Mastering the sand — Part II

The business of sandboarding

(Editor’s Note: In Part II of our look at the exponential growth of Sandboarding in South America and, most recently, Saudi Arabia, we talk with Sand Master Park owner and sandboarding guru Lon Beale who, in addition to relocating his park next to Fred Meyer, will soon be working as a consultant to establish a multi-million dollar sandboarding park in Saudi Arabia.)

“When they have a sandboarding tournament event, there’s 100 competitors. When we have an event here in the U.S., there’s 20 competitors. The difference is, people that come to sandboard here in the U.S. do it as recreation,” said Beale. “They do it to have fun and have a good time. So that’s what we cater to. But in South America, they want to compete. They want to see who’s the best. As far as competition goes, there’s a world sandboard tour, and what they’re doing is just amazing. They’re every bit at the level of snowboarding. Whatever tricks they’re doing on snow, they’re doing on sand now.”

As to why Americans don’t want to compete, Beale called it “the question of the day.”

“We live in Florence. There are how many teenagers that live here?” Beale asked. “But something about sandboarding hasn’t clicked with them. So, we have to pull a lot of pro-sandboarders from other states. If you’re having an international competition, those guys would probably just come to see the level of competition at the time. But I have requests from the South Americans to bring teams up here. But we’re not at that level yet. They would come up here and say, ‘That’s not a pro event.’ So we do it at the level that’s desired.”

One reason is probably the carefree culture of sandboarders.

“They don’t want to have all the stress and all the pressure of having to compete. … If you go down to Honeyman in the middle of summer, you’ll see 150 boards out on the dunes, and everybody is riding. But if you address anyone of them about competing, they say, ‘Nah, we’re just having fun.’”

If there is one form of competition that could help catapult the sport into a major player, it’s jumps. Beale helped set up a pro-level jump competition at Three Rivers Casino Resort, “and the guys liked that,” he said. “You need a good location to have a jump. That’s probably more attractive than just doing slalom or rail slides or what we would do on our dunes.

“The jumps seem to be more appealing to the pros than anything else.”

As to bringing X-Games to Florence for jump competitions, Beale said that it could be possible, but that some work has to be done. It couldn’t be done in state parks due to restrictions, and Sand Master Park would not be able to house it because of the size of the dunes.

“My dunes aren’t that big,” Beale said. “They’re maybe 100 verticle feet. When you have a pro competition, you want to have about 400 feet of run. That allows you to get enough gates in slalom, and enough run off to a jump, and run out. That’s critical, you can’t just jump and land flat, you need to land on a slope to keep it safe.

“The dunes in city limits are not big enough.”

The casino run could work, if there was some modifications.

“That would be something to sit down with the casino and ask if they could grow the slope and make it a permanent sandboard structure where people could sandboard every day, and have an event the magnitude of X-Games,” Beale said. “We have talked about that in the past, but things are constantly changing. If they said, ‘Yeah, let’s do something,’ we’d make it happen.”

If Beale was able to get a good location, he sees Florence as being a hub for competition in the U.S.

“I’d invite the South Americans and the Middle Easterns and Australians to compete, and then I think we could see that kind of level of competition here in Florence,” he said. But for right now, Beale has a lot on his plate.

He is still working to make sandboarding a global sport, with particular focus in the past few years in the Middle East. In 2013, the Egyptian government hired Beale and his crew to build a sandboard program there, with sites set on world class competitions and championships.

“They’ve got plenty of sand, so they wanted sandboarding,” he said. “So we went over there for two weeks. Met with the government, drew up some plans. They took us everywhere. It was incredible. We had an armed entourage taking us all over Egypt. We did that, it looked really good. Picked up a couple of customers, and then, three months later — the revolution happened and the whole thing got dumped. Everyone was overthrown, the people we were dealing with lost their jobs.”

After the revolution occured, Egyptians came to Florence for a summer, learning about sandboarding. They took that information back and began building international competitions.

“We’ve seen the sport growing in Egypt since the revolution,” Beale said. “Their competitions are bigger than ours.”

The sport is also growing in Saudi Arabia, which Beale is also consulting with.

“We’ve had quite a few Saudi representatives come out over the past 20 years and see what the sandboarding thing is all about,” said Beale. “Usually, they take a lesson and we show them a little about what’s going on. The buzz of sandboarding has been going back and forth for the past two decades with the Saudis.”

But when the sport began making ground in Egypt, Saudi interest grew, particularly with cities that are being developed.

“They said they’re building three mega cities, the biggest one is Neom. It’s a smart city where technology, medicine, arts and sports can just excel. It’s going to be self sufficient, and its own sovereignty. They’re going to make their own laws and their own taxes. But they’re surrounded by dunes. They’re right on the Red Sea. They’re incorporating that because they realize that the second biggest resource is all that — sand. They want to analyze it, rate it and watch out for it.”

Beale and his crew were actually invited to move to the new city to head up the program, but he declined.

“I thought, ‘No, this is my home, my baby. I’m staying here. I’ll go back and forth, but I don’t want to move there.’”

Instead, Beale is focusing on the move to his new location. Located just south of the original park, the new location will actually end up being better, with closer parking and the same acreage of dunes. The full transition is scheduled to take place by the end of the year.

The biggest change will be Beale’s move to bring full sandboard manufacturing to the area. Right now, the prototype of the boards are made in Florence.

“We can test them the same day we make them,” he said. “And we have pro riders. I say, ‘Guys, take this one out. I want to know how good it turns left,’ or whatever. I want to know how well it accelerates, so we actually have a radar gun that clocks these boards so we know how they’re accelerating and how they’re working the same day they make it.

“It worked out really sweet. When you have a new design and put the board out, it’s already been out 300 times. We know if it’s going to hold up.”

Once the design is set, they hire companies in Utah or Los Angeles to press the actual board, since it’s cheaper than what can be done in Florence. The base boards are sent back here,  where Beale fits the boards with foot straps and other components.

“The idea is to bring full manufacturing here to Florence,” he said. “If we actually had an automated press, we could make them at a comparable price to the big board press companies. And that’s what we want to do here — we want it to make sense for us to do 6,000 boards a year, rather than contract it out.”

But his main focus will still be on ensuring guests of Sand Master Park have the best experience possible.

“If you want to just have fun, don’t worry about it. Just take a board and have fun,” said Beale. “If you want to learn to sandboard, take a lesson. My instructors are all certified. Most of them are current or former national champions. When they’re that good, we hire them. Of course, when they work there every day, they get good anyway. But we take individuals out, all the way up to groups of 180, and teach them to sandboard. They always have a good experience.”

And it’s that good experience that keeps Beale in the game.

“I’ve always been motivated to do a good job,” he said. “Whether it’s Saudi or Florence or Southern California, I want to do a good job. I want to make sure we’re giving it 100 percent, and we’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s never about the money. My bank account will show that. But when you have 50 people a day coming into your store and saying, ‘That’s the most fun I ever had, this is the best vacation we’ve ever had, and it was a blast’ — You feel really good about that. They’re going to take that memory with them for the rest of their life.

“We like that, it feels good.”

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