The American reality show Survivor has been a guilty pleasure of ours since the Season One, Episode One. But it was during Season 21: Nicaragua when one of the reward challenges sent the winners on a volcano-boarding trip down Cerro Negro. From that point forward, this black cinder cone volcano had been firmly planted on my radar as something I’d one day do. Today was that day.
There are a few different companies who do these Volcano boarding trips out of Leon, Nicaragua, but we hooked up with Bigfoot who claims to have the fastest boards. As we started chatting with people about our upcoming adventure, we began to hear horror stories of injuries. Apparently it’s pretty dangerous and getting hurt is not uncommon. People have been known to break their ankles after attaining a very fast speed and then attempting to stop. The injuries we were hearing about weren’t just rumors either, as we met a girl who cracked her head open riding the day prior when her board came out from underneath her and hit her smack in the back of the head. She had the long line of stitches to prove it. As I saw people in Leon with leg casts on, hobbling around on crutches, I wasn’t even going to ask the cause of their broken legs. I did check the fine print of our travel insurance and found that volcano boarding is actually covered. Sweet!
The day of our trip, we loaded up in the back of a huge truck for the ride out to Cerro Negro. This is the largest active black cinder cone Volcano in the world and the only volcano you can go boarding down. Formed by the first eruption in 1850, it is also the youngest volcano in Central America. And it’s the only volcano in the world that you can go boarding down. The reason why Cerro Negro makes for good boarding conditions is because when it began spewing ash and molten rock, the big rocks all landed on the backside we were trekking up, while the ash and smaller rocks landed on the face of the volcano that we would be boarding down.
We began the steep and rocky hike up the backside of the cinder cone, carrying our boards with us.
Once we got to its very windy summit, we were able to get right up to the actual cone, hoping it does not begin to erupt.
Finally it was time to get off the volcano and there was only one way down. We put on the safety glasses and our awesome prison-like orange jumpsuits to protect us from a wipe out. The ride down on these boards is not standing on them like surfing or a snowboard, but rather lying on it like a sled. …the most insane sled ride of your life, that is.
We were warned and briefed about the dangers while simultaneously strongly encouraged to attempt to break the Bigfoot’s boarding speed record of 93 kph, which is rewarded with free mojitos for life back at Bigfoot’s bar. Really.
It seemed that the most critical piece of safety advice was that once you are at a certain point and going extremely fast – do NOT put your legs down to stop, as you’re going too fast and your ankles will simply snap. Ouch!
After watching a few others in our group go beforehand, it was finally our turn to go boarding down the volcano. Heather went down safely, gliding down and clocked in at about 19 kilometers per hour, although she adamantly claims the radar gun didn’t accurately get her speed and was going much faster.
Then I was up. I wasn’t really interested in breaking the speed record or my ankles, so although I was trying to tap my feet against the volcano to slow down and rebalance, I finally reached the point where it seemed too dangerous. Down the volcano I flew! I was prepared for the insane speeds and the possibility of wrecking, but what I wasn’t prepared for was all the big rocks pelting me in the face during the way down. It was not only a major annoyance, but quite painful! Nearing the bottom, it felt like I was going at a ridiculous velocity. Although filled with adrenaline, I was genuinely scared as I continued to get bombarded by volcano shards in the process.
I attempted to take video by mounting a GoPro on my helmet, but because I was constantly tilting my head upwards towards the sky to avoid being attacked by the molten rock shards, the video doesn’t give you the entire picture. Eventually due to speed and the rocks, my GoPro flew right off. But I made it safely to the bottom and was clocked in at 60 kilometers per hour. No lifetime mojitos for me but it was among the highest speeds of the day.
I’m just very glad we both made it down the volcano without a trip to the Emergency Room. In fact, although there were a few wipeouts, no one on our trip was headed to the hospital. We cracked open the cooler of iced cold beers to celebrate this feat. What an awesome and crazy excursion! Note: I’m still cleaning rock and ash out of my ears.