and night, especially during the weekends.
Here are the fun things that you can do this summer without sweating it out.
Combat sports that you can actually practice are great fun for aggressive kinds. The best indoor alternative to paintball is laser tag, a very sci-fi-esque game, played inside a dark arena where you can bring the wannabe warrior in you to life. Usually played between two teams, every player is given laser guns and a thick vest that they need to use to tag members from the other team. The game is not just about randomly running and shooting at people, but it involves intense strategy, strong reflexes, and great aim. By the time you finish a round and come out of the arena eager to know if your team has lost or won, you will be sweating and panting and will still feel the adrenaline even minutes after you are out.
Lazer Runner, Panorama Mall
With the sole aim to make all of the 10 bottle-like pins fall by hurling the big ball towards them along the smooth long wooden lane, you can go with your group of friends and chill in the airconditioned bowling alley, while playing a competitive round or two of recreational bowling. A strike is 10 points plus the number of pins knocked down for the next two rolls; a spar is 10 points plus the number of pins knocked down on the next roll. On the tenth and final frame, if you roll a strike, you get two additional rolls in which to rack-up points.
Oman Bowling Centre, Al Khuwair
Fun Zone, Qurum
Al Masa Bowling Centre, Al Masa Mall
Escape room is a fun game that lets you use logic and the mind to get out of a locked room that can only be opened on solving a puzzle or a riddle. And all this needs to be done within 60 minutes. The rooms have different themes and stories ranging from detective puzzles to haunted houses and adventures. Beat the heat and use your mind, while enjoying a fun group game.
Troom Room, Azaiba Mall
Xcape Room, Al Sarooj