What it’s like to sandboard Dubai’s sand dunes

Sandboarding the steep slopes of Dubai’s majestic and shifting desert dunes is a heady mix of thrill and fantasy, as MIKE MACEACHERAN discovers.

There’s something wrong here, I think, as I peer over the edge of the sand dune for the first time. On either side of me, two friends look confident. One is holding a can of wax spray, already applied to the underside of the board strapped to my feet. The other, more vocal, warns me to push off hard.

My first worry is the heat: It’s around 28 deg C at about 6pm. The sky above is brilliant blue, almost bleached skeleton-white with sun. It’s too hot to be out, let alone sweating in an exposed, arid environment.

Next, I sense the emptiness: The Arabian Desert is far more magnificent and vast than it is played up to be, stretching beyond the horizon from Jordan to the Gulf of Oman, belittling anything my imagination expected.

And then there is the fear: I’m wired, alarmingly so, finely balanced as though on a see-saw tipping on the verge of a 100m-high sand dune. Why, in other words, did I think sandboarding would be so straightforward?

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My wind-whipped legs on the 30-minute walk up the dune should have reminded me that years ago, I tried the sport and failed. Back then, I cartwheeled like a blind goose on roller skates, tail-whipped into the air, a crick in my neck for the entire following week. My sandboarding ambitions snuffed out.

But I have come to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to embrace the Arabian Desert, and in Dubai – a place where artifice is part of the fun of the escape – the natural setting of the scarlet-red desert dunes at sunset feels far more like a fantasy. Plus, my friends have talked me into it.