Surfing Sand in the Arabian Desert

Sandboarding may have been invented on the California coast, but the sport reaches new adrenaline-packed heights on the rolling dunes of the Arabian Desert, in the United Arab Emirates, where young Emiratis and thrilling-seeking members of a vast expat population have embraced the sport.

What to Expect: The boarder glides down a sandy slope on a plank about the same size and shape as a snowboard. Although die-hard sandboarders stand (like surfers) as they’re running the dunes, novices lie on their back or stomach. The best sandboarders can achieve speeds of 40 miles an hour (64 km/h).

Where to Go: On the edge of the Sahara’s Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter—the world’s largest sand desert—the Emirates is the perfect place to learn or master sandboarding.

Several good areas are found on the outskirts of Dubai, but the holy grail of the sport is Liwa Oasis, a collection of Bedouin villages approximately 95 miles (150 km) southwest of Abu Dhabi, off the E11 motorway. The ocher-colored dunes surrounding the oasis include a sandy giant called the Tal Moreeb (Scary Hill) that towers more than 900 feet (300 m) above the desert floor 15 miles (25 km) from the village of Mezaira’a.

Joining In: Adventure outfitters in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (try Abu Dhabi Desert Safari) offer guided sandboarding trips.

Or you can buy a board, rent a 4WD vehicle, and choose your own dune. You’ll need wider and longer boards than standard for running big dunes. Sandboards must have an upturned tip to keep the board from plowing into the sand. You can wax the bottom of the board to make it run more smoothly.

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When to Go: Given the triple-digit temperatures usual in the U.A.E. in summer, sandboarding is best in late fall, winter, or early spring. Regardless of when you go, wear sunscreen, long-sleeves, long pants, and a hat. Good advice: Anyone contemplating a glide down Tal Moreeb should invest in a helmet.

This piece was adapted from the National Geographic book, Where The Locals Go.

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