Sandboarding in South Africa
One of my favorite activities during our month long stay on the North Island of New Zealand was “riding the sand” at the Te Paki Sand Dunes. Thus, when I saw another opportunity to sand board in South Africa, I immediately added it to the top of our list of things to do.
“It’s Like Surfing”
I did some preliminary research and identified a few companies around the Western Cape that offer sand boarding. In New Zealand, we rode boards while lying flat on our stomachs so it was more like sledding. In South Africa, I soon learned that sand boarding is more like surfing or snowboarding.
The fact that we would be standing up and strapped into bindings caused some hesitation for us both. Neither of us wanted to risk a freak injury to a knee or a shoulder. If it were up to Kevin, I think he would have elected to pass (old man!). However, I still thought it would be fun and, based on what I read, it seemed like you could minimize the risk by choosing the run length, hill incline and speed to suit your own personal comfort level. With that in mind, I booked us to ride “The Dragon Dune.”
The Dragon Dune
The Dragon Dune is located on private property about 25 minutes outside of Mossel Bay. At 240 meters, it is the longest dune available in South Africa. I emailed the tour company a few weeks in advance to inquire about availability. However, all I got in response was a request to call them one day in advance. And so we did. The gentleman who answered the phone confirmed us for the following morning and provided instructions to meet him at a gas station just outside of Mossel Bay at 9:00 AM.
Getting to the Dragon
The next morning we showed up at the meeting place just before 9:00 AM and within minutes a truck pulled up next to us with “Dragon Dune Sandboarding” painted on the side. The driver got out, greeted us and made his rounds to find the other participants for the day. After he identified everyone, he instructed us to follow him to the private farm where we would surf dangerous-sounding Dragon Dune.
At the private farm, we signed the indemnity forms and paid along with seven other would-be surfers. The nine of us hopped into the back of a pick-up truck, and held onto the rails as the truck carried us five minutes up a bumpy road to the sand boarding area.
We piled out of the truck and made our way towards the sand dunes. After a quick warning about the potential of leopards in the area, our instructor disappeared into the bushes and pulled out two different boards for each of us. One was a small belly board, which we would use to “sled” down the sand dunes. The second looked a lot like a snowboard, including the bindings. Our enthusiastic guide proceeded to give us a run down on the technique for surfing the sand and led us up to the “bunny hill” to try out our newly learned, but not yet perfected skill.
The guide instructed us to select a spot on the hill based on our comfort level. We could move up the hill for a faster, steeper ride, or down the hill for a more gradual slope. I, of course, selected the more gradual slope for my first run.
One at a time our guide pointed to us and told us to go. When my turn came I felt my heart begin to beat faster. Hopping to the peak of the hill, I took a few deep breaths and inched towards the edge. The next thing I knew I was sliding! I managed to stay on my feet and safely surf my way down the bunny hill. Then, at the end of the run, our guide gave each of us a little feedback and then advised us where to start the next run; either higher or lower on the hill based on his perception of our skill level. After a few runs I was enjoying myself. I felt like I was getting the hang of it so I progressively moved further and further up the hill to the steeper slope.
Each of us took four to five runs and then it was time for a break before hiking up to The Dragon Dune. During the break, our guide informed us that no one in our group had good enough technique to attempt the 240 meter Dragon. Everyone in our group would have to settle for a headfirst sledding ride.
I’m not sure if anyone else was disappointed, but I certainly was not. My conservative side had already made the determination that a run down The Dragon was not in my future. I was much more comfortable sledding since we already had some experience in New Zealand. I also felt a sense of relief knowing that the riskiest part—sandboarding while standing up—was behind us. We had successfully escaped our sand surfing session without any injuries … or so I thought.
No Serious Injuries
My sense of relief was a little premature. Even though I had experience with sand sledding, my technique on The Dragon left me with a few scars! At least it wasn’t a long term injury to a knee or a shoulder.
Regardless, we enjoyed our first experience surfing the sand. If we had to choose, I think we both preferred sand sledding in New Zealand where it feels more controlled and leisurely. Perhaps that’s the first sign that we’re starting to get old!