Sandboarding with Downhill Adventures in Cape Town, South Africa


Pioneered in South Africa by Axel Zander, the founder of Downhill Adventures (Pioneers of Adventures in Cape Town, South Africa), sandboarding is essentially much the same as its colder cousin strap yourself onto a board and stay standing while carving your way gracefully (well, in theory) down the biggest sand dune you can find.

As the sun beats down on the sea of white powder sand, a faint whistling sound pierces the dead-still air.

Suddenly a boarder bursts over the top of the ridge, grabbing a rail as he soars through the air, seemingly motionless. What seems like hours, but is in reality only seconds, later he slams the board back down onto the dune and accelerates down the slope. Shoop, shoop go the rails as he carves through the powder like a kid in a sandpit. Perfectly in control, board and rider are the epitome of grace, moving in harmony in the battle against the sand…well, that’s what I’d hoped for at least.

How difficult could it be?

SandboardingSo with delusions of sandboarding grandeur filling my head I happily tagged along with the Downhill Adventures team as they attempted to teach a motley crew of tourists and locals how to cut up the dunes with style. How difficult could it be? I thought, rose-tinted memories of pre-teen skateboarding days convincing me I was going to leave my classmates trailing in my dust. Or sand for that matter.

The basic principles are much the same as snowboarding, especially when it comes to the equipment involved. Downhill Adventures use imported snowboards, but with the bottoms replaced with a super slick composite that becomes more slippery as you ride it. Snowboard boots and bindings (straps connecting your boots to the board) are also used, which are vitally important to protect your ankles if you fall.

With the basics of the gear explained, and our boards boasting a fresh coat of wax polish to give them extra speed, we took our places at the top of the ridge. With the dune now looking far steeper than it did at the bottom, the bindings began to seem strangely like shackles.

But being the top skateboarder in your standard three class comes with a certain reputation to uphold, and once our instructor, Malcolm, had given us a brief tutorial about how to make our way down the slippery slope I thought it time to prove my inherent board-riding superiority to all and sundry.

Double-check the bindings, do a bit of a hip wiggle to get your board facing down the slope and off you go. Piece of cake.

Starting offStraight is for beginners

It was all going swimmingly at first, skimming down the dune at a respectable pace, until I decided that going straight was for beginners and that I was ready for a bit of carving. Id seen it in the movies after all, lean to the side and the board carves away to the left or right, depending on which way you lean. As I discovered though, if you lean too hard the side of the board digs in, gets buried in sand and sends you flying to earth in an ungraceful jumble of limbs – generally followed by a scolding from the instructor for trying to run before you can walk. Next time I think Ill pay more attention.

The basics of riding a sandboard are much the same as for snowboarding. One major difference is that turns are far less pronounced than on snow. Also, because sand exerts more friction than snow, the more you dig the edge of the board into the sand the slower you’ll go. Dig too much though and the extra friction will cause you to wipe out like yours truly.

According to Malcolm, once you can sandboard you’ll be able to snowboard with little trouble at all. No surprise then that its a popular way for people to learn to board before jetting off to the slopes in Europe or the United States.

Once my good self and my lofty sandboarding ambitions had come crashing to earth, it didnt take Malcolm long to get all eight of us newbie boarders carving our way, albeit slowly, down the slopes. Once you get the hang of it and learn to make your turns and adjustments gently, it was actually surprisingly easy to get yourself coasting down the slopes, the hot sand skimming away beneath you. And best of all, I was actually in control…well, most of the time.

With the notorious south-easterly wind cranking up for a good blow, we squeezed in as many runs as we could before the biting sand made it seem as if there was as much sand in the air as on the dune.

Piling back into the van for the 45-minute trip back into town, the kombi was abuzz with excited talk of daring exploits on the slopes, sure to be even further exaggerated to family back home. Ten new converts to snowboarding’s warmer relative.

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This article was originally published, “Downhill Adventures” on in February 2004 by Richard Holmes. Used with permission by Downhill Adventures.

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