Burying Oneself in the Sand Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Burying Oneself in the Sand

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Buried in the sand.

There are many ways to avoid the sun's glare which, it is well known, can cause unpleasant sunburn and, in extreme cases, skin cancer. Some people wear large floppy hats, some wear billowy clothing and those who insist on being outdoors plaster themselves with sun-screen.

All these are wise precautions, but for the truly adventurous beach-lounger, there is an alternative method that is completely effective, keeps you cool, gives you a little light exercise, and is entertaining, both for you and anyone watching nearby. This refers, of course, to the art of burying oneself in the sand.


There are many schools of thought devoted to the ancient art of sand-submersion including 'mastaba method', which involves simply lying down while others cover your body with a long mound or ridge of sand, and 'castle method', which involves crouching or sitting cross-legged while others build a sand castle around you. These are really only suitable for beginners, however, and are generally seen as inferior to the 'reverse ostrich' method which will be described below. This might sound a little frivolous, but, to the well-practised, it can be a source of deep satisfaction to the prospective shade-seeker and the amazed onlooker alike. The method requires no tools except one's own hands, but, it should be noted, does involve some degree of risk if executed carelessly or improperly.

The 'reverse ostrich' method is simple but involved, and has three main stages:

  1. Excavation, during which a deep pit is dug vertically in the sand.

  2. Contouring, which involves contouring the interior walls of the pit to accommodate the shade-seeker's folded body.

  3. Back-filling, which is the process whereby the sand excavated in step one is poured back into the now occupied pit, leaving only the head showing above the level sand.

It should be noted at this point that while this method can be completed solo, it is much more simple and satisfying to enlist the help of one or more companions for the final 'burial' stage: the body positioning and the surface finishing can be much more impressively executed with friends' help than on one's own. Anyone attempting this procedure should also note the following points:

  • Do not attempt this activity if you have breathing problems, pronounced claustrophobia, a weak heart, untrustworthy friends, suffer acute cramp, or if you have noticed a preponderance of dogs sniffing industriously around the local area.

  • Make sure that, if the tide is coming in, you are far enough up the beach that you will not be submerged under the sea. A classic mistake this one, usually involving a great deal of emergency wall-building and unpleasant wearing-of-snorkels.

  • If you are 'thinning out on top', you might want a hat to cover your head from the sun. Remember, the whole point of the exercise is to protect one's skin from the damaging rays.

  • You might want to have sworn promises from any attendant friends that they will help you with your eventual extraction because if stages one to three above are executed well, it can be very hard to exhume oneself if any emergency arises (see above).

  • Attend to any 'natural urges' that might make a prolonged inability to move uncomfortable or embarrassing.

  • If you are in any doubt about your own ability to survive being buried up to your neck in sand, you would be best to pursue a more traditional approach to sun-avoidance altogether, such as, say, purchasing a parasol, or sitting beneath a tree.

With those caveats heeded, we can proceed straight to the technique.


Stage One: Excavation

The first stage is, to be frank, the most energy-consuming of the three, and as you get hotter and hotter digging away, you may well question the point of your actions. Fear not, the refreshing coolness of the wet sand will feel that much more pleasant when you are done - it is well worth the effort. Besides, if the technique outlined below is executed efficiently and with the proper care and attention, actual physical exertion can be minimised.

Start by simply digging a hole in the sand, using your hands, and placing the excavated sand in piles about a foot back from the edge of the pit. This is called truggling. The sort of pit you're aiming to create will need to be roughly oval in cross-section, the longer axis as long as your forearm (from clenched fist to elbow), and the shorter axis as wide as your hips. As far as depth goes, you want the sides, when you are standing in the pit, to come up to your hips, ignoring the height of the excavated sand spoil heaps that will accumulate around the top.

As the pit deepens, you will want to kneel back from the edge with one hand on the opposite side, leaving your other hand free to truggle deeply into the pit. Be careful not to kneel too close to the edge of the pit or else the sides will cave in, possibly forcing you to start afresh in a new location. Note that it is almost impossible to actually stand in the pit and truggle effectively - your knees get in the way, and you cannot bend down far enough to truggle without pushing your face in the spoil heaps around you, risking making you look foolish.

When the pit starts to get more than a couple of feet deep, your arms will be tiring from the effort. Remember to swap around your supporting arm and your truggling arm regularly to avoid undue stress on the shoulders. If your arms really are too tired to continue, but you are impatient to finish the first stage, there is another technique than can be employed to remove the sand from the pit: foot-truggling. This is tricky to master, and looks quite ridiculous to the untrained eyes of ignorant onlookers, but it is effective.

  1. Lower yourself gently down into the pit until you are standing on the bottom.

  2. Dig your toes into the sand, gradually burying your feet as deeply as possible in the bottom of the pit.

  3. Sitting on the edge of the pit, and placing your hands flat beside you, roll slowly backwards, pulling your sand-piled feet slowly up out of the pit. Make sure that you roll backward, not shuffle, or you risk collapsing the side of the pit.

  4. If you can, kick both feet at once so that the sand piled on them is thrown forwards and deposited on the opposite side of the pit, or, if that seems too strenuous, just bring them round to one side and tip off the sand.

