Florence

It wasn’t the towering fir trees, the local IPAs, or the stunning views along the coast that brought Lon Beale to Oregon.

It was the sand.

Beale is owner and operator of Sand Master Park in Florence, which touts itself as the world’s first sandboarding park. Beale himself – aka Doctor Dune – is one of the pioneers of the sport.

“We’ve sandboarded all over the world, and all the sand is different,” he said. “The sand here on the Oregon coast, I put it in the top five in the world, some of the best we’ve ever ridden.”

He would know.

Inside the offices of Sand Master Park, Beale has close to 150 bottles of sand, ranging in color from taupe to gray to rust, collected over the past 30 years from across the globe. The “Sandbrary” has samples from Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Peru, Egypt and Mexico – all places where he’s competed or sandboarded.

Sandboarding involves standing on waxed wooden boards and riding down the long slopes of sand dunes. It looks like snowboarding, but because the sand is constantly shifting, it feels more like surfing.

“It doesn’t stay still, it’s like a bunch of little ball bearings, or like liquid,” said Gabriel Cruz, who works at Sand Master Park. “It’s always moving and changing so you never get the same ride, just like you’d never get the same wave.”

Oregon coast sand is especially fine and smooth for riding, and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area offers one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“The ocean is like a giant rock tumbler. It’s rounding out all those grains of sand and then blowing them back up on the beach,” Beale said. “We’re not really riding little rocks, we’re riding little marbles, so you’re gliding a lot easier than you would be if you were riding little rocks. And because we get so much rain here, the sand is very clean.”

Newbies to the sport can first get their footing on the 40 acres of smaller dunes at Sand Master Park, where Cruz offers lessons.

After that, they can take their rental boards to the start of the 40-mile Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which stretches from Florence south to Coos Bay. Dunes in that area can reach up to 500 feet, providing plenty of opportunity for fast and challenging rides.

Beale grew up in the Mojave Desert town of California City, the land of sand dunes. As a kid, he and his friends would try to slide and roll down them.

“You see the slope and you’re jumping and you’re rolling and you’re somersaulting down the dunes,” he said. “It was just a natural progression to bring different things – cardboard, plastics, metals – to try to get it to slide.”

Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, sandboarding was just a hobby for Beale. But by the early 1990s, he saw business potential.

“We saw the boom in surfing and snowboarding,” Beale said. “So why not sandboarding?”

In 1991, he launched his Venomous Sandboard line of boards designed specifically for sandboarding, which are smaller and lighter than snowboards, and he started promoting the burgeoning sport. Seven years later, he was in Oregon filming a segment on sandboarding for ESPN when he had an epiphany.

“The sand here was so good, we realized this is where we should be,” he said.

He opened Sand Master Park in Florence in 2000, starting with about 15 sandboards for rent. As Beale tells it, all the boards would be claimed in the first half-hour.

Today, the business has grown to include about 100 boards available for rentals. The sandboards, which can also be purchased, are all made in a small production facility in Florence, the self-proclaimed “Sandboarding Capital of the World.”

In non-pandemic years, Florence has hosted the Sand Master Jam, a sandboarding competition that brings hundreds of riders and spectators to the dunes in slalom races and rail sliding.

At age 64, Beale, known as the godfather of sandboarding, still gets out on the dunes, but not as often. And he’s not doing the tricks and backflips that the new generation is attempting today.

“It’s a thrill to see it progress,” he said. “Pretty much anything they’re doing on snow, they’re doing on sand.”

But you don’t have to be a pro to have fun on the dunes. Tourists Grace Guan, Jenny Ma and Kai Zheng were returning their sandboards after a recent overnight rental.

“It’s very beginner friendly, and we had a lot of fun,” Ma said.

Unlike snowboarding, riding the sand requires minimal gear and can be done year-round. But perhaps the biggest advantage to sand over snow: It doesn’t hurt when you wipe out.

“I’ve been skiing before and it’s a lot harder when you fall on snow, but the sand was really soft,” Zheng said.

Injuries while sandboarding are rare.

“Though you’ll get sand everywhere, there’s no doubt about that,” Beale said.

Some of the smallest riders at Sand Master Park are as young as 3 years old. Entire families often rent boards together.

“It’s definitely a workout, but it’s good for you,” Beale said. “Once you get into sandboarding, you no longer notice the hike up, you’re more focused on anticipating the ride down.”

IF YOU GO:

Sand Master Park is located at 4981 Highway 101 in Florence, just north of Fred Meyer. Sandboard rentals range from $10 to $25 for 24 hours, depending on the board style. One-hour lessons are $25 to $45 per person, depending on the size of the group. Operating hours vary depending on the season. For more information, visit sandmasterpark.com or call 541-997-6006.

-- Samantha Swindler, i">>[email protected], i">>@editorswindler | i">>HereisOregon.com | #HereisOregon

Source : https://www.oregonlive.com/living/2021/10/ride-the-dunes-in-florence-the-sandboarding-capital-of-the-world.html

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