Last Updated on July 29, 2021
Sandsurfing is a definitely a thing – and it’s more mainstream than you think. Extreme sports have always been a result of adventurous people trying to challenge themselves and experiment with their surroundings in order to find new exciting and thrilling ways to have fun. Today, the niche sport of “sand boarding” is getting more and more traction, with riders sledging down sand dunes in exotic destinations all over the world.
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 a waxed 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. If you prefer bodyboarding, you can opt for a sandsled instead.
History of sand dune surfing
Unsurprisingly, sand dunes 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. And 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. Read more: History and origins of sandboarding.
Sandsurfing 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. The wax minimizes friction between sand and the board allowing you to surf on 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).
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 is practiced with a mountainboard with wheels or a kite buggy and uses the power of wind to move.
Sand surfing destinations
There are plenty of great locations where you can surf on sand dunes across the United States. Oregon offers the most opportunities for sand surfing and other recreational sand activities across the coast, with the Sand Master Park in Florence being the first sport facility 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 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.
Read more: Where to go sand surfing in the US
Peru is the one of the most sought-after sandsurfing destinations and the little natural oasis town of Huacachina (near the city of Ica) has become a hot spot for sand sports enthusiasts worldwide. It 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.
Read more: Sand Surfing in Peru
The UAE is home to what is arguably the most famous desert in the world – the whimsical Arabian Desert. The sand dunes surrounding Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also a popular recreational area for sand surfing and dune bashing, which attract thousands of extreme sports enthusiasts to the country all year round.
Read more: Sand Surfing in Dubai
Sand surfing is a very popular activity in 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
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. 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.
Read more: Sand Surfing in South Africa
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, closes to Beer Sheva and Mitzpe Ramon, is quickly becoming a new hotspot for sandboarders woldwide.
Read more: Sand Surfing in Israel
Sand Surfing FAQs
Can you surf on sand?
Sand surfing (or sandboarding) is definitely a thing. 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 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, Italy, Indonesia, Vanuatu and Japan.
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 is sandboard wax?
Sandboard wax is a fat-based substance meant to reduce friction between your sand surfing board and the terrain. It needs to be applied to the base of your board before every ride. 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, 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.
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. 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 comes 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 practicing 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.
Your n°1 source of information on the world of sandsports and desert adventure travel. Our articles are the result of extensive research, personal experience, and knowledge-sharing within the global sandboarding community.