Volcano Surfing!

Disobeying Marissa’s explicit instructions (sorry, girl!), I went volcano boarding (fun article about it here). The tour operator I signed up with didn’t have the safety gear we’d heard about – Big Foot Hostel, the originators of volcano boarding, have you wear safety orange jumpsuits and goggles. My tour company had none of that, so I was worried at first… until I found out why. Big Foot’s boards have steel plates bolted to the bottom, so you literally fly along at 70 km/hr, whereas ours were simply wood, so we went fairly slowly. But I’m getting ahead of myself..

After a bumpy ride through dirt track in a 4×4, constantly stopping for livestock and tractors, we arrived at the base of Cerro Negro volcano. It’s the youngest, and one of the most active, volcanoes in the world. I love volcanoes! Each one is so unique, alien, and spectacular. Because this one is so young, there is zero vegetation on it. The landscape is barren black rocks of differing sizes – sometimes large boulders, other places pebbly or even like sand.  As we got closer to the crater, there were pockets of smoke and gas, weirdly colored rocks and fine powder. The ground was warm, even hot to the touch in places. Going down into the crater is not recommended because the gases can overwhelm you.

It was a beautiful 45-minute hike up to the top (and 45 seconds down!); we were rewarded with stunning views of the other volcanoes in the area, and could even see out to the sea. The winds were wicked strong, and the sun was setting. For some reason there were also a lot of strange insects amassing at the top, including one cluster of the famous “killer bees” huddled on the ground against the wind. I decided not to pet them.

The few times I’ve snowboarded, I’ve always made that mistake of catching the leading edge on the snow, which stops me dead and sends my head slamming into the ground. Which is not a big problem on ski slopes, I just end up with a headache at the end of the day. But.. I thought it best not to attempt such a thing on volcanic rock.. so, I decided to go with one of the sit-down sleds instead.

Ironically, after all the terrifying stories we’d heard, it was actually kind of a slow slide down the mountain. I could fairly easily control my speed with my feet, but most of the time just tried to go faster. After arriving at the bottom, I wished I had gone with the stand-up boards. So, while others were taking their time coming down, I grabbed one of the boards already at the bottom and proceeded to hike my way halfway back up, to try boarding. This was a good workout – hiking up volcanic skree feels like Sisyphus with his rock – two steps forward, one slide backwards. Repeat.
Anyway, I managed to strap the board on and ride it down. It was good fun, but I do kinda wish I had gone with the crazy daredevils with the faster boards. Ah well, at least this way I still have all my limbs!

At the end, we all looked like we had either really good tans or had taken employment as chimney sweeps. I’m still finding rocks in strange places.

I didn’t manage to get a video, but there are some good ones on YouTube here and here.

Incidentally, this is the very same slope that the world speed record for mountain biking was set on a few years ago: Eric Barone, who broke the world speed record for mountain biking on Nov 4, 2001, tried to break it again by riding down Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua. Seconds into his descent, Barone’s $30,000 bicycle snapped in half, hurtling the cyclist down the volcano at 107 MPH! Dramatic video here. Wow, that looks fun! (until the wipe-out)..

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