The accidental sandboard king of the UAE

The founder of Above Sandboards didn’t plan on having a business when he first came to the UAE. It all just… happened.

Robert Chilton June 6, 2017

Dubai resident Simon Hunt started making sandboards for weekend rides with his mates and now has a global business

When did you first have a crack at sandboarding?
I grew up on a farm in Australia and there wasn’t much to do. When I was about 12 we learned how to make sandboards by hand at Boy Scouts. A local dude who made boards for surf shops showed us how to do it: layering veneers of timber in different directions with glue, then pressing them. We did it as a project, made the boards, cut them out and gave them paint jobs. Mine had some rad blue flames – this was the 1990s, man! Then we went on a sandboarding camping trip to some massive dunes.

What did you love about it?
Straight away I loved the speed. I had slid down sand dunes before on things like boogie boards and cardboard boxes but doing it with an actual sandboard that had sandboard wax on the base blew my little mind.

When you moved to Dubai, did you find a sandboarding community?
Before I left Australia eight years ago I Googled Dubai and saw pictures of huge dunes and got pretty excited thinking about what kind of sandboarding scene I would find here, only to arrive and find nothing except some old snowboards being used at a few desert camps. I thought I should make some sandboards for myself to ride on camping trips.

How did you make your first board?
I made three prototypes on the floor of a friend’s dusty carpentry workshop and hand printed the logo with a silkscreen. I designed the straps with a kiteboard strap manufacturer.

What was the turning point in your business?
A friend who worked for an outdoor store rode those prototypes and was hooked. They placed a big order and I went into full production. Since then it’s been growing steadily and I supply 15 stores around the Middle East.

What mistakes did you make in the early days?
I wasted time procrastinating over small design things that didn’t affect the board’s performance. I had 300 branded shopping bags made. They’re made from recycled brown paper with twine handles and a silkscreened printed logo on the side. As far as bags go they’re the bomb, they’re beautiful. But I still have about 250 of them left.

What have you learnt about how to run a business?
That you can get by without things. When starting up a new company you constantly ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’. For example, ‘Do I need a new drill, or shall I get one on Dubizzle? Do I need a printer, or can I just go to the print shop?’ I find myself calculating in my head what it would cost in sandboards. A drill is worth about four sandboards. My company trade license cost about 70 sandboards.

Why do you think your idea has succeeded?
I feel there are too many mass-produced rubbish products out there these days. I think people really appreciate something that a builder has spent some time on to make sure it’s perfect.

Do you have plans to expand?
With my new factory, I’ve increased my range to eight boards including two pro boards. One of these is for a Chilean dude called Jose Martinez, the sandboarding world champion. He’s a sponsored rider for Above and we developed the board together. According to him it’s the world’s fastest sandboard.

What’s next?
I just got my first order for Japan which was pretty cool – I didn’t even know they sandboarded in Japan.

Above Sandboards are available at Surf House Dubai, Adventure HQ, Go Sports, and Virgin Megastores, priced from AED 695 to AED 1,200;