South African-born Wyndham Tops is the director of leisure at the Emirates Palace, a five-star luxury hotel located on the outer edge of Abu Dhabi’s largest island where it meets the placid open waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Here, the former champion sailor and boat-builder manages the hotel’s entire complex of sports, recreation and outdoor activities, which includes a 1.3 kilometre beach and one of the city’s best-equipped marinas.
“The UAE is boating mad,” he says. “It’s a legacy from the inhabitants’ time as seagoing pearl fishers. The options for sailing and boating here are endless — there are more islands in the Gulf to go and explore than there are days in the year.”
Tops moved from South Africa, where he was working with the Italian Ferretti Group, to Abu Dhabi with his wife, 11 years ago. The couple’s three children were all born in the city, and grew up exploring the sea around it or sailing out to one of its many islands to barbecue and camp.
The conditions for sailing, he says, rival those in many of the world’s better-known nautical destinations. “Here, it’s something you can do almost year-round — even in midsummer, because you can head out to one of the islands when it’s early, and it’s always cooler out on the open water. We have calm waves and nice weather, so it’s the perfect boating environment. We also have a number of sports-fishing boats based in the marina, and there are numerous competitions throughout the year.”
The family has found a strong community around them, anchored by a love of sports and sailing, and their fellow residents of the villa complex based around a large park where they live.
“My kids are friends with kids of every nationality you can imagine,” he says. “They go to an international school, and can cycle safely to school every morning, which is amazing for my six-year-old daughter. It’s a really secure environment that’s great for families, building a community around you and feeling that it’s home.”