Visit cities like Vail, Colorado, or Zermatt, Switzerland, and you’ll find evidence of their main industry the moment you step into town. If you were unaware of their ski-resort status before you arrived, the mountain peaks dotted with chair-lifts and the neon snow pants army should clue you in. Sandboarding may not offer the same elaborate infrastructure as snowboarding and skiing just yet, but the sport is gaining traction quickly. A downhill sport that involves flying down sand dunes with specialized boards or skis strapped to ones feet, sandboarding is already available in more than 80 countries and states around the world. Here are some of the best locations to kick up dust.
Swakopmund - Namibia
Located on the far west end of Namibia, Swakopmund is a coastal oasis for water-sports enthusiasts. If you stray away from the H20, though, you can find yourself skiing and sandboarding on some of the tallest dunes on the planet with 200-400 foot vertical drops. One of the most interesting tour operators in the area is Ski Namibia, run by German immigrant Henrik May. May, who holds the world record for the fastest sand ski descent, started the business in 2003 and offers downhill, telemark and cross country lessons and tours. To add to the excitement, the dunes’ close proximity to the ocean means winds from the water regularly restructure the sand creating fresh, new ski landscapes on a weekly basis.
Cerro Negro - Nicaragua
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to board down an active volcano, then Cerro Negro should be next on your list of must-see locations. This black cinder cone rises sharply out of the bright green Nicaraguan jungle, its slopes desolate and completely void of vegetation. You can travel to the volcano on your own or you can have a tour operator like Vapues hook you up with transportation and equipment. There is no paved trail, just a worn path that leads to the top where you can often view smoke billowing out of the crater. Flying down it on a board is an exciting thrill that may just leave you with an unexpected souvenir: a fine film of black ash covering all the exposed parts of your body.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve - Colorado
This federally protected preserve encompasses the largest sand dunes in North America and is the perfect place to head with the family for a day of sandboarding. The 750 foot-tall piles sit strikingly on the floor of the San Luis Valley, framed by the 13,000 ft. peaks of the Sango de Cristo mountain range. The park doesn’t provide sleds, kayaks or boards, but you can rent them before you arrive from Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa or the Oasis Store right outside the park entrance. As long as you avoid the vegetation, sand sports are allowed anywhere in the 30 sq. mile dune field. Beginners and kids will love sliding down the first ridge, a short .7 mile hike from the main parking lot. For the more adventurous-inclined, summit “Star Dune” to see how you fast you can fly down the tallest dune in the park.
Duna Grande - Peru
One of the most arid places in the world, southeastern Peru is the same mysterious region that holds the Nazca lines, the puquios, and also Duna Grande, the second tallest sand dune in the world. The climb to the top of the 6,000 foot tower is tiring but well worth the effort when you summit and look out over a sea of sand before shredding the steep slope. If you’re looking for a little more out of the excursion, book a dune buggy tour with Mystery Peru that includes side trips to off the beaten path archaeological sites. It may seem counter-intuitive to bring a jacket along to the desert, but you’ll appreciate it when the wind starts whipping a sandstorm all around you. A cap and sunglasses are also highly recommended.
Kangaroo Island - Australia
A location best known for its bone-white beaches, lush vegetation and wildlife conservation efforts, Kangaroo Island is also home to a system of naturally occurring coastal dunes. Located on the southern portion of the island in a place referred to as the "Little Sahara," there's no better way to experience the desert than on a sandboard. The dunes vary in size so whether you're a beginner or more accomplished, rent a board from Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action to start slipping down the white sands.