Sandboarding Swan Lake’s golden slopes

Tuesday, July 19, 2005 (Article & Photos by Jack Kerr c/o ABC Online)


Riding sand dunes has come a long way since that first person discovered esky lids could do more than keep beer cold. And even though people still cruise the shifting, sandy slopes on cardboard, real estate signs, even car bonnets or by just rolling themselves downwards and letting gravity do its thing, the main way our dunes are ridden these days is by sandboard.

Come sunshine or ominous grey clouds, sandboarders head to the dunes  Photo: Jack Kerr

Sandboarding is based on the same principal as another extreme sport, snowboarding, and though real die-hards may never be convinced, sandboarding has a range of advantages of its cold weather cousin. Accessibility, for one thing. There is no need for an eight-hour drive - or an expensive lift pass - as the South-east and the Western District are blessed with some of the country’s best dunes.

The jewel in the crown is Swan Lake, located just across the border in the Discovery Bay Coastal Park. In an area where many great rides are either on private property, are a closely guarded secret or are as yet uncharted, these are some of the tallest and most easily reached dunes.


It’s a spot which Jo Harvy, Mt Gambier’s resident board manufacturer, describes as “awesome” and, on its day, “perfect”.

It was here that Jo and a band of riders from both sides of the dotted line took me out one squally morning in the depth’s of winter. The ominous grey clouds and intermittent showers were proof positive that this is pretty much a weather-resistant sport.


The out-of-the-way dunes are not the exclusive playground of the well-heeled that the snow resorts can be, but this means there are no chairlifts. You need to be equipped with a good ticker, as I discovered on panting my way to the top. “It’s good exercise. You definitely feel it the next day,” I was later informed by Glen Burke, a snowboard lover from Portland who has taken up the dunes equivalent.Glen Burke launches off the jump ramp


Those like him with a background in snowboarding or skating are at an advantage. Surprisingly though, a background in surfing doesn’t help much, although plenty of surfers take to the dunes when the waves aren’t breaking. But even beginners can get the hang of it quickly. “Nine times out of ten, people pick it up in the first five runs,” says Jo. And for the beginner, or just the accident prone, sand is much forgiving than snow.

Melissa Berry starts her ride


“Snowboarding hurts a hell of a lot when you fall on your butt,” Portland rider Mel Berry tells me.


“You still have pretty good accidents, they still hurt!” she laughs and recalls today’s misadventures. “I face-planted when I went over a jump for the first time and ended up doing some sort of cartwheel I think! And then face-planted the second time.”


Sandboards were original designed like surfboards, with the rider standing back on the board and only being able to travel in one direction. Jo has been one of the innovators of their design, and they are now much more like snowboards.


In South Australia, there is plenty of action to be found in the Canunda National Park, although, says Jo, “it’s a bit of a task to get in there. You’ve got to 4WD in there.”

More accessible are the dunes around Beachport, a place that holds fond memories for Jo. It was were she learnt to carve and jump, and she still goes there to this day.

The sand at Beachport can vary from your traditional white to, on the back beach, “really dark, course sand” which can get sticky. “So far I’ve worked out that sand that’s close to the water (and where) it’s just been blowing onshore constantly, the sand gets really sticky, and I think its just cause of the salt content (that) gets in there.

Jo Harvy carves down the slope

“Fine sand is really good and you find that more backed away from the coastline a bit,” she says, which is why the Beachport Dune Buggy Park is a good place to ride, although the quality of the shifting sands varies from day to day.

“Mt Gambier itself doesn’t have many areas, that’s why we travel an hour either way to get to good dunes like up through Canunda and then up to Beachport and where we are today, Swan Lake. But Mt Gambier is pretty central to everything.”