Volcano Boarding is Just Slightly Insane


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Cerro Negro Nicaragua Volcano Hike

Marching Up the Volcano

Leon, Nicaragua

Racing down an active volcano at 30 mph on a little piece of wood is really fun! But volcano boarding can also be a bit dangerous, as I was about to find out.

Crashing into sharp volcanic rocks at that speed will leave a mark (or ten).

Cerro Negro (Black Hill) is an active volcano outside of Leon, Nicaragua. It’s a relatively new one at only 161 years old. Because the cone is primarily made up of small penny-sized grains of volcanic rock, it’s possible to ride or surf down the steep slope on a wooden sled.

Hiking The Volcano

To start this adventure, we strapped boards to our backs and began to ascend the 2388 ft. (728 m) black mountain of loose rock. The hike up lasts about 45 minuets.

The day was extremely windy which made for a refreshing hike without too much sweating on this black natural oven. But when we approached the top the wind became TOO strong!

Our boards began acting like sails, the wind pushing us all over the place like rag-dolls. The whole group had to hit the deck to avoid getting swept off the top all together.

I’ve never felt so much wind before!

After several minutes hugging the ground, the gusts finally died down and we were able to continue to the “drop zone“.

Cerro Negro Volcano Nicaragua

Active Volcanic Crater

Volcano Boarding for Dummies

There are two different ways to ride down the side of the volcano. You can stand up like on a snowboard, or you can sit down like on a sled.

Standing up may look cooler for photos, but in reality it actually sucks.

You can’t make turns like on a snowboard and you move slower than if you ride it like a sled.

At one point I tried to stand up on the board for a bit, but it was not nearly as fun. When sitting down, your center of gravity is lower and concentrated on the back of the board, creating less friction with the ground and resulting in more speed.

Volcanic rocks are not as slippery as snowflakes, there’s a lot more friction to deal with.

Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro Nicaragua

See You at the Bottom!

Wooden Sled Construction

The volcano boards have a rope in front for your hands as you lean back for maximum speed. You can’t really control your direction with the rope though, it’s only for stability. The bottom of the wooden sled is covered with a thin layer of metal.

There is also a piece of formica plastic glued to the metal which reduces even more friction and gives you extra speed. This plastic needs to be replaced every day, as it burns right off after 1 or 2 runs.

Everyone is given a one-piece suit for crash protection. You also get protective googles and leather work gloves for the same purpose.

While the volcanic stones are very lightweight and easy to break apart, they are also very sharp. They can tear holes in clothing or skin pretty easily without the protective gear.

Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro Nicaragua

Volcano Boarding Race

The Need for Speed!

The slope you ride down is much steeper and longer than you first imagine. In fact it’s quite intimidating.

Of course it doesn’t need to be that scary, because you’re always able to put your feet down and control your speed at any time.

But I was on a mission to go as fast as humanly possible!

So after mentally preparing myself, I sat on my board, grabbed the rope, leaned way back, and off I went!

Starting slowly but quickly building speed as the slope reached a steep 41 degrees. Volcanic pebbles were kicked up into my face. I didn’t feel any pain though, due to the adrenaline rush of speeding down the side of a volcano!

The world became a blur as my volcano sled raced down the mountainside.

But then I lost control…

The volcano board started to turn sideways on me, and to compensate I finally put a foot down. Big mistake! I was going too fast at that point, and when my foot hit the ground I launched forward and sideways, slamming into the rocks face-first.

Volcano Boarding Cerro Negro Nicaragua

Adventure Travel Battle Wounds

The Crash

Volcanic rock is not as forgiving as snow or sand. I found this out the hard way. When I finally stopped rolling down the slope, I realized my bald head felt hot & wet. Was that blood running down my scalp?

I checked to make sure all my parts were still working, located my board, and continued racing down the mountain. I was fine, just a bit more dirty and bloody then when I’d started this crazy adventure. :)

At the bottom we walked back to the truck and ate Volcano Burritos that had been freshly cooked inside the volcano itself! A hole had been dug at the summit, and a metal box containing the food was buried there. The heat from the volcano had cooked the burritos.

Now it was time to hike back up and do it all over again. ★

Watch Video: Volcano Boarding Crash

(Click to watch Volcano Boarding: Nicaragua on YouTube)


What Do You Think?

Is volcano boarding something you’d try? Have you heard of it before?


