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Oregon Coast's Sandboarding Pioneer to Lead Florence's Rhody Fest Parade

Published 2/26/24 at 4:55 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Florence, Oregon) – One Oregon coast town has chosen its dignitary to lead a particularly famous parade. He's called Dr. Dune in many circles around the world, one of the big pioneers of the now-famous sport of sandboarding. He's also created one of the largest attractions on the Oregon coast in the last two decades.

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When Florence holds its 117th Rhododendron Festival in May, Lon Beale – owner of Sand Master Park and founder of Dune Riders International – will be leading the Grand Floral Parade. Beale was chosen as Grand Marshal for the festival's centerpiece event, happening in the midst of the festival's run on May 16 – 19 this year.

Beale, along with his wife Robin, have been in Florence for almost a quarter century now, having created the world's first sandboarding park in 2000. There, they've hosted televised championships and helped countless beginners learn how to zoom down massive sandy hills on something not unlike a snowboard.

The Beales have essentially turned Florence into the center of the world for sandboarding.

“Mayor Joe Henry proclaimed Florence as the Sandboarding Capital of the World in the first week of 2020 though I believe that status had unofficially already been determined years prior,” said Beale. “Sand Master Park is here, Dune Riders International (the governing body for competitive sandboarding) is here, as well as manufacturing of the world’s two top-selling sandboard brands.”

From here, Beale said, sandboarding spread around the world after the park was created. It attracts the famous from that sport, coming to the central Oregon coast for the thrills of the Oregon National Dune Recreation area, along with those just learning to ride.

The park has been on media all over the world, and has three times made the Guinness Book of Records.

Beale also helped invent the sand sled for wet sand, which has changed the game for the park and its business model, allowing those who don't have a sandboarding skill to simply sit down and enjoy the ride.

“When we opted to start pursuing sandboarding there were absolutely no products related to the sport, nothing,” Beale said. “We had to start from scratch and develop each component to make sandboarding work. There was a lot of R&D to finally get it to the point where it was a success. Being based in Florence was a huge benefit as we had access to the dunes on a daily basis and plenty of people who ride our boards each day, so we know within a few hours what works and what does not.”

Rhody Fest – as locals call it – is an excellent blend of a social event and entertainment interaction. It's a large-scale event that residents look forward to every year, Beale said.

While honored, Beale said he was surprised to be chosen.

The Florence Rhododendron Festival is Oregon’s second-oldest floral festival, bested by only a year by the Portland Rose Festival, and sees thousands of visitors from around the state and across the country.

Its opening day is May 11 with the coronation of queens and kings, and then the third weekend in May sees the whole party kick in, which includes highlights like the Davis Shows Carnival at the Port of Siuslaw property in Old Town and Saturday's 5K Rhody Run and Walk.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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