OK, I CONFESS: I’m addicted to board sports. But I will not admit that I have a problem. Sure, in my nine-year snowboarding career, I’ve suffered tooth-cracking wipeouts and permanent frostbite damage to my nose. (And that was just during one day at Vail.) In order to ride my first wave on Oahu’s fabled North Shore last year, I had to dispense with a lifelong fear of sharks. And each week, in my own strait-laced Southwest Portland neighborhood, I endure the palpable disapproval of my neighbors as they gawk at me—a bearded 33-year-old in raggedy Levi’s—while I carve S-turns down the asphalt hills on a longboard. What better way to slide through life than sideways, breeze blowing back your hair, endorphins buzzing through your system? None, I say.
Little wonder, then, that I find myself, along with my wife, Elizabeth (who, miraculously, enables my boarding obsession), trekking toward the peak of one of the many granular hillsides within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area—a 50-mile stretch of coast between Heceta Head and Coos Bay that’s home to thousands of wind-sculpted dunes. But this trip is not about sightseeing. Oh, no. Elizabeth and I are marching straight up an enormous mound of sand so that I can conquer yet another surface with a plank.
You can ride dunes in some 40 countries, from Peru to Japan.
We’re about to launch full bore into the emerging adventure sport of sandboarding (yes, sandboarding is a bona fide sport). But first we’ll be gleaning some tips from the sport’s five-time national champion, Josh Tenge, who also owns the Guinness Book of World Records title for longest backflip—a whopper that covered a distance of 44 feet, 10 inches.
Tenge presently works as an instructor at Sand Master Park, a pint-size and very sandy version of a ski resort that’s located just north of Florence. Opened in 2000 by 51-year-old entrepreneur Lon Beale, Sand Master bills itself as “The World’s First Sand Park,” and the latest incarnation of a sport that traces its popularity back to the 1960s surf craze. In fact, Sand Master’s 40 acres of privately maintained dunes are outfitted with enough terrain-park features to make any Mt Hood Meadows snowboarder jealous. Rail slides, ramps, box slides—if you can do it on snow, you can do it on sand. (The only other such resort is located near Hirschau, Germany.)
Today you also can ride dunes in some 40 countries, from Peru to Japan, as well as in places like Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Silver Lake Dunes near Lake Michigan, and Monahans Sandhills State Park in Texas. But none of these parks has a fully stocked pro shop selling eight different brands of sandboards and T-shirts with the words “It’s not snow,” as Sand Master does.
The only thing missing: chairlifts. It’s nearly impossible to plunk one down because, Tenge says, “The dunes are always changing.” Constant offshore breezes move so much sand, they could easily bury a lift, or even blow away dunes altogether.
Even sans lifts, Sand Master’s location has turned it into a sandboarding mecca that’s drawn visits from the likes of the Los Angeles Times, CNN’s Money magazine, and the Discovery Channel. Such notoriety has helped net some 18,000 visits last year alone, compared to just 400 when the park first opened.