The Bucket List: Sandboarding in Namibia

The coolest must-do things to try before you kick it

When you're looking at a horizon of massive sand dunes hundreds of feet tall that have slopes long and steep enough to rival your favorite black diamond ski run, do you sit back and just admire the beauty of the dunes? No! You find a way to ride them.

That's exactly what people have done for centuries on the dunes outside of Swakopmund, Namibia.

If you choose to “sled” the sand, watch as your guide waxes up the smooth side of a long, flexible sheet of particleboard, hoist it over your head for some shade from the hot Namibian sun, and feel your quads burn as you hike to the top of the nearest dune. Drink in the incredible view of the Dorob National Park dunes rolling straight to the horizon on one side while breakers roll in from the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Then, lie down, grab on to your board, arch your back, hold the flexible front end up with your hands, keep your elbows up and go.

Rocketing down steep runs with names like Lizzie and Dizzy, you can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. If you’re with a group of riders, be prepared to end up competing like a kid—racing to the bottom, vying for the longest ride, piling as many people onto one "sled" as you can and laughing at every slide and turn.

If you opt to "board"—done by strapping what's basically a snowboard to your feet—get ready for the same kind of fun. Plus, not only is sand softer (and a bit slower) than snow, but you’ve got the chance to have a professional instructor teach you some balance, some technique and then encourage you as you bomb your way down the hill. For the experienced sandboarder (or, realistically, snowboarder) don’t leave without flying off the jump that’s permanently built into the dune face.

Many tour operators in the area offer complete sandboarding packages for making the dunes a full-day adventure. You can try your hand at sledding or sandboarding and then take off on quad bikes or in Land Rovers for a desert safari. Whatever you do, you'll probably be kicking back with an icy Windhoek lager in Kucki’s Pub later, picking sand out of your teer and retelling the tales of your own personal sandboard X-Games.

Your Turn: Tour operators offering sand sledding and sand boarding abound Swakopmund. For either (or both), try the good people at Alter Action Sandboarding. Note that stand-up generally costs a little more than lie-down, and kids are encouraged to join the fun. Capture photos and videos, but take care that blowing sands don't creep into your expensive camera.

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