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One of my earliest memories is of me falling off a ski lift. Being all wrapped up in heavy winter gear and with those long sticks strapped to my feet, all I could do was wiggle on the ground, while waiting for my dad to come pick me up and put me on my feet again. Growing up near the Swiss alps, I was taught how to ski almost as soon as I could walk. In fact, you’d have to look very hard to find a Swiss person who hasn’t done some form of winter sport from an early age on. When puberty kicked in a few years later, I decided to pick up Snowboarding. You know, because all the cool kids, and the boys, were into it. I did what every (in)sane hormonal teenage girl would, I traded my skis for a board. Thus I dabbled in snowboarding for a bit, but after two years decided that it wasn’t for me. The speed and the skill, which all the experience from skiing provided me with, gave me such a thrill that I just couldn’t pass it up any more.
So ten years after I had retired my snowboard to a dusty corner in my basement, I decide to give it a try once again. In a desert in Namibia, half a world away from the snowy mountains of my home country. While signing up for sand boarding, I feel pretty confident that I won’t do too bad. After all, sand can’t be that different from snow right?
Six of us head out to the dunes in a small van about mid-morning. The dunes themselves are a sight to behold. They bake under the strong Namibian sun in colors ranging from yellow to red, while the city of Swakopmund and the ocean glimmer in the distance. To sand board, we of course have to walk up the steep inclines of the dunes first. From below, the hike up the big sandy hills looks manageable, but as soon as I have taken a few steps I have to correct my initial judgement. The heavy boots, and the snowboard weigh me down and every step sends me sinking deep into the sand. It is a constant struggle against a sliding mass of orange. Progress is slow and arduous. Everyone keeps looking longingly at a couple of quad bikes racing each other some distance away and I wish we had that kind of effortless transportation up the dunes. However, the stunning view from the top rewards us and makes the uphill battle of the past 15 minutes worth it.
After carefully coating my beat-up snowboard in wax, I strap the bulky thing to my feet and wobble around for a bit. I try to get a feel of handling it, but I have to disconcertingly admit that I feel quite insecure on that thing. Being used to almost vertical and difficult slopes, at least the steepness of the dune doesn’t phase me and I decide to just go and give it a try. As I attempt to do my first turn, I do a spectacular dive headfirst into the dune. Getting up, I feel the sand crunching beneath my teeth and accumulating in my underwear. I decide then and there that turns aren’t for me anyway and keep on going straight down. For three subsequent runs down the dune and the inevitable hikes back up I stick to that strategy. Eventually exhaustion sets in and I plop down in the sand and soon everyone else gathers around as well. We are ready for more speed.
This is where the magic carpets get handed out. One after the other, we lie down on the big boards, pull up the front with out hands, hold our elbows out and then push off down the dune. Halfway down there is a little rise, which we are assured is nothing to worry about. A little ways away a guy stands with a speed gun to get our speed down. Immediately after I push off I notice that I’m going really damn fast and in the split second before take off I’m a bit worried. Then I catch air and smash down on the other side of the small rise. I keep going and eventually come to a sliding stop, manage to fall off halfway through and as the adrenalin wears off, feel like my arms just got sandpapered. The guy with the speed gun yells that I have reached 72 km/h. Wow!
With my magic carpet tucked under one arm, I make my way up the dune again and watch as the other members of the group race down after me. Brendan does a spectacular jump and all of us cheer. It is only after he has hiked back up, that everyone notices that his face is covered in blood. Apparently, the small rise wasn’t that small after all and he hit his upper lip on the edge of the board. Everyone is fascinated and immediately starts taking pictures of the gaping wound. It’s like a train wreck, you know it’s wrong to look but it’s too fascinating so you keep staring right at it.
Later the group meets up for dinner and Brendan shows up fresh out of the doctors office, with a couple stitches and a band-aid that looks like a Hitler-moustache. Everyone has a good laugh and I tell him chicks dig scars. Come on ladies admit it, I’m right.
Check out Brendan’s account of this adventure over at his awesome blog!