sandboarding; sand surfing


Sandboarding photos date back to the 1940s, but in general this was an unknown activity until the mid-'60s, when it slipstreamed in behind the original surfing and skateboarding boom. A 1964 Petersen's Surfing magazine article described sand surfing as "four or five lads pouring down the side of what looks like a 150 foot wave, pulling off almost every surfing gimmick in the book."

Specialized boards were developed: narrow and thin (about three feet by six inches), made of wood, with a brushed-on coat of resin added to the bottom. Paraffin wax was applied before each run for added speed. The sandboarding repertoire was limited, consisting for the most part of gentle turns, along with surf-inspired poses like the head-dip or back arch.

Sandboarding—also known as sand surfing, or dune surfing—expanded in the '70s, largely due to the efforts of Colorado's Gary Fluitt and Jack Smith from California. Borrowing templates and technology from snowboarding, the sandboard became longer and wider (about four feet long and 10 inches wide), with footstraps 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.

By the early '90s, sandboards were being made commercially, and cost between $150 and $400. In 1994, a surfer-sandboarder from Western Australia said that the land-based sport was more punishing, mostly because of the greater speed. "You're pretty much flying. We land on our heads all the time. You just roll, but you're still getting clubbed. Then you go home with 20 kilos of sand in your undies."

Many of the world's best sandboarding dunes are located in Peru, Chile, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Namibia, the sport is practiced around the globe. As with snowboarding and skateboarding, accomplished riders can perform spin tricks and aerials. Beginners often chose to ride prone, and learn quickly to keep their mouths closed while riding. Unlike snowboarding, there are no lifts to take a rider back to the top of the run; a day spend sandboarding is, more than anything, a day spent flogging uphill while holding a board. (In some locations, Peru being the best known, dune buggies are used in place of lifts.) Sandboarders will study sand texture and air moisture the way surfers do swell patterns and tides. "Clean sand" is best, along with cool, dry air.

Sandboard, an online magazine, was founded in 1995 Lon (Dr. Dune) Beale, a former high school teacher who grew up in California's Mojave Desert. In 2000, Dune Rider International, the sport's organizing body (also created by Beale), hosted eight worldwide professional events, and the sixth World Sandboarding Championships— a five-day competition held in Monte Kaolino, Germany—drew just about 200 competitors and 20,000 spectators. Events included slalom, freestyle, and sandboard cross, in which multiple riders race at once. The year 2000 also saw the opening of Sand Master Park, a 40-acre facility on the Oregon coast, and the first park of its kind.

As of 2016, Nevada's Erik Johnson held the official sandboarding speed record, at 51 mph. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people worldwide sandboard regularly.