The seriously hot sport of volcano boarding


By Sarah Sekula, Published on

There’s nothing like careening down an active volcano in Western Nicaragua. Especially while your feet are strapped to a retrofitted snowboard, ash is flying to and fro and the hot wind is tousling your hair.

For adventure-seekers, like Joshua Berman, co-author of the Moon Nicaragua travel guide, it sounds quite thrilling. In fact, he was one of the first to try the unusual sport of volcano boarding in 2004 when it was just getting started.

He says, without doubt, it was one of the “funnest, gnarliest days” of his life. Granted, the volcano was not spewing hot lava at the time, but it could have been. Cerro Negro, which first appeared in 1850, has erupted more than 20 times over the years and is known as “the youngest, most active volcano in the hemisphere,” says Berman, 40.

The potential for eruption certainly adds to the adventure, and the stunning view at the top is an added bonus.

“We hiked about an hour to the lip of the crater,” he recalls. “Visibility was miles and miles — from the crater lip I could look north up the Maribio Volcano chain, an active, seething section of the Ring of Fire.”

Funny enough, the steep 45-minute climb to the top is the physically demanding part. Getting down is a breeze. Berman says he slid down the volcano snowboarder style, but he went slower than you might think.

“The boards bogged down in the sand and ash, but the wind blowing the dust behind us gave the illusion of great speed in the photos,” he says.

By 2005, more people were taking an interest in the new, hot extreme sport and figuring out how to hurtle themselves down the volcano even faster.

Darryn Webb, an Australian duneboarder who founded Bigfoot Hostel, is credited with developing the sport. After testing out boogie boards, mattresses and even a minibar fridge, Bigfoot opted for plywood boards reinforced with metal.

Attached to the board is a rope for balance and steering, and the seat is augmented with Formica so it can slide faster as the rider leans back. The formica is swapped out daily; and the board itself is replaced every two weeks.

Bigfoot also has riders sport orange jumpsuits, not for style points, but because it helps protect participants from flying pebbles and during any wipeouts. They also have riders sit down on the boards, which creates more speed. Interestingly, Bigfoot says some sit-down boarders have been clocked at speeds up to 57 mph.

Fast forward to the present and a handful of outfitters are now offering volcano-boarding tours. In February, Ken Marvald, a New York resident who works for a global equity firm, took an Austin-Lehman Adventures tour as a way to celebrate his 50th birthday.

“For me the hike was the very best part,” he says. “It was truly stunning and in many ways, a bit ethereal. It was like nothing I had ever done.”

That’s exactly why it’s so appealing to folks across the board, from teen backpackers to 60-year-old grandmothers. It’s edgy and different, said Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures. And beyond the minor scrape and bruise, it is not inherently dangerous. Unless, of course, the volcano erupts.

“We all like that ‘water-cooler talk,’ as in ‘what did you do on vacation?’” Austin says. “Well, I went ash boarding off the top of an active volcano in Nicaragua.”

In other words, so few people have tried this sport, chances are, your coworkers will be all ears.