orange is the new black: volcano boarding in nicaragua

It could only ever have been an Australian. Which other nationality would have thought - "Well, there's a nice looking volcano, I'm going to try and slide down it on my picnic table?"

Factor in that Cerro Negro is also the most active volcano in Nicaragua and we can only imagine the jokes and bemused expressions that were made when Bigfoot Hostel founder Daryn Webb dragged yet another item of household furniture up to the peak. 

Yet, he was not to be deterred. Eventually moving away from fridges and the odd mattress, he created a customised wooden toboggan and - with it - volcano boarding erupted. 

Ten years later and some 25,000 daredevils have propelled themselves down the slope of unforgiving black gravel and ash with Bigfoot. And with CNN ranking it as #2 in its 'Thrill Seeker's Bucket List', a visit to Leon to don an orange jumpsuit is likely to remain a staple on the Central American backpacker highway. 

the way up : 45 minutes

Our day begins at 9 a.m. with a bumpy truck ride from Leon to the foot of Cerro Negro. After a few apprehensive murmurs of "what the hell are we doing - have you seen the size of that thing?!", we hoist our boards onto our backs and begin the sometimes tricky climb to the summit.

Stumbling over loose gravel and almost knocked over by the wind, this 45 minute hike is a little taxing for those not formerly mountain goats but perfectly manageable. After all, Emily has been known to fall over on flat ground in empty corridors so, if she can do it, you can.

We've been up our fair share of volcanoes in the last six months, but the topography here was unique. Panoramic views of lush green, with other volcanoes scattered around, contrasting with the charcoal desert caused by the 24 eruptions.

Dotted along the summit, pits of volcanic ash release white plumes of sulphur smoke and heat ascends from below - a stark reminder that this volcano is only resting.

the way down : 20 seconds

The reason we chose Bigfoot was not just because they created the whole madcap sport and have an ice-cold beer waiting for you at the end (okay, the beer helped), but because their boards are renowned as the fastest in town.

Their in-house record is an incredible 95km/h. The secret? A small section of formica.

Turns out that it is not just used to make gaudy 1980s kitchen countertops. 

As plenty of travellers are more at home on the ski-slopes, one misconception many have before the trip is that it would be better to snowboard down. Although it may give you a cooler photo for Facebook, it is actually unlikely to give you much of an adrenaline rush; the terrain and weight distribution when standing don't really mix well.  

So, in the main, volcano boarding technique can be summarised thusly: "sit down, lean back, go quick." 

And quick we went. 

Emily is up first and, after a slow start, she passes over the edge and disappears; the only way Andrew can chart her progress and assume that the pace has quickened is from the steady stream of expletives echoing from below.

And it appears the foul language is for good reason; she is the quickest female of the day, clocking 59 km/h on the speed gun. 

Unfortunately, the break-neck speed is not accompanied by skill or indeed any semblance of athletic finesse. The toboggan picks up momentum in addition to flying dust and gravel, most of which is deposited on Emily. She darts wildly left and right, legs flailing in the wind and never entirely certain how she isn't flipped face down in the debris. At one point the entire board is thrown up in the air, landing with a thud, meaning the final few seconds of the descent are completed with Emily's bottom next to her ankles.

It's messy, but bloody hell it's fun. 

Andrew is next. A solid start runs into difficulty half way down, where he forgets which foot to put down if you need to veer he keeps on veering right, flying by the seat of his pants and struggling to regain control. 

Turns out this only has one outcome - a spectacular dismount half-way down which is high on drama, low on grace.

Thankfully, the extra protection afforded by the American convict inspired orange jumpsuit prevents the tumble and roll being too painful and he is able to get straight back on. 

The clocked speed is 35 km/h, but he insists this requires a steward's enquiry; Emily continues to gloat. 

We both arrive at the bottom with a rather attractive covering of facial soot, a few scrapes and gravel in unmentionable areas (which we're still finding four days later), but we are exhilarated.

We took on a volcano at high speed and won. Just. 

Orange is certainly the new black.

booking info

Bigfoot Hostel has daily trips to Cerro Negro, leaving at 9 a.m. 

Reservations can be made in person at the hostel, or via their website

The cost is $29 USD per person, including transport, equipment and a couple of energetic guide. You also receive a tank-top, beer & cookie after your run and a refreshing mojito back at the hostel. They are also the only company in town who record your speed and take pictures of the day.

This does not include your entry to the park, which is $5 USD. 

Wear walking shoes or sturdy trainers and don't take too much else with you, aside from water and suncream. If you're taking a camera, be aware that you might have take this down with you on the board and there is the risk of damage.

You will usually return to the hostel at 1-2 p.m. 

but the most dangerous thing of the whole day was actually...

The Lava Shot Challenge! Who'd have thought that travelling on a wooden board on rocks down a 45% slope would have seemed like a breeze in comparison to the reward for being fastest male/female in the group. 

A Bigfoot Hostel legend, this challenge is not for the faint-hearted. Three shots of chilli-soaked rum in forty-five seconds, followed a group count of thirty seconds to see if you can hold it down: some will, many won't, Emily didn't.


like it? pin it!

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua

Although our trip was part-funded by Bigfoot Hostel, we would never write a ringing endorsement without genuinely enjoying an experience. All views, photos and spelling errors are our own. 

Heading to Leon? Check out some of these posts!