But the emirate’s balmy climate hasn’t curbed the ambitions of Lebanese-Canadian entrepreneur Rainier Nouhra. With a passion for action sports, he founded Sideways Sports (SWS) in Dubai, building a multi-million dollar business from scratch and becoming a global manufacturer of snowboards, wakeboards and kiteboards.
Today, SWS produces around 300,000 boards a year, serving global brands like Arbor, Jones, and Liquid Force in Europe, the US, Japan and Australia. The company says it is responsible for nearly a third of global snowboard production and makes half the world’s kite and wakeboards.
Producing snowboards in one of the hottest places on Earth is a challenge that Nouhra took on with enthusiasm. “I went to high school in Montreal, Canada, where there is a lot of snow,” he says. “It was the ’80s and snowboarding just became famous. This is what I am passionate about.”
After studying engineering management in Washington DC, Nouhra moved to Dubai in 1997 and joined a company specializing in compression molding, a technique used in the automotive industry.
“Moving from compression molding to snowboard manufacturing was the right thing to do,” Nouhra says. “The process is very similar. It’s a high-tech industry where Dubai is really focused. And the city’s location between three continents gives us access to raw materials that we use in production.”
He began producing wakeboards and kiteboards in 2004, and kickstarted the production of snowboards in 2012. SWS now generates annual revenues of $30 million.
The perfect place for snowboards?
The success of his business is not only dependent on the city’s well-developed composite industry — where materials with different chemical properties are mixed and used for manufacturing in the construction, automotive, aerospace and transportation sectors — but on a more unlikely ingredient: the availability of year-round snow.
One of the world’s largest indoor ski resorts, Ski Dubai, is on his doorstep and has been critical to his business. “It’s 15 minutes away from us,” Nouhra points out. “It’s open the entire year, there is snow all the time; it has the perfect condition and temperature for testing.”
Nouhra and his team can design a board in the morning, test it on Ski Dubai slopes in the afternoon, and take it back to the factory to make adjustments, all in a single working day. Shipping boards around the world is made easy thanks to the SWS factory’s location just a few minutes away from Jebel Ali Port, the largest in the Middle East.
With green credentials becoming a growing part of brand identity, it’s important for SWS’s clients that the boards are produced sustainably. It’s something that resonates with Nouhra and he’s proud that his factory is one of the first in the industry to be fully powered by solar panels, installed on the plant’s rooftop.
“The photovoltaic energy potential we have here is more than two times the one we can get in Europe, US or China,” Nouhra says — proving that making snowboards in the desert isn’t such an off-piste idea after all.