It goes without saying that deserts are the ideal place to sandboard although some beaches have amazing dunes too – Port Elizabeth in South Africa is one of those, if my memory serves me correctly.
However, back to the discussion here – deserts. It has been a while since I wrote an article about sandboarding, but it’s a great version on a combination of sports – snowboarding, skateboarding, even, maybe, kitesurfing, certainly mountain boarding. Whatever it’s a spin-off of, it has become the favourite of sport lovers for its innovativeness and pure unadulterated fun.
Dubai and Namibia have rapidly become specialists in this relatively new extreme sport. Outside of the Namib, Dubai boasts one of the biggest dunes in the world – ‘Big Red’… while Namibia is just dune after spectacular dune… dunes of over 365 m – 1,200ft. A steady walk to the top will take about an hour – if you don’t have too many stops. A board is the perfect way to get down…
Namibia, the oldest desert in the world, undoubtably has some of the tallest dunes in the world. The spectacular ‘Red Desert’ is near Sossusvlei, in the south. Distances are relative in a desert of this size – the Namib covers an area of about 80,900 km2 – or 31,200 square miles. It’s vast.
However, most of the dunes are found in Southern Namib in a vast area known as the dune sea, an area filled with some of the tallest and most spectactular dunes, ranging in color from pink to vivid orange. In the Sossusvlei area many dunes exceed 300 meters.
Moving north from Sossusvlei towards Swakopmund the desert is mostly flat and rocky, although sand dunes are still occasionally found in this region particularly on much of the coastline between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.
Most of the sandsurfing/boarding is in either the Sossusvlei or Swakopmund area. 2 styles are on offer:
So…. you have a choice. Zoom down them headfirst on the Swakopmund sandboard, or carve your way down with style and grace on a snowboard adapted for sand. The worst that can happen is that you end the day covered in sand! Whichever you choose, you are guaranteed to have that adrenaline buzz you are seeking and an enormous amount of fun.
I’m sure you won’t have gone all the way to Namibia merely for the sandsurfing… you may well have gone for the ultimate speed kitesurfing experience at Luderitz. However, it is possible that you are also going for the whole Namib experience. This is the largest game reserve in Africa and one of the biggest in the world. Although the desert is fairly sparsely populated with big game there are pockets where game is abundant such as Etosha. “It’s a little amazing that anything can eke out an existence in that ocean of sand,” says Chuck Davis, director of photography for The Greatest Places and he’s quite right – when you pass hundreds of ostriches on the move you can’t help but wonder what on earth they survive on. The same goes for the beautiful and graceful Gemsbok… it’s well worth a trip.
Head to the north of the continent and veer east and you come to Dubai, another favourite spot for sandsurfing.
Just 30 minutes from Dubai are some of the biggest sand dunes in the country. As with the Namib, desert temperatures are extreme so it is best to sandboard in the morning. There are few dunes over 200-300m and those that are, such as ‘Big Red’ are obviously very popular. However there are many other dunes out there and it is probably a good idea to get a local guide who will get you ‘far from the madding crowd’ to a day of huge enjoyment.
Getting to them across the desert in a 4WD is all part of the fun… the beginning of the adventure. Then you get the chance to experience the sheer exhilaration of sandboarding – the desert’s most popular new sport…
Sandboarding is a rapidly growing sport in Dubai and has plenty of locations with rail slides and jumps. ‘Big Red’ is certainly the tallest and steepest dune to really get your heart pumping, but the choice of cinnamon tinted dunes is vast.
The annual ‘Hugo International Sandboarding Championships’ is held during the Shopping Festival in Dubai City late January – early Feb. A definite incentive to get out there and enjoy a bit of both!
Dubai doesn’t restrict the experience to snowboards – you can also ski. It’s a truly unique experience and coupled with the exoticness of Dubai with camel rides and belly dancing, Arabian nights and mystique, it’ll get your adrenaline racing.
If you are planning a visit to the UAE please remember that the region has a conservative dress tradition. Men and women should ensure shoulders and knees are covered when in public, especially in souks, shops and villages. Also, it is considered offensive to photograph Arab women and it is courteous to ask permission before photographing men. Photographs of government buildings or military installations are not allowed. Sweet and to the point!
And we’ll end with a chuckle…