Surf the dunes

Get a whole new perspective on sand in Florence, Oregon

Bonnie Henderson

How does sandboarding compare with snowboarding? Being a skier, not a boarder, I couldn't say. But my companion could.

"It's sandier," he said. Indeed.

"Lean back and close your mouth when you fall," was the parting advice from the pro at Sand Master Park in Florence, Oregon, as we headed out for the first time with a board. That, in a nutshell, turned out to be the key to a successful day on the dunes.

You've got to wonder what took so long for sandboarding and a sandboarding park―the world's first―to take off at the central Oregon coast's 40 acres of dunes. A small cadre of boarders all over the world have been sliding down dunes for decades (and humans have been sliding down dunes on their feet for millennia). This site's appeal? It's accessible, with a shop and big dunes right off U.S. 101, and it's full-service, renting, selling, and manufacturing sandboards. First-timers can try it on their own, and most do. But the park also offers lessons to help you learn to lean.

It's a lot like wakeboarding or snowboarding in heavy powder, the instructor explained. Falling on the sand was comparable to a fall on hard-packed snow. Waxing before each slide seemed tedious at first but became routine. And after trudging up several dunes, we found ourselves looking around for the (nonexistent) chairlift. Then it all paid off with one perfect, long ride down a sweet angle of sand, tapering off into a slow slide that allowed me to end not with a crash but a whoop and a (gritty) grin.

INFO: Sand Master Park ( www.sandmasterpark.com or 541/997-6006), in Florence, OR, offers sandboarding lessons and the Sand Master Jam 2005 on May 28-29. Dumont Dunes ( www.ca.blm.gov/barstow/dumont.htmlwww.ca.blm.gov/barstow/dumont.html or 760/252-6000), southeast of Death Valley, and southern Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve ( www.nps.gov/grsa or 719/378-6399) are good places to board on your own. Visit www.sandboard.com to find more locations, but call before heading out; some environmentally sensitive sites are off-limits.