Amazing Places

Top 5 Places to Sandboard Around the World

Plunging down sand dunes at breakneck speeds with two feet fixed to a thin sliver of wood might not be everyone's idea of a pleasant vacation. However, for an increasing number of thrill-seeking speed demons, sandboarding is exactly what they're looking for.

Ancient Roots

Where sandboarding got its start is up for debate. Some argue that its origin dates back to Ancient Egyptian times, when Pharaohs would glide through the desert on wood or clay boards as a means of transportation. Others say its birthplace is on the island of Santa Catarina on the south coast of Brazil, where people would use the sport as an alternative to surfing when the tide was low. Although both spots are home to some historically epic dunes, without any real evidence, it's probably safe to say that this is one debate that will remain a mystery.

The revival of sandboarding as a modern sport came about around the same time as snowboarding in the 1970s. However, while snowboarding became all the rage thanks to the allure of glamorous ski resorts and snowy mountain slopes, sandboarding didn't have quite the same draw. Lack of a large fanbase stunted innovation in the sport, but its passionate athletes didn't give up. While the earliest sandsurfers used snowboards, it quickly became apparent that the material that worked for snow didn't work as well on sand. People started experimenting with different shapes and waxes using the advanced research already established by expert snowboard engineers. The key breakthrough came when people swapped out the standard polyethylene used on snowboards for heat-resistant Formica wax, which they used to line the bottom of the board. Finally, in the early 2000s, aficionados invented their very own sandboard equipment resulting in smoother and faster runs. That's when the fun really got started.

Today, many flock to some of the most scenic sandboarding spots around the world to try their hand at this unique sport. It's particularly popular with out-of-season snowboarders. Austrian pro-snowboarder Daniel Vonach, for example, won second place in the 2017 Sandboard World Cup held in Peru. Although sandboarding still considered niche, snowboard icons like Vonach are making waves in developing this little-known sport.

First-timers can try it out themselves by simply repurposing a well-waxed snowboard, or by popping the trucks off a longboard to carve their way down the dunes. Whether you're a novice or you're well acquainted with the art of sandboarding, here are some must-visit spots from around the world.

The Great Sand Sea, Siwa, Egypt

The motherland of sandboarding is of course first on the list. Known as one of the best sandboarding sites in the world, Egypt's Great Sand Sea is home to 27,300 square miles (72,000 square kilometers) of rolling dunes with slopes as steep as 70 degrees. There's just one catch: getting there is no easy feat. The dunes are near the Siwa Oasis, which is roughly a five-hour drive southwest of Cairo. It's smack dab in the middle of nowhere, so make sure you come prepared. Hiking the dunes is a challenge, but for the passionate sandboarder, the location is well worth the trek.

Cerro Blanco, Nazca, Peru

The dunes of Peru are arguably some of the tallest in the world, but Cerro Blanco blows them out of the water (or, should we say, the sand). Located in the Nazca Valley with an altitude of 6,791 feet (2,078 meters) above sea level and a height of 3,858 feet (1,176 meters) from the ground to the summit, the site rightly lives up to its reputation. As no dune buggies can make it on the steep slopes, the hike up takes three to four hours in the arid desert heat, but the breathtaking views of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean will keep you distracted. Just be sure to get your practice in before making the trek up this monster dune, as it's no playground for amateurs. For serious adrenaline junkies, the ride down will thrill you with speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour) — that is, if you can make it down without stopping!

Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

If you like living on the edge and feeling the adrenaline of hitting top speeds, then why not add an active volcano into the mix? Cerro Negro, otherwise known as Black Hill, is located just outside of Leon, Nicaragua. With a 2,388-foot (728-meter) slope, the hike up is a short, hour-long trek – but don't be fooled. The natural heat emanating from the volcanic terrain mixed with the ash in the air can make it feel as if you're walking through an oven. So be prepared to sweat. A lot.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Michigan, USA

With the thought of Egyptian dunes and South American volcanoes, Michigan is probably the last place you'd imagine as a sandboarding oasis. Still, the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, located between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake, are home to 2,000 acres of golden dunes that are perfect for sandboarders of any skill level.

Sand Master Park, Florence, Oregon, USA

Here, you can skip surfing in the sea for surfing in the sand, but the best thing about this particular locale is that both are an option. Although the beach attracts tourists, the dunes are the star of the show. At 40 miles (64 kilometers) wide and rising 500 feet (152 meters) above sea level, Sand Master Park is the largest stretch of dune terrain in North America and claims the title of the world's first sandboard park. The area is jam-packed with gear-rental shops and instructors available for lessons, some of which are national champions of the sport.

Sandboarding with Marc Pastori

Written by Siobhan Raies May 25, 2018

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