Vagabond Tales: Is sandboarding better than snowboarding?

Contrary to what you may believe, the ocean in Peru is not very warm. In fact, it’s not warm at all. It’s freezing.

Other than desert outposts in the northern reaches of the country where it’s still possible to surf in boardshorts (Mancora, Vichayito, etc.), the Humboldt current–which swings northward from Antarctica–renders the water in Peru so cold that much of the coast is a seascape of lonely gray populated by neoprene-clad surfers suffering from ice cream headaches (surf slang for intense pain in the temples felt when diving beneath a frigid wave).

For this precise reason there was little part of me which wanted to surf in Peru.

But wait, Peru has some of the best waves in the world. Chicama, Pacasmayo, Cabo Blanco? These places are legendary. What’s wrong with you?

Standing on the rocky shores of Huanchaco, a beachfront suburb of the colonial city of Trujillo, the thought of removing my warm flannel and thrusting my ceviche-laden body into 51° water held remarkably little appeal. That, and the waves simply just weren’t that good. Admittedly, a fair weather surfer I will be.

Having already toured the ruins of Huaca de Sol and Chan Chan, ancient cities of the Moche and Chimu people who began inhabiting this coastline around 400 AD, my wife and I were simply going to have to find adventure elsewhere.

How about sand boarding?

For years I had seen photos of warm-weather renegades riding down sand dunes from Morocco to New Zealand to here on the coast of Peru. Still, I was skeptical. It’s sand. Not snow. Or water. How fun can it possibly be?Hiring out the services of a local guide named Jaime we hopped into a 1980’s era red van that appeared to contain half of the dune already embedded into the interior. For over an hour and a half the three of us bounced our way over dirt roads and past rural farming hamlets in search of a shimmering white dune which, ideally, would be protected from the stiff coastal breeze.

“This”, I initially reckoned, “is absurd.”

I could be lounging oceanfront back in Huanchaco sucking down a bucket of cold cervezas and watching tourists head into the surf on caballito de totoras, traditional boats made of thin reeds which many historians believe were potentially the world’s first surf craft.

Instead, I find myself 50km inland driving through scrub brush with a man named Jaime who’s keen on throwing me off of a sand dune on a board akin to a skateboard without wheels.


As I would find out after my first successful run down the dune, however, this is a sport that could grow on me, and it was growing on me fast.

The first notable difference between sandboarding and snowboarding is the exhausting lack of a ski lift. The absence of a lift of course leads to a lot more trekking uphill, which when performed in sand up to your ankles is harder than you might imagine.

This, it would seem, is a massive downside to sandboarding.

On the contrary, it only leads me to offer the first point for why sandboarding may be better than snowboarding:

With sandboarding you get an incredible workout.

Furthermore, when a titanic amount of effort is required to reach the top of a dune it only adds a sense of accomplishment to the ensuing ride down.

Unless, of course, you happen to fall on the ride down. Then the 20 minute walk to the top feels like a waste. While perhaps true, the idea of falling introduces the second reason why sandboarding may be better than snowboarding:

When you fall, it doesn’t hurt.

No ice patches, no bruised butt muscles, no broken vertebrae, just forgiving folds of sand waiting to absorb you and your miserable descent.

True, you may end up getting sand in your shorts, but this raises the third and final reason why sandboarding may be better than snowboarding:

Sandboarding is warmer than snowboarding.

Given the nature of the climates where massive sand dunes thrive, rarely will you need more clothing for sandboarding than your favorite bathing suit. There are no expensive gloves, pants, jackets, goggles, earmuffs, or shivering on top of a mountain. Swap them all out for a pair of boardshorts and call it a day.

Do I feel this reasoning will create any converts? Absolutely not. But I at least feel compelled to make the argument, invite you to try it, and let you make the decision for yourself.

Interested? Check out Sandboard magazine to find a dune location near you.

Read more of the Vagabond Tales here