As Leonardo da Vinci famously illustrated, a human's arm-span is almost exactly equal to their height, and it is a not-unrelated anatomical fact that when truggling, the deepest pit you can manage to dig while remaining on the surface is exactly the required depth for the 'reverse ostrich' method of sun avoidance. So, when you begin to find it hard to get a good truggling purchase on the sand at the bottom of the pit, it really is time to stop truggling, and proceed to Stage Two.

Stage Two: Contouring

This stage concerns itself with the shaping of the inside surface of the pit1 so that the body of its intended occupant can be fitted into it in a crouching position, leaving the neck at exactly the right height (ie the level of the sand beyond the spoil heaps).

The general technique is firstly to attempt to sit in the pit, kneeling down with your ankles folded underneath your body and your knees pointing horizontally forwards. If you can do this and fit in the pit at the right height, you can congratulate yourself on your excellent truggling, and proceed straight to Stage Three. No contouring will be necessary. Well done.

Most people, however, will not be able to sit down in their pit, having dug it too narrowly to accommodate the hips and/or extended knees when they attempt to kneel down. Excess sand in the pit walls must be scoured off, using the side of the hand, and re-truggled out of the pit as it falls to the bottom. Do not be dispirited by this apparent re-filling of the pit - it is quite normal, and can happen to anyone, even a seasoned champion of the method.

When you can kneel down comfortably in the pit at the correct height, you can proceed to Stage Three. Note: you should not attempt to sit in the pit with your knees folded up against your chest - you will not be able to free yourself, and risk possible self-asphyxiation.

Stage Three: Back-filling

This stage, which is often the one from which your attendant friends draw a suspicious level of entertainment, involves shovelling back the sand from the freshly truggled spoil heaps so that it falls back into the remaining volume of the pit that is not taken up with your body, effectively burying you. It is recommended that the hands and arms are kept fairly high up - just below shoulder height is good - so that, if your 'friends' desert you, it is possible to free your own arms and eventually dig yourself out. There is nothing sorrier than an apparently bodiless head lying on the sand asking passers-by for help.

Make sure that your companions cover you up to your neck-line, and that any remaining volume of sand on the spoil heap is dispersed in the environs2. A good tip, to help attain a 'natural' finish, is to sprinkle the dry sand lying around over the top of the wet sand that has been truggled and spread around, making the beach look undisturbed. Apart from your head, of course.

Enjoying the Shade

Once you are comfortably submerged in the beach, you will notice, almost immediately, that it is a little tricky to breathe, due to the weight of sand pushing on your rib cage. Try not to panic if you feel a little short of breath - this will only increase your heart rate, and your breathing will involuntarily speed up in an attempt to balance your metabolism, leading eventually to hyperventilation. Try to relax, take small, frequent breaths, and strive for a Zen-like composure. Feel the coolness of the sand; admire the stillness of the earth holding you firmly in its bosom; consider the purity of the ocean as it caresses the shoreline. If you are of a creative leaning, you might like to compose some haiku to help you reflect on your calmness.

You may also notice that everyone around is regularly casting aspersions on your state of mental health - they may even be laughing. Don't let this upset you - they are probably not laughing at you per se, merely laughing near you, entertained by your somewhat eccentric feat of sand engineering. You should be happy to have given pleasure to your smiling companions, at the possible risk of undermining your own credibility as the down-to-earth and level-headed friend they have come to know and admire. It's not something everyone can do, and many people see it, quite wrongly, as folly. I ask you now: which is the more absurd, risking skin cancer and a slow, lingering death for the sake of a fashionable skin tone, or taking sensible and stylish steps to evade the sun's fatal glare using the materials at hand, and one's own ingenuity?

Extracting Oneself

When it is time to leave your comfortable surroundings, you should be able to lift your arms free and use them to dig away at the remaining sand that stops you - very effectively, note - from simply standing up. This can be done by oneself, but if your companions have a heart, and feel that they have been amused by your efforts, they will be glad to assist you. Soon you will be able to stand up, and tread your way upwards through the now loosened sand. You will notice how warm the air is, and how you are the only one that is cool and refreshed. If anyone still appears unconvinced of your sanity, you can point this plain fact out to them - in a gentle and humble fashion, of course, so as not to appear churlish or indignant.

So, what has been gained from this exercise, you may ask. Well, as a natural and healthy response to the threat of sun-stroke, boredom, or worse, you have occupied yourself both physically and mentally, have gained satisfaction of a job superbly executed, and have been able to relax calmly and meditate on the permanence and coolness of the earth and its constituents, reaching a level of enlightenment that few can attain during their normal day. Not least of all, you have had the inestimable pleasure of amusing your companions - a feat whose personal value can not easily be measured. Certainly, it might have seemed like a lot of effort at the time, but, as the bard once said:

Nothing ventur'd nothing gained,
And not a soul was entertain'd...

1Not that they have any other surfaces, you understand, but it's best to be precise.2As an interesting aside, if one were to weigh this truggled sand, one could quickly arrive at an approximation of the mass of one's own decapitated body, a fascinating personal statistic to introduce in virtually any cocktail party conversation.

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