If you’re travelling in Nicaragua, everyone will tell you that the one thing you can’t miss is volcano boarding down Cerro Negro (the Black Hill) in León. Having looked at the ominous volcano from the roof of León Cathedral and after reading rave reviews from adventurous travel bloggers and TripAdvisor-happy backpackers who unanimously labelled the volcano boarding experience as AWESOME, I was still reluctant to go.
I’m no adrenaline junkie. The thought of hurting down a gritty 1600ft volcano on a thin plywood board at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour just didn’t appeal. If anything, it fills me with fear. Of course it didn’t take Luke long to persuade me that I should go for the sake of adventure. After all, this was a unique experience and I’d probably enjoy it once I got there, not to mention that the profits go to a good cause.
Two days later…
I fell out the back of a beat-up jeep onto the charcoal rocks beneath Cerro Negro. Our volunteer guide loosely hooked a plywood volcano board onto my back, leaving me looking like an optimistic child with a pair of home-made wings. I was ready for our 45-minute ascent.
The climb is relatively easy and not too steep, though the board is cumbersome enough that made my balance a little unstable. When we reached the top of Cerro Negro, it was glorious. You could see across the land for miles and the black slopes rolled beautifully. Unfortunately, we didn’t have very long to sit and admire the view.
How did volcano boarding go?
After a brief crash course from our guide, we got kitted up in canvas suits, looped bandanas around our mouths, and pulled down our mad scientist style goggles. I put my board at the edge of the gravel slope and plonked myself on top of it. Following our guide’s advice to sit up straight if I wanted to go slower, I sat bolt upright.
“You have to pull back hard if you want to go down,” Luke called out.
“I don’t really want to go down,” I replied.
A couple of Nicaraguan soldiers with their machine guns on their arms came over to look at the silly tourist on the volcano board. I reluctantly began to crawl down the slope so slowly that black stones built up and buried my board less than five metres from where I had started. I dug it out and began all over again.
After some more embarrassing false starts, I finally started whizzing down, much to my dismay. I was momentarily distracted by the crazy gorgeous sunset before jolting on a bump and realising that I was still gliding ungraciously on a flimsy plywood board. Seeing another bump in the stones and not wanting to risk being thrown off, I dug my feet in as firmly as I could, got off my board and walked down the last few metres of the slope.
“You don’t wanna do a grand finish?” shouted the jeep driver who was waiting at the bottom.
“Nah, I’m good,” I called back, spitting some dirt from my mouth.
Luke came shooting down the volcano in a cloud of grey dust. Seeing the bump he also slowed down enough to ensure that he didn’t lose control. However, not everyone managed to do the same. Shortly after, a girl was thrown off her board and into the sharp back stones. Some guys ran up to her, worried that she had broken something, but were relieved to find she was okay except for some bad bruises. Her tumble was bad enough that it could’ve been much worse.
Just like other adrenaline sports, volcano boarding isn’t without its risks. Rock fragments are flung into your face as you board down the slope and crashes aren’t that uncommon. Compensating for your speed can also be difficult further on, as we saw from many of the other boarders who had some less than graceful endings. Fortunately, we clambered into the back of the jeep with just blackened faces and wild hair.
Does volcano boarding in Nicaragua sound awesome to you? Would you want to give it a go?