Sandboarding: the lost art of riding steep sand dunes | Photo: Shutterstock

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

Sandboarding is a blend of 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, 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," wrote Matt Warshaw, author of the "Encyclopedia of Surfing."

"Borrowing templates and technology from snowboarding, the sandboard became longer and wider, with foot straps and slick Formica bottoms."

"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, and knee and elbow pads. Some pilots also apply sandboard wax to increase grip.

Remember that the majority of dunes located on 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 depends not only 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 swallowtails. 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 Sandboard World Cup, run by the International Sandboarding and SandSki Association (InterSands), and also via the Sandboard World Tour Series, a circuit with several stages in North America and South America organized by Dune Riders International (DRI).

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

If you're an avid traveler, you can visit and ride some of 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.

A Quick Sandboarding Lesson

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;

Take a look at our beginner's guide to sandboarding.

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