Sandboarding all starts with the sand itself. The earth's dunes are made up of a wide variety of elements. The type of sand, size of granule, wear, position, organic content, and humidity are all factors that affect the properties of the sand. Each of these factors in itself can affect the glide of the sandboard. Together they can make the difference whether your board moves at all or streaks to the bottom at highway speeds.
What's Wrong With My Board?
We often get letters from sandboarders around the world who want to know what kind of board or base they should ride on their local sand dunes. Some times they think there's a problem with the base surface, board design or type of wax they are using because the board won't move or is too slow or won't budge at all! Most never consider that the sand is the problem and not the board they try. Of course it is true that wax, base and board design are definite factors but some preliminary research on the sand itself will often save one from disappointment when it comes time to strap on the board and take that first run.
First Things First.
Before you even take your sandboard out to the dune you should consider the most obvious factor. Friends, I don't care what kind of board, wax, base or sand you are riding, if the slope isn't steep enough the board won't move. This isn't slippery snow or a wave that is moving in the direction that you desire to be going also. It's sand, with trillions upon trillions of abrasive, friction building, hard as glass granules that were not designed for easy motion. For gravity to do what it does best it must have a steep enough slope to overcome the restrictive properties of the sand and pull you to the bottom. Forget the bunny slopes and search out the steepest, longest slopes you can find. The steeper the slope the more effective gravity will be for your ride. If the board won't travel to the bottom by itself it's not going to travel with you either. On a steep slope the right base and wax will make the board much faster. And I mean twice as fast! On a gentler slope the right base and wax may just let the board move. But if a sand dune is steep enough you could ride pizza down the slope!
No H2O. The second critical factor a sandboarder must consider is the moisture content of the sand. Is it wet? Damp sand will cause the board to stick much like it sticks to a wet had pressed into the sand. It also tends to build up on the wax making even the wax work against the motion. However, very wet sand can be ridden. If you're out on the dunes and it's getting a good shower take a UHMW based or "wet base" board out on it and have some fun. The sand will be packed down from the rain so it will be a bit harder and denser but you can still have a great time and you can lay down some nice carves as well. Of course, dry powder sand it the best and has the closest feel to flying so always seek out the dry stuff when you can. Slightly damp sand or sand that is dry on the surface but is wet an inch or so underneath is always a bit of a problem. When you have sand that is dry on the surface and wet just underneath it tends to ride well enough flat boarded but when you lean an edge in to turn the board the wet sand grabs the edge shifting your weight forward which in turn will dig more edge into the wet sand slowing the board down even more or sending you face first down the slope. The problem is you are now riding on two entirely different conditions during the same run. Stay with the dry stuff and save yourself the struggle.
Unfriendly Sand. Unfriendly sand isn't as common but is still a major factor to whether you will get to ride that dune or not. There are so many different types and grades of sand that it would be foolish to believe that if your board rides on one dune it will ride on them all. This isn't true. Some sand is so extremely abrasive that it will eat the base right off your board if you can get it to move at all.
I've ridden a couple ancient cinder cones of volcanic ash. The sand was beautiful, clean and fine but it was so hard and sharp, (like tiny crushed glass) that one run down the slope ate the factory logo right off a brand new board. It gave me a slow run. It was steep enough to run but was totally unfriendly sand. The World Sandboard Championships held at Monte Kaolino, Germany face the same problem. The dune is actually a working quarry and the sand is sharp quartz that will destroy a standard board in one day. For these types of sand you will need a board with an abrasion resistant base like the "Diamond Race Base" which is made specifically for high abrasion sand. Try to avoid volcanic sands, quarried quartz sand or sand with a lot of hard metal granules in it as well. Generally, if sand has been quarried or has sat in the same place over the millenniums it will have sharp edges and be unfriendly to the sandboarder. You want to ride sand that has been blown or washed about for countless centuries since this allows the grains to tumble against each other round out and polishing each granule. Instead of riding on rough cube shaped grains you will be riding on little marbles. You can understand why old worn sand is faster than fresh sand when you imagine boarding on a mountain of ball bearings! That is why true dune sand is so desirable for sandboarding. It has paid it's dues to time and the forces of nature gradually becoming refined and friendly to the glide of the sandboard.