Wadi Shab turned into one of Oman’s biggest wadi bashes staged almost in the tradition of MTV-style pool parties, albeit sans the sweaty bodies and sultry gyrations.
The finale of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championship 2012, held here in Oman for the first time in the Middle East, was indeed a blowout for the estimated 5,000 people who converged on the Sultanate’s very own Grand Canyon at the weekend. Fans hailing from all backgrounds — Omanis and expatriates, young and old, locals and tourists — poured into this wildly breathtakingly beautiful wadi, located about 90 minutes from Muscat, just off the Qurayat-Sur motorway.
Clutching parasols, mats and inflatables, they scurried to the site
of the championship, located about a kilometre from the mouth of the snaking wadi where the divers prepared to take the plunge into emerald-green pools. Those not fortunate enough to sport wrist bands that gained the wearers access to ringside spectator areas, found perches on the higher reaches of adjoining cliffs. Others waded into the shallow end of the pools or lounged on the water surface in inflated life-rafts. Clad in party-wear casuals, the spectators were a riot of colour against the stark grandeur of the surrounding cliffs.
The event began in earnest upon the arrival of His Highness Sayyed Tareq bin Shabib al Said, under whose patronage the grand finale in Oman was held. Officials from the Ministry of Tourism, representing the Muscat Arab Tourism Capital 2012 initiative, were also in attendance, as were senior figures from a number of corporate and retail sponsorship firms. The atmosphere was decidedly carnival-like as the usually tranquil Wadi Shab reverberated with the raucous cheers of excited spectators as a DJ kept the party-like ambience going with non-stop musical beats.
Adding a traditional touch to the festive atmosphere was the presence of what appeared to an Omani folk troupe who gingerly made their way across a narrow ledge overlooking the dive site. The crowd broke into rapturous applause as the troupe performed a traditional Omani jig. But to everyone’s delightful surprise, the ‘artistes’ simply took off their dishdashas and turbans to reveal themselves as the stars of the day — the eight finalists of the cliff diving championship.
That amusing gimmick set the tone for nearly two hours of high-adrenaline dive stunts that simply blew the minds away of adoring fans massed down below. As the divers took turns to position themselves on the edge of the high dive board 27 metres above the water — some of them also performed a breathtaking handstand before somersaulting into the air — a hushed silence enveloped the wadi. With 5,000 or so pairs of eyes rivetted on them, the divers flipped, pirouetted, twisted, cartwheeled through the air before jackknifing into the water. There were thunderous cheers as the verdicts of a five-member international jury, that included Olympic legend Greg Louganis, were read out.
Hoping to capitalise on the limelight, local cliff diving wannabes tried to attract attention by occasionally jumping from shallow ledges, much to the consternation of the organisers. But the stunts, while commendable for their courage, paled in comparison to the hair-raising dives by the international team. It the end, it was reigning champion Gary Hunt of the UK who pipped rival Orlando Duque of Colombia to the coveted title by a paltry two points. In third place was David Colturi of the United States. In keeping with the Omani setting of the event, the winners were presented with Omani style earthen pots as trophies.
While there was no doubting the awesome nature of the performances dished out by the divers on Thursday, there was also broad consensus that Wadi Shab, with its magnificent backdrop with stunning emerald-green blues, had a fundamental role to play in the spectacular success of the final. Over the years, this success, experts hope, will translate into stronger tourist traffic flows into the Sultanate especially as television footage of the event, captured by an international crew of camerapersons, is aired around the world on TV and online channels.