I ran a few steps and threw myself across a waxed slab of Formica, starting a screaming freefall down a huge sand dune in Africa. Sandboarding, both on your stomach and, better yet, on your feet, is bigger than big here in Namibia.
You come to this country, made famous by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, expecting the usual Africa experience … elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras.
Who figured to also find the adventure capital of the continent, the Queenstown of Africa, complete with crazy adrenaline-washed visitors sliding down sand dunes on snowboards, sidehilling on ATVs, trekking by camel, parasailing …. Oh yes, and hugging a 300 pound seal.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You’ve been to other spots in Africa and want something new.
- You enjoy exotic places and people and don’t mind traveling far to see them.
- You like nature and don’t care about hopping nightlife.
All this happens among sand dunes just outside Swakopmund, a seaport town midway up the coast of Namibia, which is just above South Africa on Africa’s Atlantic coast. These dunes are among the highest in the world, a few topping 600 feet, though that’s not (whew) where the newbie boarders start.
The sandboard day starts on four wheel ATVs, or quadbikes as they are called here. It’s one thing to drive alongside sand dunes in a Jeep. Quite another to surf down the middle of them on a motorbike, floating through a sea of frozen golden waves. If you’ve ever been on a snowmobile, you know how this works … a bit of body English, a lot of gas, a ton of flying … well in this case not snow, but sand. Along the way, you stop to see the scrubby vegetation that survives here, along with the occasional lizard, snake and, yes meerkat. There are areas here that get less than half an inch of rain a year, which accounts for why over the eons, people have been and are still scarce.
At the base of a “baby” 200 foot dune, you pick up your “board” — a three-foot length of brown, construction grade Formica, rough on one side, polished smooth with floor wax on the other — and begin trudging up to a knife edge ridge. Up top, you flop on the board, making sure to curl the front end of it with your fingers, so you won’t dig into the sand and bite it at 30 mph.
If you’re chicken like me, you’ll also drag your toes. That not only keeps your speed down, it lets you actually control your direction. Sort of.
Yeah, the sand gets in EVERYthing. Yeah, you will be knocking it out of your clothing, shoes and body parts for days. Yeah, it’s a raging rush.
Sandboarding may be new to you but they’ve been bellyboarding here for nearly 20 years, upright sandboarding for 10.
On a nearby dune, the two dozen Gen-Ys off an overland tour bus (camp your way for cheap across the continent) were doing the upright thing. Somewhat like snowboarding. Except you absolutely can’t skid those turns. With the upright version, it’s not IF you will fall but WHEN. My NY buddy, had the icepack and bruised wrist to prove it.
Besides, if you take it fast enough on your stomach, you can scare the innards out of yourself just fine. Want proof? Check out this sandboarding video.
As for me, I had enough fun doing semi controlled belly slides.
And the seal? His name is Robbie. He greets tour boats regularly, happily letting people pet him and, if you don’t mind, joyfully nuzzling back.
- Namibia is located below the Equator, just north of South Africa on Africa’s Atlantic coast.
- The best time to visit Namibia is during winter, May through November, when the temperatures are cooler and the trees are less leafy, so you can see the animals.
- Abenteuer Afrika Safari has an assortment of custom tours ranging from two or three nights to a week, covering lodging, food and transportation within the country.
- The currency here is the Namibian dollar, about nine to the US or Canadian dollar. It’s just about the last place North American cash is worth something anymore, especially in craft markets.
South African Airways has daily flights from New York and Washington DC nonstop to Johannesburg. Most travelers then have to overnight in Johannesburg before going on to Namibia.
- Resources: Swakopmund Tourism, Abenteuer Afrika Safaris.