“I love Oregon sand,” Tenge says, while surveying the vast landscape of Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park. This is where he often takes beginners and more “mature” riders, like me and my wife. “The possibilities are endless out here,” he says.
As we climb higher on the sand, we’re treated to a glimpse of the untold number of dunes lining the central Oregon coastline. Given that they can reach heights of 500 feet, and can have inclines as steep as a double-black-diamond run at a ski resort, I’m beginning to understand Tenge’s affinity for this sandy neck of the woods. While I might graduate to the steeps someday, right now I’m happy to be standing on the top of sandboarding’s equivalent of a bunny hill: a wheat-colored dune rising oh-so-gently above Honeyman’s popular Cleawox Lake, a deep-blue freshwater pool surrounded by giant fir trees and blooming rhododendrons.
The boards we’ll ride today look like snowboards, but there are some not-so-obvious differences. For starters, out here wax isn’t something you use once a month; it’s something you apply after every run. “The wax is what makes it all possible,” Tenge says as we rub our boards’ Formica baseplates with hunks of green wax about the size of a hockey puck to create a smooth, slick surface. Our sandboards also sport a subtle U shape, a design element that helps riders keep the board’s nose pointing up. If the nose digs down into the sand, we’d go tumbling forward, do a face plant, and end up with a mouthful of sand—which, I assure you, tastes way worse than a mouthful of snow.
One other key difference: no boots. Tenge, who also designed many of the sandboards in use at Sand Master, has outfitted the ultralight wooden sleds with cushy, and extremely snug, padded foot-straps. All I have to do is slide my bare feet (we are at the beach, after all) into place and point the board downhill. And so I do, flying down the dune and kicking up a spray of sand like an old pro. Elizabeth follows, shouting “Yes!” as she successfully glides in beside me at the base of the hill. “I don’t have to worry about stopping!” she says. That’s because the wax wears off of the board quickly, slowing the rider’s descent.
After a few runs, I’m feeling confident—cocky, even. So on my last run I seek out a steep section of dune where Tenge has built a mound of sand in order to practice his aerial acrobatics. I don’t intend to vie for his world-record backflip entry today, but I do want to try a wee jump. As I streak toward my target, however, I realize the dune is steeper—a lot steeper—than I’d anticipated. Now I’m flying out of control, straight for the launchpad. I close my eyes, hit the jump, and utter an unprintable word. But to my surprise, I manage to stick the landing.
“Did you see that?” I yell proudly to Elizabeth, who manages a worried smile. It’s not the look of someone concerned that her 30-something husband has just about busted yet another part of his body; it’s a wary, nervous expression that says, Oh boy, here we go again …