How to Sandboard: A Beginners Guide for the Incompetent

If you’ve stumbled across this article on how to sandboard because you are looking for expert advice and want to ride the dunes like a professional one day, let me tell you now, this article will not help you.

Before travelling to South America, I had never heard of sandboarding, much less realised how popular it is. It didn’t take long before I realised though, sandboarding is everywhere in South America. 

During my backpacking trip, I went sandboarding not just once but on three different occasions, cementing my reputation as… a complete amateur. Whilst I won’t be winning any competitions any time soon (or ever), my many attempts to become a legit sandboarder have taught me a thing or two about failure. 

Careering down the dunes clinging on for dear life was just one part of my life-threatening sandboarding journey. I am also pretty convinced I could have died from the embarrassment on more than one occasion too. 

If you’re looking for an honest review about the perils of sandboarding, including a few well-timed tips on how to stay alive and deal with failure, you’re in the right place. 

Sunset in Huacachina
Even if you are crap at sandboarding, you can still enjoy a good desert sunset!

What is Sandboarding?

Sandboarding, also known as sand surfing, is an outdoor sport that involves boarding down sand dunes. It combines the skills used in surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding. As somebody who had never tried any of these sports, I was in absolutely no doubt that I would be terrible at sandboarding and I was correct. 

Sandboarding involves standing on the board, either with or without bindings and riding down the dunes. There are also the options to practice lying down on the belly or sitting on the board. The latter two were invented purely for uncoordinated idiots like me, I’m sure. You never see any of the competition guys doing this. 

How To Sandboard: A Beginner’s Guide

Now I’ve truly established my voice as an authority, I’ll jump into my guide about how to sandboard. 

Sandboarding Positions

1. Sitting

Sitting on a sandboard
The classic sitting position.

Many tours will start you off in the sitting position as it is less daunting than the alternatives. In this position, you will need to position yourself around three-quarters of the way up the board, tucking your feet on to the end of the board. Hold the bindings with your hands for stability. Use either your feet or hands to slow yourself down. 

2. Superman

Superman sand boarding
The Superman position is a favourite of many novices.

Once you’ve done a couple of runs sitting, be prepared to move on up to the Superman. In this position, you need to lie on the board on your belly. Your legs should be splayed out wide so that you can drag your toes if you want to brake. Keep your head level with the top of the board and your elbows tucked in to help you stay streamlined. Be warned: the Superman is a whole new level of terrifying.

3. Standing

This one is for the pros. Stand on the board with your knees slightly bent. You’ll need to maintain your balance, whilst moving your body left and right to steer. It is worth noting that you will automatically go in the direction you are facing so to turn your body, you’ll need to turn your head too. You’ll notice there is no photo of me in this position… I couldn’t quite manage it.

How to Sandboard – Top Tips! 

I’ll be honest, none of these tips is likely to make you an expert. However, they should serve to help you get the most enjoyment out of your day sandboarding. 

  • Wear closed shoes

Wearing big clumpy trainers in the desert seems a bit counterintuitive but if you’re going to be using your feet to brake, you don’t want to get friction burn on your toes. 

  • Choose a tour wisely

Everybody says you should make sure you choose a reputable tour led by an experienced guide. I’d say yes to a reputable tour company (purely from a safety perspective) but wouldn’t worry too much about an experienced guide. If you’re a total beginner, you’re probably going to be pretty bad and are potentially beyond help (at least in a short group tour kind of setting).

Dune buggies
A good tour group is helpful for forgetting the embarrassment.
  • Don’t be intimidated by your peers

Trust me when I say, there will always be that one guy who says, “I’ve never done this before!” And then turns out to be amazing. Please know, you will not be the only one who is not convinced by this story. Secondly, try not to compare yourself too much to the pro of the group, it will just put a dampener on your experience.

  • Wax your board

If you’re anything like me, the thought of whizzing down the dune is probably a little intimidating but this is better than the alternative of getting stuck in the sand, especially when other people who can’t steer come zooming towards you. To prevent this, wax your board. Your guide will probably supply you with the wax but if not, ask!

  • Don’t forget about the trudge back up

Although sandboarding can be fun, it is important to remember that for those two minutes of adrenaline-pumping descent, there are at least four times the amount of time needed to trudge back up the hill (unless you have the luxury of a dune buggy for the journey). Make sure you stay hydrated and don’t forget the suncream. 

Dune buggy
It’s a long trudge back up!
  • Don’t open your mouth in Superman position

Not to scream, not to laugh and certainly not for any other reason. A mouthful of sand is never fun.

  • Leave the Dutch courage in the bar

I completely understand that sandboarding can be a daunting undertaking. I also completely understand that for many people (I couldn’t possibly comment on whether I fall into this category), a little bit of Dutch courage can boost their confidence. Sadly, balance is a pretty integral part of being able to sandboard. Leave the drink in the bar. 

  • Get ready to fall

I am not sure that anybody has stayed completely on two feet when learning how to sandboard (despite what the guy on the tour might tell you). You will fall so you’ll just have to get used to the idea. And for those of you like me who have been waiting to see the benefits of living with a larger derriere, you’ll be grateful for it now. 

  • Don’t worry about being crap

Despite what the internet would have you believe, the vast majority of people who have a go at sandboarding are crap at it. You’ll probably be one of them. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace your mediocrity. The goal isn’t to become a pro – it’s to have fun! 

Couple with boards
My boyfriend and I might be sh*t at sand boarding…but we had fun!

Sandboarding Equipment

I’ve seen a lot on the internet about making sure you have the right equipment. If you’re a beginner sandboarder, chances are you’ll only have access to whatever the tour company has decided to buy. Helmets are a plus, as are knee and elbow pads but in my experience, you shouldn’t expect these to be routinely supplied inclusive of tour price. To be honest, on some of the cheapest tours you’ll be lucky to get a board with bindings! 

As we’ve already touched on, a couple of vital things are a board and wax. After that, make sure you’ve packed your sense of humour and you’ll be good to go. 

Have you learnt how to sandboard? What tips would you add to this list? 

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