Namibia is known as the "Land of the Brave" - but that's not the way many people would feel if they found themselves lying face down at the top of an enormous sand dune, preparing to whizz down it on a piece of waxed hardboard at a speed of up to 80 kilometers per hour.
But if you ever find yourself in Swakopmund - recently voted one of Africa's Best 25 Destinations in Africa on TripAdvisor - this is just the position you may find yourself in. Swakop is one of Namibia's best sandboarding destinations, and as well as traditional stand-up boarding, adventurous visitors can try the much faster option of lying on the board.
Silvanus Imongua, the owner of Swakopmund's Ultimate Sandboarding, shared with NTB his knowledge of this emerging sport. Silvanus - known as Pally - was born in the township of Mondesa, just outside Swakopmund, and grew up in towns across Namibia. His first time on a board was in 2005, during his final year of school.
"I remember I was so nervous because I though I was going so fast!" he laughs. Watching him whizzing down the dune, switching direction, barely wobbling, he doesn't seem like someone who is afraid of speed.
Fortunately, this initial fear soon wore off. After mastering his technique on the dunes of the Namib, the world's oldest desert, he began working as a boarding instructor for another operator. He founded Ultimate Sandboarding in 2010 with a just a few donated boards from European and American snowboarders, and has since amassed a collection of 15 boards and 13 pairs of boots - enough to fit all ages and sizes. Now, he says, "I can't picture doing anything else!"
Sandboarding has several advantages over snowboarding and skiing. Firstly, it is considerably cheaper. Secondly, it is not seasonal. Thirdly, dunes exist all over the world. And finally, it does not require expensive, specialist clothing. The main disadvantage, however, is the lack of "ski lifts" - hiking up the dunes is hideous on the legs. But on the plus side, you really feel like you've earned a bowl of oysters and a chilled Windhoek lager or three at the end of the day!
Pally holds up a rectangular piece of hardboard.
"This" he said "is a low-tech speed machine."
He explains how it works. You lie on it face down with your hands gripping the corners, to curve the front edge up, like a sledge. Then you bend your knees to keep your feet off the ground. As the board can apparently reach speeds of up to 80 kilometers an hour, you must avoid at all costs the front edge digging into the dune, as you will flip over, and you will eat a lot of sand.
So why not give it a go?! Those who race to the bottom are sure to end up exhilarated, exhausted, and very, very happy.
In fact, as Pally said: "I don't think I can ask for more. It's the coolest thing I've ever done."
Facts about Sandboarding and Sand-skiing: