SWAKOPMUND, Namibia -- It seemed strange at first, hurtling down the steep face of a red sand dune while lying face down on a piece of wood. But Sue Muloin quickly became another convert to the growing sport of sandboarding.
The sport can be done standing up and barreling down the slope on a snowboard, or, for the more adventurous, lying down and racing at speeds of up to 50 mph.
"I chose lying down because of the speed. There is much more adrenaline," said Muloin, a Canadian tourist from Montreal. "It is for the speed junkies."
Namibia has some of the tallest dunes in the world, and their beauty alone attracts tourists from all over.
The dramatic, red, rolling dunes also make the southern African country one of the best spots in the world for sandboarding, said Beth Sarro, an American who founded Alter Action, a local company that introduces tourists to the sport.
But sandboarding is popular in Nevada, Southern California, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Tunisia as well. The annual world championships are held in Germany.
In Namibia, Alter Action leads daily excursions to a 396-foot dune with six different faces about seven miles from the coastal town of Swakopmund. The resort is a popular tourist destination and has many other adventure sports to offer.
Sarro, who is from Marin, Calif., decided to move to Namibia in 1995 after backpacking through southern Africa. A year later she founded the company, the only one offering sandboarding to tourists.
Although the company is profitable, Sarro says she also enjoys spending time outdoors, teaching others how to board and taking her own turns careering down the dunes.
"It's a lifestyle. The work itself is enjoyable and just to be outside. It's great," she said.
Her customers are predominantly from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and South Africa, and consist mainly of backpackers en route between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. From June to August, there are more Europeans, as well as Americans and Canadians.
"It's really cool," said Darren Plant, an experienced snowboarder visiting Namibia from Sydney, Australia. "It's very similar to snowboarding and the scenery is unreal."
Besides supplying the equipment -- including a helmet, gloves, elbow and knee pads -- Alter Action provides transportation to and from local hotels, instruction, lunch and drinks for around $35 per person.
There is also a large supply of free furniture polish, which is applied to the boards before each run to minimize friction.
Although only a few visitors have surfing or snowboarding experience, most seem to catch on quickly.
The only downside to sandboarding in Namibia is the absence of a chair lift. Sarro says it would damage the sand's surface and impinge on the natural beauty of the area. This means every run down the slope is preceded by an arduous hike to the top.
Nevertheless, most people get in between five and 10 runs in the three hours they are there. Sarro even considers the absence of a lift a selling point.
"Lots of people enjoy it for the exercise," she said. "Some of these people have been on tour buses for weeks."
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