Swakopmund; In which we slide down sand dunes at stupid speeds on our bellies

It’s customary to sign up for an assortment of activities while you’re in Swakopmund - quad-biking (what we call ATVs at home), skydiving and the like. The only one that interested us was what they call “sandboarding” - where you slide down sand dunes on sheets of thin, flexible particle board with one smooth side (we used to paint on it and called it masonite back in art school). It’s basically tobogganing on sand instead of snow. This appealed to us because tobogganing is fun and being cold is no fun at all. They took us out into the desert in the mid-morning to a government reserve. It’s free to use at the moment, but they issued dire warnings that if people littered or messed up the dunes too much the government would start requiring permits. It was a beautiful area, all pure wind-sculpted dunes with the ocean and the town in the distance. I love the desert. I love the cleanness and the emptiness. I even love the heat, to be honest - there aren’t many things in the world blessed enough to stop me thinking, but the sun in the desert burns my mind clean of thought.

We were all given helmets, elbow-pads and gloves besides our boards. It all seemed like a bit of overkill in the protection department (and didn’t turn out to be necessary in the end) but I suppose they were meant to make us feel like we were risking our lives. There was another, larger group there with us, who would be doing what they called “stand-up” boarding - riding down the dunes on snowboards, as opposed to our “lie-down” boarding. We (Sheryl and I) had thought about doing the stand-up boarding, but after we’d seen them go down the dunes a few times we decided we’d made the right decision - it looked kind of slow and boring to me.

Sandboarding

Sandboarding

Our lie-down boarding was immensely fun. You lie on your stomach on the board, which has been waxed and polished, with your feet out straight behind you, and go down face-first with your hands pulling the leading edge of the board up into a curve and your elbows out like wings. The first dune was straight and steep and I could feel my stomach being left behind me. The second was similar and the third swooped around in a big curve. The fourth was a long shallow slope that they sent two people down on the same board - very cute for couples. The last slope was the biggest, steepest and curviest (and the most fun). They had a guy at the bottom with a speed-gun measuring people as they came down. I went 66kph on my first trip down, and 67 and 68 on my second and third. On the third I hit a little ramp of sand and jumped through the air. I only wiped out once, at the end of a run when the board turned sideways and I went spinning along the sand.

Sandboarding

It was a lot of fun, even the tiring walks back up to the tops of the dunes so that you could go again. I do wish there hadn’t been so many people, though. The “lie-down” boarders had to wait fifteen or twenty minutes a couple of times for the cameraman to finish filming the more numerous and more photogenic “stand-up” boarders before we could go down ourselves. We tried to tell them we didn’t care about the camera, but they weren’t having it and wouldn’t let us go down. I found out later that the cameraman is an independent operator, so they must have some kind of agreement with him. Still, it was a bit annoying having to wait - we only got to go down the dunes seven times in all, over more than two hours.

Sandboarding

Sandboarding

It was still a lot of fun, though, and good value for money - the video, drinks and lunch were included in the N$200 price (about CAD$25). Getting to spend the day in the desert was nice too. I got a stupid sunburn, though. I’d put sun-block on my face and neck, and my arms from shoulder to the top of the elbow-pad, but hadn’t bothered with the rest of my arm, so I have a weird-looking burn on my forearms that stops at a sharp line halfway to my elbow. So glamorous. Oh, and I’ll be washing sand off myself for weeks to come. I’ve got sand in places I didn’t even know I had My ears were full of sand. I emptied half a kilo out of each shoe and a quarter-kilo out of each pocket. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, gentle reader.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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