Will the hydros conquer Arabia?

Seattle-style boat racing heads to the Persian Gulf, but there's an Arab sport that could prove popular here too.
Seattle-style boat racing heads to the Persian Gulf, but there's an Arab sport that could prove popular here too.

This item is just too good to pass up. The country that gave us the Al Jazeera TV network is about to get something loud that pleases a crowd: hydroplane racing.

A story in the Seattle Times fills us in: the thunder boats will soon be roaring around a 2.5 mile course in Qatar's Doha Bay chasing after the Oryx Cup to cap off the 2009 hydro season (they will have already competed at Seafair on Lake Washington). The American Boat Racing Association has signed a three-year deal to race in Qatar (pronounced "gutter," a place where many overly enthusiastic Seattle fans wind up after a day in the beer garden).

Qatar is a thumb of land that sticks into the Persian Gulf from the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, and is generally considered just a tad more exotic than the usual hydro cities like Madison, Indiana, Detroit, or the Tri-Cities, which are also on the circuit.

You would know all about Qatar if you had been at Town Hall last week and heard former Seattle Weekly columnist Melissa Rossi (known here as club columnist Babs Babylon) talk about her new book, What Every American Should Know About the Middle East in which Rossi profiles all the countries in the region and has produced a highly entertaining, readable combination travel-and-political guidebook. Qatar is a wealthy emirate inhabited by more foreign workers than locals. It was also host to the WTO meetings following the Battle in Seattle (after us, they required an armed camp).

The hydros will have competition, however. The people of Qatar have their own favorite form of competition: camel racing with robot jockeys. Seriously. (Check out this You Tube video for a background on the sport in the United Arab Emirates.) Robots were developed to replace starving immigrant children who were forced to serve as camel jockeys until human rights activists forced a change.

Which raises the question: what about a cultural exchange? They get the Miss Elam and we get R2D2 of Arabia. Robot camel racing could catch on big in the land of Microsoft.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.