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Our intrepid scribe Matt hurtles down Dubai’s biggest sand dune
ith its shark tanks, indoor skislopes and artificial white-water rafting runs, the UAE is a haven for adrenaline addicts. However, even without its deck stacked with manmade sporting wonders, the UAE has always had one ace up its sleeve: sand dunes – and really big ones, too. The good news for both madkeen sandboarders and any of their snow-dependent cousins looking to trade powder for grain (that’s ‘snow’ and ‘sand’ for those not fluent in gnarly) is that access to these dunes is fairly easy, although you will need a 4x4, a board and a keen sense of direction. If, like me, you have none of those things then the best way to enjoy a morning carving the sand is to book it through a tour company.
Going for it
The Desert Rangers are a handy bunch. Despite only 24 hours’ notice they picked me up from my doorstep at 8am and set course for Dubai’s most imposing dune, Big Red. Following a 35-minute drive into the desert on the DubaiHatta road, the towering Mount Doom-esque peak appears amid a sea of undulating burnt red dunes. Never before has a UAE landmark been labelled so literally. After stopping to adjust the car’s tyre pressure the instructor, Bhandari, turns off the road and makes a beeline for our ominous destination – oblivious to the hundreds of obstacles separating us. Roaring over the dunes, I hold on for dear life and curse my luck that the soundtrack to my demise is likely to be dance remixes of Bollywood classics booming out of the speakers.
Much like off-piste skiing, there are no assigned runs for sandboarding. The wind in the desert ensures that the dunes
are constantly changing size and shape – and it is blowing a gale as we park near the top of the mountain. As sand lashes us from all angles I am quietly thankful that I brought my sunglasses – more to protect my eyes than anything else. As we plot the route down the slope, I feel it’s right to remind Bhandari that I have never done this before, to which he smiles and says: “No problem. It’s easy.” Unconvinced, I strap my feet to the board and listen eagerly to his pearls of wisdom. With the words “ just go with it” ringing in my ears, I pushed off down the slope. Unconvinced by my skill level, I take the descent slowly – stopping several times so I can get the gist of it. After completing a somewhat unspectacular run, I can’t wait to go again, and start running back up the hill, which is where I come head on with the hardest part about sandboarding – getting back to the top. No fancy lift transport here, and after ten minutes I finally manage to clamber my way puffing and panting back to the top. Completely exhausted I hardly have enough time to ask for a break, before I have to go again. Thinking there’s no way I’m climbing up again, I decide that, this time, this is – all or nothing. Steadying my balance, I shift my weight to my front foot and lean forward. Suddenly the speed picks up, my board cuts through the sand like a rapier through butter and I tear downhill with a huge grin plastered across my face. Desert Rangers, daily 8am to noon, Dhs1000 per car. Tel: (04) 3572233. desertrangers.com
Climbing up for multiple runs is exhausting – but totally worth it. Everyone living in the UAE needs to try sandboarding at least once.
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1/28/13 7:08 PM
What's On magazine – February 2013