Last Updated on January 18, 2024

Sand surfing is a definitely a thing – and this unique sport is more mainstream than you think.

Sand Dune Surfing
Sand surfing is an extreme board sport of carving down steep sand dunes in a way similar to snowboarding.

Extreme sports have always been the result of adventurous people trying to challenge themselves out of their comfort zone and experiment with their surroundings in order to find new exciting and thrilling ways to have fun.

This is exactly how the sport of sand surfing was born.

Today, the niche sport of “sandboarding” is getting more and more traction, with riders sledging down sand dunes in exotic destinations all over the world.

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Sandboarder in Cape Town, South Africa
Sandboarder near Cape Town, South Africa.

What is sand surfing?

Sand surfing (also dune surfing, desert surfing) is a generic term that describes the practice of gliding down sand dunes.

More specific names such as sandboarding, sand sledding, and sand skiing are often preferred depending on the kind of equipment used, but they all refer to a sport activity in which some kind of board is used to descend down sand dunes at high speed.

Sandboarding is what comes closest to actual surfing (or snowboarding), since sandboards are usually equipped with foot bindings and allow you to glide while standing.

To participate in sand surfing, you’ll need a sandboard, a specialized board designed specifically for riding on sand.

Sandboards are typically shorter and wider than snowboards, and they often have a specialized base to help them glide smoothly over the sand.

If you prefer bodyboarding, you can opt for a sandsled instead.


History of sand dune surfing

Sand Dune Surfing at Monahans Sand Dunes
Monahans Sand Surfing The Dunes. Photo courtesy of Josh Spencer.

Unsurprisingly, sand surfing was born as a way for surfers in Brazil to spend time when the waters were too calm for them to ride real waves.

Specifically, the sport of sand surfing originated in the city of Florianópolis, in the Brazilian region of Santa Catarina.

Going further back in time, historians suggest that a similar activity may have been practiced thousands of years ago in Ancient Egypt, with people descending on desert dunes using a tool similar to a snowboard.

Modern sandboarding developed as an adaptation of snowboarding on desert sand dunes, with several established communities of sand surfers in South America, and a growing following in the US and Australia.

It is unclear for how long sand surfing has been a recognized sport, but it was popularized only in the early 90s in the US and Peru, and it is still gaining popularity today across the world.

Sandboard used for sand surfing
Wooden sandboard used for sand surfing.

Sand surfing boards and equipment

A sand surfing board is especially fabricated to glide on sand, a type of terrain which is normally not slippery.

Do not attempt to use a regular surfboard on sand, because you will end up ruining it and it won’t be as effective.

Sandboards and sand sleds are usually made of a hardwood layer with a thick laminate base, on which sandboard wax needs to be applied before each ride.

Sandboard wax minimizes friction between sand and the board allowing for better performance as you descend the dunes.

You can build your own sand surfing board (or modify your regular surfboard) or buy a commercial sandboard which already comes with food bindings (or seat pads if you decide to go for a sand sled).

Sand Surfing in Huacachina, Peru.

Sand Windsurfing

Windsurfing can also be practiced on sand, where it is also known with the name of sand kiting, sand kiteboarding, or sand kitesurfing.

This variation of sand surfing is practiced with a mountainboard with wheels or a kite buggy and uses the power of the wind to move, while allowing you to land on soft sand.


Sand surfing destinations

United States

There are plenty of great locations where you can surf on sand dunes across the United States.

The state of Oregon offers the most opportunities for sand surfing and other recreational sand activities across the coast, with the Sand Master Park in Florence known as the very first sport facility in the continent entirely dedicated to sand boarding and sledding.

California’s Mojave Desert is also a top destination for desert surfing with plenty of surfable sand spots such as the Dumont Dunes and the Kelso Dunes, and there are plenty of coastal dunes for sand surfing around SoCal as well.

In Utah, the Coral Pink Dunes and Little Sahara Recreation Area are popular with sand surfers.

And if you are planning to go sand surfing in Colorado you can have access to some of the largest dunes in North America – the Great Sand Dunes, of course.

Sandboarding in the US

Read more: Where to go sandboarding in the US

Sand Dune Surfing at Monahans Sand Dunes
Monahans Sand Surfing The Dunes. Photo courtesy of Josh Spencer.

Peru

Peru is the one of the most sought-after sand surfing destinations and the little natural oasis town of Huacachina (near the city of Ica) has become a hot spot for sand sports enthusiasts worldwide.

This idylliac village oasis is not the only place in the country where this activity is practiced, but definitely one of the most memorable.

There are many sand surfing spots in Nazca, including the infamous Cerro Blanco – one of the most challenging peaks to slide on.


Arabian Peninsula

The Arabian Peninsula is home to what is undoubtedly one of the most famous deserts in the world – the whimsical Arabian Desert.

It’s not a surprise that sandboarding is a popular recreational activity in countries souch as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.

The sand dunes surrounding Dubai and Abu Dhabi are especially popular as a recreational area for sand surfing and dune bashing, which attract thousands of extreme sports enthusiasts to the country all year round.


