Back to the Sand
It's summer and snowboarding's only a winter memory. You've taken some hard spills while rail sliding on the skateboard recently. And the surf is flat. So, what's a boarder to do?
Head for the sand and carve up the dunes on a sandboard.
You know, the desert or coastal locations where wind, weather and time have created mountains of sand. Sand dunes - they're not just for postcards anymore.
Sandboarding is very similar to snowboarding, according to Lon Beale, publisher of the Internet magazine, Sandboard. "Whatever they're doing on the snow, they're doing on the sand," says Beale, who's been sandboarding since 1972. "The snowboarders get the hang of it after the second or third ride."
Unlike snow, however, sand doesn't melt, so you can sandboard year 'round. Also, unlike snow that's icy and packed, falls on sand are a lot more forgiving. Reno, Nevada's Julie Pilcic, champion women's boarder and rated #8 in the world by Dune Riders International, the governing body of sandboarding has taken more than a few face plants on the dunes. "Keep your weight on your back leg, knees bent, and hips centered," she says. "And most of all CLOSE your eyes and mouth when you fall!"
Most sandboarders are already boarders - snowboarders, skate boarders, surfers. "What makes sandboarding really attractive is that the crossover is immediate," explains Beale. "So, whatever level you're boarding at in your sport, you can come out to the sand and board at the same level."
When Julie Pilcic started sandboarding four years ago, the competitions were - in her words - "dinky." But the sport is growing. Last year her competitions drew several thousand spectators to the dunes. Lon Beale believes that sandboarding has the same growth potential as any of the other board sports.
All told, Beale estimates the number of sandboarders 'riding dune' in the United States at 4-5,000. There are less than 100 competitive sandboarders in this country. Worldwide, 20,000 boarders are regularly 'carving sand.'
Sandboarding is biggest in Brazil, Peru, Chile, Australia and South Africa where dunes are located close to the surf beaches. On days of flat surf, it was the surfers who first boarded on the dunes. "In South America, at Cerro Blanco Dunes near Nasca, Peru," says Beale, "there have been days when there were 3,000 sandboarders on the Peruvian dunes at the same time."
American sandboarding hot spots are located in the west in the desert and along the coast. They include: Dumont Dunes and Kelso Dunes in California's Mojave Desert, Los Osos near San Luis Obispo, Point Mugu just north of Malibu, Pismo Beach, Sand Mountain, Nevada and the new Sand Master Park in Florence, Oregon.
"Dumont Dunes is really happening," says Beale. It's the site of the 'Sand Master Jam' held each April. The event attracted 23 riders and 4,500 spectators this year. Sand Mountain is known for the quality and size of its sand dunes. Located about 20 miles east of Fallon, Nevada in the west central part of the state, the dunes at Sand Mountain reach 600 feet. Sandboarders here can get runs over 1,000 feet long.
In the early days, boarders who wanted to ride the dunes used modified water skis or skate boards. Sandboard pioneer Pete Pilcic's uncle took him to the dunes at Los Osos near San Luis Obispo, California in 1969 when he was 9 years old. He used a board his grandfather made for him. "It was the size of a skate deck with a waxed bottom," he remembers. "No bindings, 20 mph top speed."
Now there are boards manufactured specifically for dunes. On the large dunes sandboarders carve on a board the size of a snowboard; smaller dunes may be ridden on a board just a little larger than a skateboard.
The base surface of the sandboard is the key to getting good rides. Formica, the stuff of kitchen counter tops, did the trick years ago. Recently, the sport has moved beyond Formica to a harder, polished and more durable surface by Venomous called 'Race Base.' It's harder, smoother, lighter and faster than the base materials used in the past.
Sandboard foot wear ranges from bare feet to full snow-board-like bindings. "The Australians and guys just playing on the weekends don't wear shoes," says Beale. "They ride smaller boards called terrain boards and just bare foot, just like riding a surfboard."
Due to the improved equipment, sandboarders are equaling snowboard speeds on the dunes - up to 55 mph. Competition events are similar too: Dual Slalom; Big Air with back and front flips, rolls and 360s; and Free-Style competition with a series of jumps and an area where riders can showboat their athleticism and creativity. One thing you won't see at snow competitions: an all-out single elimination drag race from the top of the dune to the bottom - first to the bottom wins!
In June the World Sandboard Championships will be held for the sixth year near Nuremberg in Monte Kaolino, Germany. Unlike sandboarding in this country the German event is held on artificial dunes. Although American riders have placed in the top ten, the boarding in Germany is not the same as riding on natural dunes. The sand is very coarse and the runs are banked just like a moto-cross track. "It's not really a dune; it's like a sand trail," explains Beale. "And they wear full protective gear because the sand is packed very hard. It's more like moto-cross racing on a board."
Although Beale prefers the faster ride of natural dunes, he believes that the future of sandboarding will include artificial sandboard runs. "We're going to see the ski resorts do something similar," he says. "They'll push a couple hundred tons of silica sand up against the main run of the mountain, cater to sand boarders during off-ski seasons, and be open year-round."
Although Julie Pilcic snowboards in the winter, she likes being able to sandboard year 'round. "I can sandboard in the winter!" she says. "Where it's warm and dry."
Julie's advice to those who want to try sandboarding is to drink plenty of water, bring sun screen and keep trying. "The first time is tough," she says. "The second time it gets easier. By the third time, you're hooked."
Be sure to stop by Sandboard Magazine to see just how far the sport has progressed.
Sandboard Magazine: http://www.sandboard.com
Or, contact: Sandboard Magazine: 760-373-8861