Vanda Kujbus

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Swakopmund - Snow... I mean, Sandboarding!

Written by Vanda

Sandboarding is probably something you do not get to hear often outside these desert countries. It is a peculiar sport and tourist activity, where you can use good old snowboards, but, you guessed it, on sand! African ingenuity strikes again!

We did not expect to become pros, rather a something to try kind of thing, but it ended up being lots and lots of fun. We came with one of the two companies in Swakop doing what they call “stand up sandboarding” which is basically, well, going down the hill while standing. The other style, called lie down is simply sliding down on a desk, reminding of sledging from childhood. Though it’s cheaper, doesn’t sound fun, so we signed up for the “real” one, standing.

At the early morning, the sky is not promising. It’s foggy, looks like it can start raining in any minute, and it’s freezing – I was already “looking forward” to the half day activity, and probably visit to the doctor for some medication against flu.

sandboarding morning
gloomy Swakop beach

However, when we are picked up, the event organizer girl calms us down that it’s going to be very sunny in the desert. And it was indeed! As if someone pulled an imaginary line, which the fog is not allowed to pass. Very spectacular view, with a simple explanation: the desert’s heat keeps pushing back the cold air, arriving from the ocean.

foggy vs clear sky

We are transported with other participants in a van, where almost everybody was working for an NGO in an African country, from South-Sudan to Malawi. I was listening to their stories in awe, and wished to be one of them. I was trying to blend in to the conversation with my research in developing countries and that’s how I ended up in Namibia, when something annoying happens: one of the girls basically laughed directly to my face: “do you think Namibia is a developing country? Ha-ha-ha, you are so sweet. Look around, it has already developed! You have nothing to do here girl!” I was punching her in the face so hard in my imagination, and was trying to explain that Namibia is not only about pretty buildings and electric wires, but also places like the "location", Donkerbos and Drimiopsis exist, but people obviously don’t want to be proven wrong, I had no audience so I decided I don’t want to be part of the superficial conversation anymore. Luckily, we didn’t need to wait a lot longer, we turned into the desert and the fun was about to start.

We stop at the tallest dune (~150m) in the area, and after a short briefing and giving out the gear – a snowboard, boots and helmets we can climb up the dune and then we can slide. Wait what? Climb? With all those stuffs on our backs? Where are we, on a military training? But unfortunately, there is no way around, we are in a protected area, no vehicles or chairlifts can destroy the landscape, even though tourists would probably kill for it! Nothing to do about it, let’s climb then!

sandboarding gear
climbing up the dune

The start was a little bit scary, it is the very first time we meet sand dunes, and they can be quite frightening while standing on the top. Looong way down and the sides are quite steep. The braveness slowly disappears by the time we reach the top, and get our gear on. After a quick introduction on how to stand, turn, and most importantly, fall, we get our first try to stand on a snowboard. The feeling is quite intimidating since you cannot move your legs at all, and on the top of that you, are looking down the 150m dune slope. Let’s say some legs were shaking. At the beginning, we needed a “motivational” push from the instructor, which at the time seemed for us we are sliding down in light speed, screaming for our lives, which from the outside probably looked like a turtle trying to take a few steps. The sand’s advantage is, that it’s soft and thus won’t hurt if you fall. The second time when we became braver, was much more fun, by the third we started sliding like pros – as long as we didn’t need to turn anywhere.

motivational push
me falling

If you are not used to it, at higher speed you can lose balance easily, thus your face ends up in the sand quite often, if you let yourself go. Sigi was falling down every half a second – it seemed he even enjoys it!

sigi sliding
sigi falling

All in all, it was a fun activity to try and we enjoyed it as much as the snacks they provided at the end – you can get really hungry after all the climbings – which is probably the only down side of sandboarding. The way up the dune is so difficult and looong. The soft sand, the heat and the snowboarding gear is tough and slows you down! In fact, it went so slow, that we managed to climb up only 4 times up – in a 5.5-hour activity. You should be in a good physical condition, or very determined for the 20-25 minutes legs-workout (the one which you tend to skip all the time, so now it’s the perfect time to get your body balanced a bit) for the 30-60 seconds sliding.

On the positive side – the crew was constantly filming us, which they showed later that they so that you could share all your embarrassing moments of falling, sliding as fast as a snail while your face displays fear as if you were dropped out from an airplane. But they give the video to you too, so that you can share this quite unique adventure with your grandkids. It was a nice day, everyone should try at least once in a lifetime.