I looked over the edge of the cliff of black sand. I watched my amigas in orange jumpsuits slide swiftly down and out of my line of sight. They disappeared as the slope of the mountain took a sharper angle. I sat on my plywood board, rubbing the braided rope attached to the plank between my fingers, wondering if they were okay. My hands started shaking. My turn was next.
My heart pounded so loud I couldn’t differentiate it from the thunder rumbling around us. I looked at our guide, questioning my decision to even do this in the first place. Was I mad? I mean, who decides to go boarding down the world’s most active cinder cone volcano? For sport? Yep. Me, apparently.
So here I sat. On top of a volcano in Nicaragua, trying to muster the courage to do what I had so willingly (and adamantly) come here to do.
I thought about all the videos I’d watched and all the verbal accounts I’d heard about Bigfoot Hostel’s volcano boarding tours. I thought I had been mentally and physically prepared for this moment, for this bucket list worthy moment. I had been wrong.
We’d packed ourselves in the dune buggy, driven forty-five minutes up the summit only to be greeted by sheets of rain, lightning, and claps of thunder. Suddenly my eminent doom seemed possible by lightening, avalanche, or (as I had originally suspected) purling, crashing, and tumbling down the side of the volcano. Of course, given that Cerro Negro was way overdue for eruption it was also possible I would have to outboard lava. I had happily agreed to do this (and even PAID for the experience. Huh.)
And while I was scared, I also knew if I did not pick up my feet and kick start my way down the slope, I would never forgive myself. Also, it was an hour walk down and I was too exhausted from the worry to do that again. So down I went, praying for my life.
Within minutes I reached the bottom. I was stunned, my head buzzing from excitement. And more surprisingly, I was dying to do it again. (Isn’t that always the way?)
And since I’m all about improving the experience for all, I want to do my part to readily prepare those looking to be awesome volcano boarding bad-asses. So, as your new veteran volcano-boarder (and now enthusiast), I bring you…
Top 10 Lessons Learned Volcano Boarding
1. Be ready for a hike. The typical hike up Cerro Negro and its 2388 feet is about an hour. Our group did it in twenty minutes. (We were also trying to outboard a lightning storm. Volcanic ash is a conductor for electricity, go figure). You’ll be carrying a small bag with your canvas jumpsuit, water and camera. And you’ll be hauling your ten-pound board. You’re going to get a workout. Stamina is key.
2. If you’re going in their wet season, bring a poncho. You’ll feel grateful for packing it as you watch the others shiver and shake like our miserable lot did. The rain made it cooler for the hike, but the elevation made us freeze when we stopped walking. And while it’s not so bad being soggy during the actual adventure, the buggy ride home is windy and cold. If you don’t bring one, you’ll dry off by the time you get back to Leon. But save yourself the uncomfortable feeling and throw it in your bag just in case. You’ll thank me later. And if it’s not raining, you can always leave it in the buggy. There’s no down side for preparedness.
3. Wear shoes you’re okay with ruining. Our day wasn’t so bad because of the rain, but the sand is so hot it can boil an egg. I’ve heard of people being upset because the rubber soles of their favorite name brand kicks started peeling off on the hike up. So wear shoes you’re not attached to because they may lose some of their tread. But who cares, really? You’re hiking up a volcano. Take that, Nike.
4. If it’s raining, the sand will be harder to slide down. So make sure you pick a part of the sand that hasn’t been previously run over again and again by boards.
This will only slow you down more, or get you stuck in the same ruts previous boarders created. It may be scary to push off from a spot that someone hasn’t previously, but you’ll enjoy the ride more. Just make sure you check with your guide to help pick a proper spot.
5. It’s all about core. This is not a passive sport. You must engage your core to keep your balance and keep your feet up. If you want to practice this before you go, work on the Boat Pose in yoga. By maintaining this position, you will gain speed quicker and have more control over your descent.
6. If you put your feet down, you will brake and lose your core engagement. On a day where the sand is dry and hot, this may not be so bad, but don’t let the idea of speed scare you. You’ll enjoy the journey more if you don’t ‘brake’ so much. Of course, Holly Beck would disagree with me after her major fall and resulting ankle injury. She’d say, “Slow and steady wins the race.” So make sure you’re checking in with your own comfort level. So even if you do decide to ‘brake’, remember to re-engage your core so you don’t turn over.
7. Don’t smile. Or yell. Or scream. Or let out any expression of happiness or fear. You will get a mouthful of sand as a reward. You’re going to get covered in it regardless, but it won’t taste very pleasant. Aside from engaging your core, this is the second hardest part of the sport, because you’ll be so stoked it’ll take effort to control your excitement.
8. You’ll wish you would’ve gone faster. I’m telling you. Once you do it once, you’ll be addicted. You’ll want to go again and you’ll want to go faster. It’s like any child after their first experience on a bike or skateboard. Once you realize it’s not as scary as you thought and that you can do it safely, you won’t be able to wait to do it again.
9. Drink down your free beer before getting in the buggy. Bigfoot Hostel’s tour includes a beer and cookie upon completion of your descent (woot extra motivation for getting down!) And most people will cheers, crack open their beer and sip on it before loading back up in the buggy for the ride home. But the thing is, if you don’t drink your beer (at least partially) you will end up wearing it. The buggy ride back is the best and craziest roller coaster you will ever be on. You will scream, toss about on top of your fellow boarders, and possibly wind up in some uncomfortable tangles as you fly and crash over the sand dunes to get to the main road. So drink up bud, lest you wear it. =)
10. You will get sand in unspeakable places. It’s inevitable. That night when I got back to my cabana, I undressed to the sound of sand hissing onto the floorboards. Yes, it’s a little uncomfortable but that day I came home with volcanic ash in bra. And that’s kind of awesome. I mean, how often do you get to say that?