Sandboarding hits the dunes of the UAE

Riding the vast dunes of the UAE combines the excitement of snowboarding with the accessibility of skateboarding - and more people are getting involved.

Simon Hunt makes and shapes sandboards for friends, but he has won a contract to start selling them in the UAE. Middle East artists will help design the graphics, giving them a local look. Victor Besa for The National

DUBAI // A perfect playground awaits a new breed of desert thrillseeker only a few kilometres from the sprawling metropolis of Dubai.

Riding the vast dunes of the UAE combines the excitement of snowboarding with the accessibility of skateboarding – and more people are starting to become involved.

Anyone can take up sandboarding, the latest adventure sport gaining traction in the UAE.

Simon Hunt, 34, who works in advertising, was introduced to sandboarding in his native Australia.

When Hunt moved to Dubai eight years ago, he was shocked to find that sandboarding was almost non-existent in such a perfect environment.

He hopes to change all that and since founding Above sandboards, using the same basic design skills he learnt at scout camp, he says there are signs the sport could be on the verge of exploding in popularity.

“It’s like snowboarding on powder,” said Hunt. “The speed is pretty fast, as fast as snow when everything is right. It depends on the right amount of wax on the board, sand temperature and gradient of slope.

“Dubai is the perfect environment, with so many dunes a short drive from the city.”

The only downside could be the lack of pulleys or lifts to return riders to the top of the dunes. A quick fix is a four-wheel-drive vehicle or dune buggy.

Hunt would eventually like to see sandboarding parks developed, with a pulley system similar to those on nursery ski slopes.

The colder the sand is the faster the boards travel, so it is perfect for winter. Sandboarding is possible in the summer in the early morning or later afternoon, when the sand is out of direct sunlight to stop the board’s wax wearing off quickly.

“When I was a kid growing up in rural Australia there wasn’t much to do,” Hunt said. “I was in the scouts and we would go on camping trips, go bushwalking or canoeing.

“An uncle of my friend was making sandboards and selling them in our local surf shop. He showed us how to make our own. From there, a few of us kept making them. Each was a bit different and we would use them in the dunes and beaches around South Australia.

“I grew up about 100 kilometres from the coast, between Melbourne and Adelaide. We would go on weekend trips to the beach and when there was no surf we would go sandboarding.”

The boards are similar to skateboards, using hardwood veneers laminated together. The base is a specific material that is perfect to slide on sand.

Middle East artists have been called on to design board graphics, giving them a local look. Wider boards for sitting are available for learners.

“The beauty is that it’s perfect for Dubai, it’s free, accessible and great for fitness,” Hunt said. “You can do it whenever you want. Loads of people go out to the desert to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and this adds to that.”

For more information on how to take up the sport, visit