The mark of a good adventure is that you leave it exhausted, dirty, and with a massive smile on your face. This was more than true after our adventurous day sandboarding in Namibia with Alter Action Sandboarding.
When looking at all the crazy activities Namibia had to offer, I knew that sandboarding had to be the one for me. I’ve never had a similar opportunity really, and it seemed exotic, adventurous, and adrenaline-inducing all at once, which is pretty much exactly my style. And.. I was right!
We zoomed off from our lodge at 930am, towards the desert dunes that border the Atlantic ocean along Namibia’s coast and the city of Swakopmund on all sides. The area is so sandy the streets are all actually covered with a thin film of sand!
After offroading a bit deeper into the dunes, we got out and were fitted for boards, helmets, and boots by our expert guides. We actually used real snowboards and boots ! On this day everyone had signed up for standup boarding – you can usually choose stand-up or lie-down, but our guides decided to let us have a go at both since they were available.
The dunes we were to board had just become a National Park in 2010 – meaning that, to conserve the environment, we were a bit more limited to what we could do on and around the dunes. 4×4 tours on the dunes had to stay in certain areas close to the dunes to protect animals and insects of the desert, more specifically the gravel plains between dunes that are home to a variety of important species we wouldn’t want to disturb. The last thing you want to do on an adventure in nature is mess with the native animals, so we were all happy help out.
Protecting the environment for us sandboarders meant one thing… walking up the dunes each time after boarding down. No lifts or 4×4’s to carry us to the top here, just our good old fashioned two legs! As a fitness junkie and hiker myself I was even more stoked on this – and our guides assured us the first walk up to the top is the hardest!
After splitting into two groups of people who had snowboarded before and those who had not, we headed up the mountain. As we ascended the view became more and more spectacular, with the contrast of the swirling dunes against the morning sun. At the top I was delighted to find the sweet smell of an ocean breeze, and see the deep blue Atlantic in the distance behind a layer of cool fog that was quickly burning off.
I was surprisingly only one of two in the group who had snowboarded before. Our instructor, who was amazingly also from California (and found herself living in this beautiful country after backpacking 22 years ago – not surprised!) let us know that sand feels a bit like slushy snow on the board, like at the end of the season when show is melting off a bit. We were to wax our boards before each run so they wouldn’t get stuck. There was also a jump at the top that she assured us even the beginners do at the end of the day – I wasn’t so sure, but I knew that I probably couldnt turn down at least trying it.
I started off slowly – inching down the hill of my heel side just to get a feel for the sand. But after a few seconds I was hooked; I turned on my go pro and wizzed down the mountain, getting a few sloppy S-turns in before getting a better hang of it. The sand was smooth and slightly sticky, requiring slower and more exaggerated movements than snowboarding, which I got used to pretty quickly. My adrenaline was pumping as I carved through the sand, stopping to look up and take in a view of sand, dunes, and more sand more as far as I could see. This. Was. Awesome.
As I tdodded back up through the soft sand, I smiled to see even the people who had never snowboarded before getting a great hang of it. They would slide through the sand for a few seconds, sometimes catching themselves, and sometimes plopping onto their bums or hands for a minute before getting up and persevering down the dune. It was clear the instructors knew what they were doing, especially if people with zero experience could be doing so well.
I must have gone up and down the mountain at least 4 times before finally being talked into trying the jump. The other experienced snowboarder had tried it, and I was assured that it was less of a ‘jump’ and more of a ‘drop’ that you go off and simply land a few feet below. I obviously wasn’t going to leave this place without trying it (being a massive ‘yes’ person) so iI decided to give it a go. One of the instructors basically positioned me right into it, turning my board the way it needed to go. I tried to follow their instructions and slowly inch to my toe side after landing… but as soon as I was airborne I subconsciously turned the other way and sat right down on the sand just after landing. Ah well, it made a good photo!!
After a little while it was time to try the lie-down boarding, which takes place on the other side of the same dune so that we could board into a little basin and naturally brake by going up a little dune on the other side. Lie-down boards are basically pieces of thin, pliable wood that are smooth on one side. This was a lot different than stand-up boarding, because, well…. you can’t steer and you can’t exactly just ‘brake.’ I mean, you can stick your feet in the sand if you want, but the whole idea here is that you gain as much speed as you can… so much so that the instructors brought a speed gun for a competition. Being the most competitive person ever, I knew I wouldn’t be able to help but at least try for a top speed.
I watched a few people go first, and it looked like they were flying on a little magic carpet atop the silky sand. There was a tiiiiny little drop about half way through due to the shape of the dune, and it looked like people were catching maybe a millisecond of air before zooming through the basin to a stop up the next dune. I was nervous but so, so excited.
I took my Go Pro on my first run, which (see below) produced a pretty epic video.. but I was at least 10km/h behind everyone else. I marched up the mountain, put my Go Pro away, and went again, this time making sure to keep my feet up and my elbows as aerodynamic as possible. I improved from 45km/h to 55, which I was pretty content with. I was ready to chill out for a bit when one of the instructors motioned me to come over and told me he would get me the top speed. Naturally, I couldn’t refuse.
He piled a bunch of sand onto my board to add some weight, and gave me the biggest push down the mountain yet. I screamed and laughed on the way down, catching tons of air off the drop and nearly running into the instructor with the speed gun. It got really bumpy when I went over everyone’s previous footprints at the end, so much so that my helmet fell down over my eyes. But, I had so much speed that I kept going… past the footprints, up the next dune, and PAST the top of the next dune, catching even more air again to my helmet-blinded surprise. I landed and rolled off my board in a complete sandy laughing fit. I confirmed to everyone that I was, in fact, okay – more than okay! I took the top speed of 64 km/h and happily chilled out with some water at the top, enjoying the view. Apparently a while back (when the dunes were a bit different) a few people had gotten 82km/h… which I cannot even imagine!!
A yummy sandwich bar was set out and ready for us to have for lunch when we got down, along with some sodas and beers to everyone’s delight.We all shared some time eating and drinking in the sun and taking few last photos and videos before piling back into the vans. We were tired, dirty, and so very happy from the morning’s unforgettable antics.
Let me know what you think of my video!
Thanks to Alter Action for hosting me on this adventure – as always, all words are my own. Check out their Facebook page here or their website to bookmark this adventure for your bucket list!