By Sarah Loat
Allegedly it was the sport of pharaohs; some will argue there is evidence that ancient Egyptians were the first to ride the dunes, using hardened pottery or wooden boards. Imagine Cleopatra comin’ atcha down a sand dune. No? Maybe, maybe not, but it is nice to think that Egypt was the birthplace of what has become one of the world’s coolest extreme sports.
Modern sandboarding is not as new as you may think. It got lost somewhere in the shadow of surfing and snowboarding, but since the ‘60s it has grown in popularity. While the balance and technique is borrowed from snowboarding, your powder-loving pals will have a unique challenge when it comes to riding on sand.
Today, Egypt is home to some of the best sandboarding destinations; the Great Sand Sea near Siwa; El Safra and El Hadudah dunes between St Catherine and Dahab; and just an hour and a half drive from Cairo are the Qattaniya dunes.
Organised trips have professional instructors to brief beginners and professionals alike. They will also offer volleyball, quad bikes, a camp fire and a barbeque – desert style. Sandboarding is physically demanding so the extra activities are a welcome break in dune downtime.
Wax up your board and you are ready to ride the sand seas! Look on in awe as pro riders effortlessly flick across the sand like rattlesnakes on a hot day.
Coming down is easier than going up. It takes some grit and determination (and frankly, thighs of steel) to reach the top of a dune, so cancel your cardio class because this is all the workout you will need. It is all about technique and timing; too slow and its one step up, seventeen back…
There are no ski lifts, no après ski, in the form of restaurants and celebratory drinks, at the top. It is you, your board and desert as far as the eye can see.
The reward at the top is panoramic views over breathtakingly beautiful desertscape, with an uninterrupted view of the sunset.
At the top of the dune it suddenly looks a long way down. A very long way down. The sensation is something akin to being at the top of the rollercoaster about to plummet to the ground; or the thought of jumping into an icy pool. You need to be mentally psyched. The first time takes a few moments of composure as your heart races and adrenaline floods your body.
A quick glance to your left or right and you will see other boarders precariously teetering on the lip of the dune. Yup, they are nervous too, you can relax. Then one, two, three, WHEEE!
You are off! Racing down the dune, grains of sand rushing beneath you; sun on your skin, the wind ruffling your hair, a grin as wide as the Sahara on your face.
A word to the wise: save your smiles for the victory dance you’ll be doing at the bottom, because if you take a tumble (and you WILL take a tumble), you will be spitting out sand for days.
The sand gets everywhere, literally EVERYWHERE. But, no matter, consider it a souvenir of one of the most exhilarating desert days you will ever have.