Last Updated on June 21, 2021

Sandboarding as we know it gained popularity in the early 2000s and is today widely practiced in many locations worldwide, but the origins of this sport may date back thousands of years. It is unclear exactly who first invented sandboarding, with some claiming that people in Ancient Egypt would use clay or wooden planks to slide down sand dunes for fun, others tracking the origins of this sport back to the year 800 AD circa when ancient rituals in China involved the use of wood, leather and terracotta boards to slide down the dunes. But it’s only in the past 30 years or so that modern sandboarding was popularized as a sport, finding its fame on the dunes of South America and quickly spreading on deserts and beaches worldwide.

Sandboarding History - Egyptians skiing on sand in 1939s

The History of Sandboarding

Was sand surfing a thing in Ancient Egypt?

Ancient Egyptians loved sports and there are many hieroglyphics depicting people running, swimming, and playing ball sports. Some have claimed that there is evidence of an activity that consisted in gliding down sand dunes using a board-like device, but it is impossible to tell for sure whether sandboarding originated then. Dr. Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University of Cairo, claims that “There is absolutely no evidence that the ancient Egyptians sand boarded—there are no images in tombs or references to such activities in texts“. That said, it’s not hard to imagine that there would be at least some attempts at riding sand dunes by ancient Egyptians, especially since it has been strongly suggested that they would use wet sand to transport stones for building pyramids. If they knew how to make sand slippery enough for rocks to slide on it, it is not farfetched to believe they’d do the same as a means of transport for humans… sliding from one dune to the other.

Origins of modern sandboarding

A more modern version of sandboarding is believed to have born in the mid 20th century in Brazil, where impatient surfers would grab their surfboards and attempt to slide on sand whenever the weather was not windy enough to ride actual waves in the sea. The birthplace of sandboarding is considered to be the city of Florianopolis. In the beginning, practitioners may have used pieces of broken boards, wood and even cardboard to descend the dunes. Nowadays, sandboarding boards look a lot more like snowboards, and the construction materials used include a combination of hardwood ply and laminate plastic. In the 60s, sand surfing first set foot in the United States. The first major developments in sandboarding came around the same time that snowboarding was taking off in the 1970s, but it’s since been overshadowed by other action sports. It’s not until the 1990s that sandboarding started gaining recognition thanks of the effort of a growing community of sand sports enthusiasts: in the year 2000, the Sand Master Park the first and only sport facility dedicated to sandboarding – was launched in Florence, Oregon. Meanwhile, the town of Hirschau in Germany started hosting an annual Sandboarding World Championship in what is the only sand hill with a lift, on Monte Kaolino in Bavaria. This ran until 2007. The event was succeeded by the Sandboard World Cup which now takes places every two years in Ica, Peru – currently one of the most popular sandboarding destinations in the world. Sandboarding clubs were established in the US, South America and Europe in the first decade of the 2000s, whereas the sport is currently gaining traction in Africa (Namibia, Egypt, South Africa), Asia (United Arab Emirates, Israel, Japan), Australia and New Zealand. The “spin-off” sport of volcano boarding, that is, sandboarding on active volcanos, has also become a popular niche activity in Nicaragua, Vanuatu, and Indonesia.

The Future of Sandboarding

Sandboarding is here to stay. The technology to ride on sand has been improving over the years and the number of locations worldwide where you can practice this sport is increasing, and we can unfortunately expect it to keep increasing due to desertification and global warming. Snow is melting and glaciers all over the world are shrinking, causing snowboarders to give the dunes a chance the same way surfers did back in the 70s when they couldn’t find waves available. Sandboarding enthusiasts are also making an active effort to promote this relatively new sport and nowadays you can rent a sandboard or sand dunes on most national parks and beach resorts where sandboarding is practiced. Nobody knows what sand surfing will look like years from now, but it’s exciting to think about how this extreme sport has evolved and spread over the past decades, perhaps even centuries.


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