Australia

Sand surfing is a very popular recreational activity on the coasts of Australia, particularly in the NSW area with the infamous Stockton Beach near Port Stephens.

Other popular sandboarding destinations are the Lancelin Sand Dunes in Western Australia and Little Sahara in Kangaroo Island.

Read more: Sand Surfing in Australia


Southern Africa

South Africa has recently seen a boom of sand surfing tours and facilities.

There are countless beach dunes around Cape Town and all around the country, including both coastal dunes, artificial sand hills, and dunes in the Kalahari desert.

It is also possible to sandboard on desert sand dunes at the Witsand Nature Reserve, which shares part of the Kalahari desert with the neighbouring country of Namibia, another country where sandboarding is extremely popular, and people also enjoy sand skiing.

Read more: Sand Surfing in South Africa


Israel

One of the fastest-growing new destinations for sand surfing is Israel, a country with over half of its territory covered by the Negev desert.

The area in Ramat Negev, close to Beer Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon, is quickly becoming a new hotspot for sandboarders woldwide.

Read more: Sand Surfing in Israel

Girl sandboarding / sandsurfing in the desert
Woman sand surfing in the desert. Photo by Misho Cha on Pexels.com

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Browse more sandboards and sandsleds


Sand Surfing FAQs

Can you surf on sand?

Sand surfing (or sandboarding) is a popular recreational activity and one of the coolest new sports out there.

Special sand surfing boards are built in a way that minimizes friction with sand with the aid of wax, allowing for smooth rides on desert and beach dunes.

Sand dune surfing is growing in popularity worldwide, but especially in desert locations across the US, South America, the UAE and Australia.


Sand surfing in the desert

Most hot deserts have locations suitable for dune surfing, there you can find the best rides thanks to the dry environmental conditions, soft sand and tall, steep dunes.

The deserts in South America, Africa and the Middle East are especially suited for this as they are rarely covered in vegetation.


Sand surfing at the beach

Sandboarding is widely practiced on beach dunes as well, especially in Australia and New Zealand.

Coastal dunes are usually shorter and less steep and better suited for dune sledding, but sand surfing can be a lot of fun there nonetheless (and it requires less hiking back on top of the dune).

In certain areas of Brazil and Hawaii it is possible to surf both on sand and water with a skim board.


Sand surfing on volcanos

You can surf on active volcanos where the lava from a recent eruption generated a slope.

This sport takes the name of volcano boarding (or ash boarding) and it can only be practiced on a handful of locations worldwide: Nicaragua, Guatemala, Italy, Indonesia, Vanuatu and Japan.


Sandsurfing at Huacachina Oasis, Peru
Sandboarding jump.

What is sand sledding?

Sand sledding is an activity that involves the use of sleds to go down sand dunes while sitting or laying down on your belly, similarly to bodyboarding.

Sand sleds, also called bumsleds or sand toboggans, are usually made of the same material as sandboards but smaller and wider in size.


What kind of wax do you need for sand surfing?

Sandboard wax is a fat-based substance meant to reduce friction between your sand surfing board and the terrain.

Wax needs to be applied to the base of your board before every ride for optimal performance.

Most sandboard waxes are made of paraffin or beeswax with the addition of various scents.


Is sand surfing fun?

Sand surfing can be an incredibly fun and enjoyable experience, even for beginners.

The location, quality of the board, waxing procedure, weather and terrain conditions all contribute to how enjoyable a ride can be.

Very steep and tall dunes are the most fun to slide on, but they are also require the most effort in terms of hiking.

This can be addressed by combining sandboarding with a quad bike or dune buggy tour which will help you to reach the top of a dune.

Sand Surfing on Dunes in Brazil
Woman sand surfing in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Namastê… ॐ.

Is sand surfing easy?

Sand surfing is not difficult if you have proper equipment and wax your board thoroughly. A good quality sandboard, sandboarding wax and dry environmental condition are essential for a smooth and fast ride.

The hard part when you are sand surfing is really just to push yourself over the edge, gravity will do the rest.

For beginners, it is also recommended to start with sand sledding since sitting or laying down on your belly is easier than standing up.


Is sand surfing dangerous?

Sand dunes surfing is not particulalry dangerous, but as any extreme sport, it does come with some risks – adequate sandboard clothing and safety precautions need to be taken.

There have been reports of people getting hurt or even dying from sandboarding, usually due to hitting an object during a ride or because of pre-existing heart conditions.

Always check with a doctor before you decide to go practice any extreme sports and wear protective gear such as helmets if you are sliding down a very high dune or mountain, and make sure to have sand surfing insurance in case something goes wrong.

Sand Surfing the Dunes
Surf the sand!

Sandsports


Sandboarding
Sand Sledding
Volcano boarding

Sand Skiing
Sand Kiting

Desert Racing
Dune Bashing
Desert Hiking & Camping
Desert Travel
Desert Camping
Desert Running
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