Sandboarding in the old days

It’s funny how things from your past can suddenly come back to remind you how much fun they were.

I was chatting on Twitter the other day with a young guy who lives in my old home town. He made a comment about me surfing, I replied that I didn’t surf but used to sandboard, and he replied “What’s that?” He’d never heard of it.

I Googled it to find that it’s now a moderately popular sport in some places — desert areas or places where there are large sand dunes. Check out Sandboard Magazine or Planet Sandboard. Basically, you ride a board like a snowboard down the biggest, steepest sand dune you find. The modern boards are large, about the size of a snowboard, complete with snowboard-like bindings.

My cousin Roger, who’s four years older than me, got us into it. He’s always been a keen surfie, and he and his friends used to sandboard when the surf was small. Very few people did it, and we had to make our own boards. The boards in those days were smaller than the modern ones. We made them out of the hardest wood we could find — normally a plank about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick, and the length and width of a typical skateboard. We would shape them so they were still flat on the top, but rounded at the bottom edges so the edge was quite sharp. Then we would get sanding with paper until they were as smooth as we could get them — like glass, if we could (that’s why they had to be made of hardwood). Then we would paint the top and sprinkle sand in the paint so we had some grip.

Before we rode the board, we would wax the bottom. We used to use old candles, or we would steal blocks of the wax Mum used to seal the tops of jars of preserves or jam. Then you just got on at the top of the biggest sand dune you could find, push off and try to stay upright until you got to the bottom. Sometimes we managed it, but the rides were short and really fast. A 45 to 60 degree slope was about ideal.

There were a lot fewer injuries than skateboarding (sand’s a lot softer than tarseal or concrete), although I did once get a pinched nerve next to my spine after landing heavily with straight legs. It took two trips to the osteopath to fix that, after many months of intermittent pain. (Actually, when we were much younger we lived on a farm, and one time Roger visited he made boards for us to ride down the dry grass slopes on the farm. I broke my little finger doing that. I must remind him how he’s been responsible for those injuries the next time I need a favour from him.)

It was heaps of fun, and the only thing that stopped us was that there were only a few really good dunes at our beach and we eventually got bored with them. You probably can’t do it there these days as the erosion has got bad and the best dune slopes are fenced off — probably because of the damage started by us when we were kids.

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