Sandboarding craze gets foothold in Silver Lake Dunes

Lisa Conley
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Traverse City — Shredding down steep hills, catching big air and performing jaw-dropping tricks…sound like the life of famed snowboarder Shaun White? Maybe, except for one key difference: sand.

Sandboarding is the latest in extreme sports. It’s safer, cheaper and of course, warmer than its icy alternative. It’s also prohibited in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“We currently do not allow sandboarding due to visitor conflicts and the risk of injuries,” Phil Akers, Sleeping Bear Dunes chief ranger, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Visitors are welcome to ski, snowboard and sled in designated areas when the dunes are covered with snow, Akers said.

Sandboarders in the making can instead head to Silver Lake Dunes in Mears where the sport’s foothold is growing.

“People don’t know about it as much as you’d think, but I’ve been renting more and more boards each year,” said Terri Sharpe, owner of the outdoor recreational sports store The Sand Box.

Sandboarding was invented for thrill-seekers but it’s also accessible for the average person and all of her sport boards are made for beginners, she said. Sharpe stocks two different types of boards for younger children who want to try sandboarding: a plastic one that kids stand on while holding onto a rope and a smaller regular board with bindings. Most boards are meant to be ridden barefoot or with socks.

Sandboarding is similar to snowboarding, except that sand slows down the board and makes it harder to cut, or turn and carve, Sharpe said. Riders approach the hill the same way as snowboarding but have to adjust their lean so the board planes over the sand without digging into the sand and slowing down. Sand isn’t as fast as snow, either.

On the flipside, sand makes falling more fun.

The soft landing is one of the things he likes most about the sport, said Kevin Szawala, a Redford resident who travels to Silver Lake State Park every year to sandboard.

“I like (sandboarding) because because if you fall, it’s on sand instead of ice, so it’s less painful than snowboarding,” Szawala said.

The summertime view from the top of the dunes is another perk, Szawala said.

“It’s a hot hike up to the top of the dunes, but once you get there and look out across the beautiful lake, it’s worth it,” Szawala said. “You don’t get that snowboarding.”