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Why You Should Be Volcano Boarding Right Now

Words: Lizbeth Scordo
Photography: Courtesy of Vapues Tours

Here’s how you can volcano board down Nicaragua’s Cerro Negro Mountain. 

You’ve snowboarded and you’ve hiked volcanoes, but if you haven’t combined the two yet, it’s time to up your next vacation with a little volcano boarding. The sport has been around a while, but it’s more popular than ever these days, especially in Nicaragua, which is easily the world’s volcano boarding hub.

Here’s what to know about strapping yourself to a snowboard and racing down a mountain that could (maybe) start spewing lava at any moment.

Give it a go on Cerro Negro Mountain

About 45 minutes from the city of Leon, the mountain has perfect conditions for the sport, thanks to several factors, including its loose, black volcanic sand. “It’s only 165 years old so it’s a very young volcano, it doesn’t have any vegetation and it’s in its original form,” says Jan Strik, founder of Va Pues Tours. “It’s also at a good angle [40 degrees] for going down, so you can get some velocity.” Va Pues Tours began offering volcano boarding outings commercially after Strik took a travel writer down the mountain in 2004, prompting a slew of interest from visitors. (But if Nicaragua isn’t far-flung enough, you can also try it on the South Pacific island of Tanna, down the 100,000-year-old Mt. Yassur.)

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Leave your gear at home

Most of the outfits that run Cerro Negro board excursions (Big Foot Hostel’s is also popular) include everything: boards or sleds, safety gear and a ride from Leon via four-wheel-drive vehicle, for about $30 a pop. While Strik says his company used to import hefty snowboard boots to give customers, the boards now only require riders to show up with their own hiking boots in order to strap in. And before you insist on bringing your own board, know that the trip down will probably wreck the thing, which is why there are specially-made boards just for the sport. Strik, a native of the Netherlands, worked with a Dutch snowboard manufacturer and a Nicaraguan blacksmith to create his version, which combines a stainless steel base (necessary thanks to the high-sulfate volcanic sand) with a lightweight plywood cover.

be ready for a schlep up

The only way to the top is by foot, so you’ll have to hike the 2,400 feet up (which will take about an hour,) with board in tow before descending the thing in a breezy five to 10 minutes. Those who chicken out have no choice but to do a you-had-it-coming-to-you walk of shame back down. “When you’re on top of the outer rim looking down at the volcano, it’s a long way down and it’s quite steep. Some people get scared,” Strik explains. “The critical part is to get them to gain a bit of confidence to take that first step.”

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Moves may be more difficult

Since rocks aren’t slippery like snow is, turns and jumps can be more sluggish than on a white mountain, which is why many boarders like to head straight down to accumulate speed. But whether or not you get air, photos are often social media gold

 
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More people sled than board

If you’ve got some travel partners in tow who don’t board, they can still join you and take the easier way down — by sled, which has actually become the more popular choice for the average tourist. It also turns out to be faster, usually around 40 mph, vs. 30 on boards.

Some riders have clocked up to 80mph!

Operators don’t encourage crazy speeds, but if you know what you’re doing, you can go as fast as you want. Though keep in mind you’re basically boarding on tiny rocks, so falls will hurt more than on the slopes. And while injuries aren’t common, they do happen, usually at higher speeds. If the first aid kit won’t cut it, the guides can drop you at the local hospital in Leon rather than your hotel. “We’ve had some broken bones,” Strik adds. “Nothing serious has happened, but there’s a risk to it, I can’t deny that.”

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Hot lava may be on the horizon

The volcano is currently active (thus that steam you’ll see seeping from it), but it hasn’t erupted since 1999. The kicker is it’s supposed to erupt about every 15 years, so you do the math … 

The sport is looking to go big time

Strik and crew’s grand plan is to eventually get an international competition going, where experienced locals will compete alongside big name surfers and snowboarders.

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05 2017 THE RED BULLETIN

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