Sandboarding (sometimes also referred to as sand surfing or dune boarding) is an extreme sport similar to snowboarding which is practiced on sand dunes rather than snow. A special board, called a sandboard, is used to ski on sandy terrains, although sand slates are also sometimes used. While still relatively hip and hardly recognised as “official” sports, both sand boarding and sand sledding have gained much popularity over the past couple of decades and have now become a tourist attraction for desert locations worldwide, with sandboarding spots also being artificially created on beach destinations and inside of cities away from deserted areas. Popular sandboarding destinations are Peru, Australia and South Africa, while more recent “sandboarding parks” have been built in Florence, Oregon and Hirschau, Germany – where the Sandboarding World Championships are held yearly.

How to sandboard

Once you get your sandboarding gear and clothing ready, it’s time to head to the dune. Walk up hill until you find a good sliding spot – a steep dune with dry, thin sand and no obstructions is ideal – then place your board on the ground, back up, so you can wax it thoroughly. Make sure to test that the surface of your board is slippery by applying sand to it until it’s no longer sticky. You are now ready to slide down – either standing up “surfing the sand” (make sure your sand board has foot bindings!) or either sitting or lying down on your belly (also known as sand sledding, usually performed with smaller sand sleds or toboggan). The former position will give you more adrenaline and allow you to do tricks, somewhat akin to snowboarding, but will also increase your chances to fall down. Depending on the type of terrain and weather, you may need to wear protective gear to avoid injuries. That said, falling on sand is part of the game and so are the following weeks that you will spend scooping out sands from your clothes and belongings!

When you are ready to slide, position your board on the edge of the dune and your legs on it so that your dominant foot is in front of the board, and tightly strap both of your feet into the bindings. You should be able to push the board forward by slightly bending your knees and using your body weight to advance. If you are sledding on your belly, you can use your arms to push yourself off the dune, making sure to keep your chin and legs up to maintain balance. Whatever position you are in, your goal is to try and keep your weight centered as you slide. If you have experience sliding on snow, you’ll find yourself having less control on your movements when doing this on sand, and you will not be able to significantly change the direction you are going to once you are sliding. But sand surfing can be an incredibly fun and thrilling experience, and once you are downhill, the first thing you’ll want to do is climb back up and do it again!

Is sandboarding difficult?

Sand surfing per se is not difficult, but people who are used to snowboarding will likely find themselves having less control of their movements while sliding on sand. How easy it is to maneauver a sandboard depends on the type, shape and size of the board as well as the type of terrain, wetness of the sand and steepness of the dune. For beginners, it may be easier to start with sand sledding – either lying down on your belly or sitting on a toboggan or sand dune sled rather than standing on your feet.

Sandboarding is an extreme sport

Sandboarding is an extreme action sport and as such, it can be dangerous and in some cases even deadly. All beginner sandboarders are advised to take some minimum safety precautions, bearing in mind that even though the sand looks soft, an eventual fall can be much more painful than it seems.

Wearing protection gear such as a helmet, elbow pads and knee pads while riding very tall dunes is a must, and it is also recommended to always wear comfortable and adequate clothing as a form of protection from scorching. Barefoot / barechest sandboarding should only be practiced on small, coastal dunes in beach areas and not in the desert.


Sandboarding vs Snowboarding

Is sandboarding similar to snowboarding?

While both sports share the same concept of gliding down a hill while riding a piece of wood, sandboarding differs from snowboarding in many ways. Compared to snow, sand has very high friction, which makes sliding on sand much slower than sliding on snowy surfaces, and also making it much harder to turn. Because of this, sandboarding can also be practiced while sitting or laying down on the board. That sad, going down very steep dunes allows one to build up velocity in a way similar with snowboarding, and falling down can be painful – especially on warm days with scorching hot sands. The majority of sandboarding locations are also not equipped with anything similar to ski lifts, which means sandboarders have to walk back up a dune after gliding to the bottom.

Can you use a snowboard on sand?

Short answer: yes, but you shouldn’t. Using a snowboard on a sand dune will result in the inevitable… well, sanding of the board. While it is techinically possible to wax an old snowboard and use it to skii in the desert, it is recommended to buy a sandboard specifically for sand dunes. Nowadays there are plenty of companies worldwide making boards with technologies specifically suited for sandy terrains, which will allow for smoother, faster sliding and have higher maneuverability compared to snowboards or other board sports that don’t belong on sand.

What are sand boards made of?

A sandboard, for sand boarding.
A sandboard.

Compared to that of snowboards, the surface of a sandboard is harder as it usually consists of  a hardwood ply or composite fiberglass and wood with a Formica or Laminex plastic layer at the base. Most boards also come equipped with foot bindings, straps, or bungees. In order to glide better in the sand, the underside of the board needs to be regularly waxed, usually with a paraffin-based wax. While sandboards vary in shape and size, they are often much shorter than snowboards, which allows to further reduce surface friction with the sand, making it easier to glide down rough surfaces. This makes going down a sand dune with a sandboard much more enjoyable than doing the same with a snowboard, surfboard or slate. There are quite a few companies producing high quality, commercial sandboards worldwide nowadays, but you can also make your own DIY board if you prefer.

Sandboards vs sandsleds

Sandsleds (also called sand toboggans or bumsleds) are essentially smaller sandboards meant for sitting or laying down on your belly, and are especially suited for kids. Larger dune sleds can accomodate up to two people sitting. Compared to sandboarding, sand dune sledding is easier as it requires no balancing nor maneuverability skill, making it a fun and safe activity that is both family-friendly and ideal for beginners.

Read more: Best sandboards and sand dune sleds [2020]

When was sandboarding invented?

The origins of sandboarding sports are not clear, with some claiming this sport could be dating back a good 2000 years. Was sliding down sand dunes a thing in Ancient Egypt? Possibly! More recently, reports of modern sandboarding date back to the mid 20th century, with surfers in Brazil taking their boards on sand whenever there was not strong enough wind or sea waves to surf on. Across the United States, people were also “surfing” on sand dunes in the 60s, way before specific sand board equipment was invented. The first major developments in sandboarding came around the same time that snowboarding was taking off in the 1970s, but only began to capture the center stage as one of the most exciting outdoor adventure sports within the past ten years.

State of sandboarding in

Since its growth in popularity, sand parks have popped up all across the globe and dune riders have gathered together to showcase their talents at tournaments and events in idyllic settings like Dubai, Australia, Namibia, Japan, Chile and the Western United States. It was only around the late 90s and early 2000s that people started recognizing sandboarding as an official sport activity, with sandboard manufacturers starting to develop technological equipment tailored to meet the needs of sandboarders and addressing common issues of using snow equipment on sand. Today, the sport has gained enough attention to attract people worldwide with several sandboarding facilities and events in every continent. Modern sandboarding was especially made popular by the effort of Lone Beale (a.k.a. “Doctor Dune”), owner of the Sand Master Park in Florence, Oregon -the first recreation facility in the world entirely dedicated to sandboarding and dune sledding. Read more: History and Origins of Sandboarding

Next page: Sandboarding FAQs

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