The hardest part about sandboarding (sand-surfing) is getting up the dune. Whereas chairlifts pick up and drop off snowboarders and skiers at the top of a mountain run and motor boats pull water-skiers across a lake, sandboarding enthusiasts have to schlep up the dune in order to surf down.
But it’s worth it for the fun factor.
With more than 60 percent of the country certified as desert, and an adventure-seeking population, this extreme sport is perfectly suited to Israel.
On a recent trip to the Negev Desert, my family spent a morning surfing the orange-tinted sand dunes near the ancient Nabataean village of Shivta.
My first sandboarding experience was as extreme as it gets on the dunes of Swakopmund in Namibia. Back in 2001, sandboarding meant taking a board, lying on it, and careening down a sandy mountain in hopes of making it to the bottom in one piece.
Today, official sandboards are rented out by companies for adventure-seeking tourists around the world.
But the option of do-it-yourself sandboards still exists. We could have careened down the Negev slopes on surfboards, skateboards without the wheels, camping mattresses or wooden slats like others at the site chose to do.
Instead we opted for a more specialized experience and hooked up with Dror Bamidbar, one of the companies responsible for bringing this cool sport to the forefront in Israel.
And the 30-meter-high Negev slope, which was exhausting to clamber up but not nearly as grueling as the massive African sand dunes that reach 300 meters high, turned out to be a perfect first-time family option.
There’s no carving or turning like in snowboarding; it’s a straight run down on sand.
We were shown four ways to glide down: crouching backwards, sitting, standing and kneeling. The fastest, it turned out, was the crouching backwards position.
Families enjoy sandboarding near Shivta. Photo by Viva Sarah Press
We shared our morning adventure with four other families. The kids taking part in the activity had the best balance for sure, but that didn’t stop the adults from trying their luck and often wiping out in the soft sand.
Although it’s hard to suppress a smile while surfing down the slope, it is of extreme importance to keep your mouth closed tightly, as sand in your face is inevitable.
And while the hour-and-a-half time slot given to us sounded too short, the abundant energy with which we arrived at the dune had indeed drained by the end of our antics. It seemed the kids couldn’t wait to get in the car to rest.
The next day, of course, they were already talking about our next sandboarding adventure.