Franco Diaz: the sandboarder who rides dunes like a surfer

Franco Diaz rides dunes like surfers ride waves. Meet the Chilean sandboarder who draws unique lines in the world's driest desert.

In many ways, sandboarding is the closest sport to surfing.

The shape of dunes, the way sand sometimes tumbles when the rider passes by, and the speed they can reach as they descend the slope remind us of wave gliders.

Franco Diaz has a unique style. His approach to dune-riding makes him somehow a sand surfer.

Diaz was born in Iquique, Chile. The city lies in the heart of the driest nonpolar desert on the planet, the Atacama Desert.

He runs the Munay Sandboard travel agency that offers sandboarding tours, paragliding flights, and diving experiences.

Franco started sandboarding in 2014.

"I was with some friends trying to do something new when the dune was a big garbage dump. So, we adapted some skateboards for the sand," the Chilean sandboarder told SurferToday.

Iquique: a sandboarding town in the heart of the Atacama Desert | Photo: Diaz Archive

Surf-Influenced Dune Riding

Diaz has a sandboarding spot he calls home.

It's a large dune called Cerro Dragón. It is 2.5 miles (four kilometers) long, and its highest point is 330 yards (300 meters) above sea level.

"Outside my city, there are several giant dunes. My favorite is Duna Cerebro. It is located in the middle of the desert, 30 miles (50 kilometers) from my house," adds Diaz.

Franco Diaz's signature sandboarding style, which is very surf-influenced, makes us wonder: Has he ever practiced any other board sport, like surfing or skateboarding?

"In my city, there are more than 20 excellent waves, and I have been surfing since I was a child, even though I prefer bodyboarding," reveals the talented sandboarder.

"There is also a large skatepark where I have been skateboarding, longboarding, and skate-surfing since I was a child."

"All these sports combine very well with sandboarding, and where I live, you can practice all sports at any time."

Sandboarding is actually quite popular in Iquique.

"People from all over the world come here to surf the dunes. It is also a new sport for snowboarders and board riders."

Franco Diaz: his favorite sandboarding dune is Duna Cerebro | Photo: Diaz Archive

Riding Duna Cerebro

The goofy-footer likes to ride the endless dune lines with friends and share the experience with everyone because "it is more entertaining."

But some sand ridges are more special than others.

"The dunes of Iquique are my favorite," explains Franco.

"Here, you can find natural ramps and walls with soft sand for surfing. My favorite spots are near my house, just 15 minutes by car."

"Unlike other dunes, here there are no animals that inhabit the area, no stones or trees; there is just sand everywhere."

"It doesn't rain or get cold here, and the dune is inside the city."

All dune systems are different. But what's the hardest one?

"Duna Cerebro is the most difficult dune. It took me years to master it," underlines the Chilean sandboarder.

"While descending, you find bowls of white sand that you must surf very well to continue going down with speed."

"And in the lower area, you'll get thick sand that makes carving difficult."

"It is also a very technical dune that requires good physical condition to climb back to the top."

Sandboard Paragliding

A well-rounded sandboarder never stops. During winter, Diaz heads south of Chile for the snowboarding season.

You might think dunes are smooth and cushioned like powder snow, but wipeouts can be serious and cause injuries.

"Many years ago, I fell on my butt and broke my coccyx. It took me weeks to sit down again. But I have had other accidents surfing, too."

Franco Diaz wants to keep spreading the sandboarding stoke to his fellow Chileans and foreigners who have never tried the sport.

"Sandboarding is a sport that has been practiced for more than 40 years but has recently become famous thanks to social media," notes the Iquique local.

"In recent years, the number of people in the dunes has increased, igniting some changes. But I wish more riders could share this passion."

Meanwhile, Diaz will continue to hit the Atacama Desert dunes with one dream in mind.

"I am currently learning to paraglide. I want to fly over the dune on a sandboard. It will be exciting."


Words by Luís MP | Founder of SurferToday.com

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