Sandboarding: the lost art of riding steep sand dunes

Welcome to the grainy world of sandboarding. If you visit or live near large dunes, you may experience one of the most heart-pumping outdoor activities you will find on the planet.

The sport that was never quite considered an "official sport" is usually practiced in large, steep coastal dunes, and even in hot deserts where oceans and water are only a mirage.

Sandboarding is a blend between surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Instead of descending water, asphalt, or snow, a sandboard rides down or across the dune's face.

The lost art of sandboarding is an old practice, though. Believe it or not, the Ancient Egyptians already used wood planks to slide down the dunes and transport heavy cargo.

However, and according to "The Encyclopedia of Surfing," the first modern enthusiasts of sandboarding only started hitting the grainy slopes between the 1940s and 1960s.

"Sandboarding expanded in the 1970s, largely due to the efforts of Gary Fluitt and Jack Smith. Borrowing templates and technology from snowboarding, the sandboard became longer and wider, with foot straps and slick Formica bottoms," wrote Matt Warshaw, author of the "Encyclopedia of Surfing."

"As with surfboards, it was discovered that longer equipment was better for drawn-out lines on big hills, while shorter boards had the advantage in terms of maneuverability and were used mostly on smaller hills."

Dune du Pilat: Europe's highest dune | Photo: Shutterstock

Gear, spots and stars

The sport, also known as dune surfing or sand surfing, requires a specially-shaped board, gloves, goggles, a helmet, knee and elbow pads. Some pilots also apply sandboard wax to increase grip.

Remember that the majority of dunes located in beaches are extremely sensitive. In many cases, sandboarding can destroy the fragile ecosystem and alter the sand movement dynamics of a particular area.

So, make sure you know where you're carving the dune with your sandboard. The good news is that some of the best sandboarding spots in the world are located in regions where nature is not harmed when you enjoy the thrill of speed.

In sandboarding, the quality of the ride not only depends on dune steepness but also on the quality and type of sand. The equipment under your feet is also important.

There are sandboards of several sizes, but they often range from 4-to-6 feet. The most common templates are square tails, twin tips, and swallow tails. Formica and wood are the preferred core materials.

Sandboards usually include bindings, straps, or bungees, so that you never lose control of the plank. The world's first sandboard park is located in Lane County, Central Oregon. The Sand Master Park offers lessons, rentals, ramps, sliders, and free ride zones.

The sport crowns its champions at the Sandboarding World Championships; Dune Riders International (DRI) is the governing body for all international competitions, which also includes a World Tour with several stages in North America and South America.

Sandboarding: ride the highest dunes in the world | Photo: Shutterstock

If you're an avid traveler, you can visit and ride the highest sand dunes in the world. They are: Cerro Blanco (Peru), Cerro Medanoso (Chile), Badain Jaran and Mingsha Shan (China), Rig-e Yalan Dune (Iran), Rig-e Yalan Dune (Iran), Issaouane-n-Tifernine Sand Sea (Algeria), Big Daddy and Dune 7 (Namibia), Mount Tempest (Australia), Star Dune (Colorado, USA), and the Great Dune of Pilat (France).

Erik Johnson, Marco Malaga, Josh Tenge, Jose Martinez, Bruno Sales, Gabriel Cruz, Abraham Espinoza, and Dito Chavez are some of the stars and legends of sandboarding.

If you want to try sandboarding, follow these steps:

1. Get a proper sandboard and protective gear;
2. Find a long, non-protected sand dune system with a gentle slope;
3. Get acquainted with the sandboard;
4. Perform a short drop and learn how to stop;
5. Go down the dune on your heels to train your balance;
6. Add toe work and ride a steeper hill
7. When you feel comfortable try a few 360s and backflips;