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Trying to translate snow to sand

Wynn Humphrey-Keever of Portland tried his moves at Sand Master Park in Florence, a coastal community west of Eugene. Wynn Humphrey-Keever of Portland tried his moves at Sand Master Park in Florence, a coastal community west of Eugene. (SHIRA SPRINGER/GLOBE STAFF)
October 12, 2008
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FLORENCE, Ore. - When I walked into the Sand Master Park rental shop for a sandboard, I was a skeptical and avowed downhill skier. The prospect of riding a waxed, snowboard-like piece of wood on nearby dunes ran counter to my New England roots. I like my mountains snow-covered and my boots pointed forward. Sensing my reluctance to find my inner sandboarder, four-time world champion Josh Tenge slid around the rental counter and gave me a proper introduction to his sport.

"Our goal here was to see if people wanted to sandboard," said Tenge, as he selected a board for me and checked the elastic bindings around my heels. "They love it. I love it. Where else can you go out and get the feeling of snow with no snow. I think it's perfect. It's just not a known board sport."

Tenge hands me a neon green disk of board wax and I venture into the dunes behind the Fred Meyer supermarket on Highway 101. The small, gently sloping mounds of soft sand that form one section of the 40-acre park are perfect for beginners. Once I climb to the top of a nearby dune, I spot a couple of families trying out their sandboards for the first time, too. A teenager from Portland soon joins the impromptu novice class with everyone shouting helpful hints.

"You're sort of picking your heels up," says a father to his son who is struggling to stay upright. "You've got to get your heels down."

His mom follows with encouragement: "Nice job. You stayed on the path."

On a medium-grade, 40-yard stretch, I cannot stay upright or on the preferred path. Keeping my board properly waxed is also a challenge. As a result, I move down the slope in an awkward start-and-stop motion, trying to gather downhill momentum. Each run I make it a little farther before falling. But it's frustrating. Thankfully, the soft sand doesn't hurt as I tumble into it again and again.

The teenager from Portland, Wynn Humphrey-Keever, shouts a few tips. "Keep your center of gravity more over the board to stop falling," he says. "You're leaning back too much." Even though I make my way down the dunes more on my behind than my board, I start to find something strangely addictive about the sport. I love the challenge, the summer temperatures, and the uncrowded dunes.

I begin to understand why locals tell me sandboarding will soon be the next big thing on the Oregon coast. Sandboarding is already popular in a number of desert and dune areas around the globe, from Australia to Uruguay. Sand Master Park claims to be the first sandboard park in the world and aims to be a full-service facility with equipment for sale and rental, lessons, and plenty of terrain just outside the front door.

The ease of slipping into a board barefoot and setting out for a day on the dunes without paying for lift tickets is a large part of sandboarding's appeal. The sport is inexpensive, requiring only a T-shirt, shorts, and rental board for a good time. The toughest part comes after each run when you have to walk back up the dunes. Sand Master Park is working to create a moving walkway that would eliminate those tiring climbs.

After an hour of dragging myself and my board back to the top of my self-made beginner trail, I'm exhausted. But my determination to reach the end of a run without falling has not flagged. By my 17th trip down, I have mastered board waxing and placed my center of gravity in the proper spot. I speed down the slope, leaving an impressive spray of sand behind me. I finish upright, a sandboarding convert.

Sand Master Park, 87542 Highway 101, Florence, Ore. 541-997-6006, sandmasterpark .com. Rentals $10-$25 per 24 hours. Daily June 1-Sept. 10 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. In the off season, open six days a week 10-5, Sundays 12-5, and closed Wednesday. Closed Jan. 15-March 1.

SHIRA SPRINGER

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