Sunday, December 11, 2005

Independent on Sunday: New Wave

The Broader Picture, by Keith Laidlaw
Photograph by Olivier Renck: opens in a new window

Various board sports - whether based on surf, snow or wheels - have ridden their own waves of popularity over recent years, but sandboarding seems like an unlikely candidate to follow them. The least-known member of the boarding family has actually been around in its modern form since the 1970s, and claims to have a heritage every bit as ancient as the granddaddy of them all, surfing (the ancestral home of sandboarding is Egypt, where local drop-outs were strapping bits of wood to their feet to descend dunes and shout 'dude!' at one another back when their more industrious relatives were busy building pyramids).

Popular sandboarding spots can be found around the world (in the UK they're on the coasts of Devon and Wales), but they all pale into insignificance next to the one pictured. Cerro Blanco in Peru is the tallest sand dune in the world, with a peak 4,000ft higher than its base (which is a similar 'vertical drop' to that offered by many Alpine ski resorts).

Like all board sports, sandboarding's infancy has been dominated by a strong DIY ethos, and websites such as www.sandboard.com still tell you how to make your own board using plywood and Formica. But the sport is growing and a creeping commercialisation is evident in the numbers of manufacturers now selling boards. Proof indeed that Peru's sand may soon be as important to board-sports culture as Hawaiian surf or Rocky Mountain snow.