Dune Riders

August 15, 2014 (Updated September 3, 2014)

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area covers forty-two miles from Florence to Coos Bay and is an Oregon landmark for outdoor recreation. It’s a stretch of the coast that feels more akin to some vast, exotic locale where sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see and geology reaches back 100,000 years. The Oregon dunes are one of Oregon’s most unique coastal environments and people come from all over to experience 32,000 acres of sand, forest, rivers and lakes.

If you happen to cross paths with local eco-touring guide, Marty Giles, you may learn something new, too. We joined Marty – who owns and operates Wavecrest Discoveries – along the “John Dellenback Trail” at the Eel Creek Campground — don’t forget hiking boots when you stroll the many trails to reach the dunes. She noted that many folks are surprised to learn that the sand didn’t come from the ocean, but from the mountains. “The sand is really tiny bits of rock or crystals that are broken apart, brought from the mountains down to the ocean. The sand grains that we’re standing on came down the streams and rivers down the ocean when the sea level was lower and then were pushed back up as the sea level rose up.”

Hiking puts you in touch with the dunes; so do nearby campgrounds where you can set up a tent or park your trailer for a longer stay. In fact, the US Forest Service manages 500 campsites along this stretch of coastline including Carter Lake Campground. Shane Gill, a USFS Ranger, called the campground a “real jewel” in the Oregon Dunes, with a gorgeous freshwater lake open for boating and fishing. “This is so beautiful and I think that the dynamic nature of the place is what draws a lot of people to it. It is changing all the time – you’ve got the beauty of the forest – rhododendrons in high bloom each spring and early summer – and yet it is just a stone’s throw into the dunes landscape.”

It’s an ever-changing, giant sandbox with plenty of elbow room and where Gabriel Cruz has discovered a new way to play. “Sandboarding is a free sport! I like the fact we can board anywhere and no one really tells us, ‘you can’t do that,” said Cruz, who is one of Oregon’s best sandboarders and has the trophies and multiple championships to prove it. “You can be out in the dunes 24-7 and ride steep-walled sand dunes that are 100-feet tall or higher.”

Lon Beale is the owner of Sand Master Park in Florence and he said that most folks who have some sort of “board experience under their feet” have no problem adapting to sandboarding. His business offers all the gear a first-timer might need, plus lessons and guides like Kareem Hassom who help newcomers discover the sport.

Sandboards resemble skateboards but have a gentle “rocker” to them like a wakeboard, plus rounded edges that slide through the sand. Best of all, Beale said that the Oregon Dunes offers 32,000 acres, so there’s no shortage of places to play. “You’ve got 50 miles of dunes here so there are still so there are still dune faces, still areas that have never been sand boarded before so if you’re willing to hike back in you’ll find areas that look like – at least to us – like Disneyland.”

Kathryn Bell and her 6-year old daughter, Casey, thought about a Disneyland vacation, but decided that sandboarding on the Oregon Dunes would give them a chance to share something new. Instructor Kareem Hossam recently traveled to Oregon from his home in Egypt to become a certified sand boarding instructor. He said that many newcomers – like Kathryn Bell, are longtime snowboarders who need to think differently when they slide across the sand. “Most snowboarders put all their body weight on their front foot – that doesn’t work in sandboarding. All the weight needs to be on your back foot, otherwise you will fall. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy.”

Back in the dunes with Marty Giles, the sand environment is interesting and complex. She added that no matter how you travel across the dunes – whether on foot or on a board – be ready for a place that’s alive and ever-changing. “Everyone who visits the Oregon Dunes falls in loves with the open sand and the freedom that comes with that.  It feels so wild and it has a wonderfully fulfilling nature to it. Everybody likes that.”

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.