Location: León, Nicaragua
Company: Quetzal Trekkers
Cost: $30 US (all profits donated to charity)
Useful Notes: Even though I crashed, you don’t have to. It’s easy to keep your feet down to control your speed for the whole descent. If you do decide to go fast, dragging your hand is a better way to slow down in a controlled fashion… Lean back as far as you can if you want speed!

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Matthew Karsten is the Expert Vagabond. Addicted to adventure travel and photography, he's on a mission to inspire your next journey with entertaining stories, vibrant images, and useful tips. Vagabonding around the world since 2010. Follow his adventures on Facebook, , and Twitter.

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Tell Me What You Think!

Comment Rules: Critical comments are fine, but rude ones will be deleted. Have fun, and thanks for adding to the conversation!

  • Gabe

    So awesome man!!! hahahaha. Lovin’ it!

  • The Curmudgeon

    A hike of 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. You’ve never hiked with the “Busy Bees” have you?
    You’re quite lucky. Your scars are nothing compared to mine. I endured mental scarring. That’s worse. They are only healed by homemade pies, which I haven’t seen yet. I hope you never have to encounter those two. You’d better send a machete home for me.

  • Stephanie

    Great description of the experience. I cannot wait for the video!

    • http://expertvagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Coming soon!

  • http://www.aswetravel.com Sofia – As We Travel

    OUCH!!!!

    I love sledding, I couldn’t get enough of it in Bergün, but I’ve never tried it on rocks, let alone on a volcano!

    • http://expertvagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      My up-close & personal experience: rocks are hard. ;)

  • Julia

    That looks seriously awesome! Despite the battle wounds, I would still be tempted to have a go (and maybe be a bit wimpy and go a bit slower than you!) :)

    • http://expertvagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Scars are cool. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

  • http://fireborngloves.com/ Kyan

    I couldn’t stop myself from laughing when I read the discretion about the lost control part. I could imagine a person slamming a rock. Very amazing.

  • http://onajunket.com Mike

    Yes, I will go sliding down a hill side of sharp volcanic rock. Yes, I will bleed. yes, I will love my scars…like i’m sure you do!! Must’ve been a great ride!

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      It was! The scars are worth it. You’ll love it. :D

  • http://NomadGrad.com Hilary

    Looks like you had such a great time! I didn’t pick up nearly as much speed as you did but I’d happily do it again!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Jennifer Beagan

    I’m still being haunted by Cerro Negro! Matthew, remember the girl who had to hop around on one foot with the banged up leg/ ankle staying at the Tortuga hostel with you?? Thats me! haha. Back home, waiting on surgery still! Hope your travels went well! :)

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      Hi Jennifer! Surgery from your fall there??? Crazy! What’s the diagnosis?

  • Jennifer Beagan

    Yep, from that killer wipeout I had! I bought some crutches and continued on the rest of my trip. When I finally got home, I had numerous x-rays & an MRI then got sent to a specialist who tells me I fractured the cartilidge inside my ankle bone and tore a couple tendons. Its quite painful! So much fun but something like this would happen to me haha. I wish you would’ve caught my fall on tape! I would love to see it from a spectator’s view!

  • http://www.escapingabroad.com James Abroad

    Looks like you were speeding pretty fast before that crash! No helmets or safety pads? Excellent job with all the angles and video editing too.

  • http://www.gonewiththewynns.com nikki wynn

    This has been on my bucket list for a long while. Now I have added a side note of bring a helmet and don’t stand up.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      haha. Yes! Remember to lean back as far as you possibly can too. That’s important for speed. :D

  • E

    What song is used in the video ?

  • Daniel

    Matt, I think you have bigger huevos than I ! We did the hike up Cerro Negro 5 years ago but when we got to the top, the downward slope seemed so steep that it freaked us out. We gingerly walked down !

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com Matthew Karsten

      I completely understand Daniel. That slope is much longer and steeper than I thought it would be…

      But I was on a mission. :)

  • http://www.travellingking.com Sam D

    Love it! pity its not like snowboarding although I am still pretty hopeless at that! Its fun though

  • Morad Echarkaoui

    Sorry dude… I have to admit I laughed my ass off when you screamed “holy shit !”. What a ride ! Keep that strong spine.

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com/ Matthew Karsten

      No worries Morad. I’m sure you weren’t the only one!

  • http://www.gobackpacking.com Dave

    I’m going this morning, but wish I hadn’t seen your video and read about the girl in the Comments below who broke her ankle! I still can’t figure out how everyone who brings a backpack and nice cameras gets them down if they go on the sleighs. Do the guides carry that stuff back for you?

    • http://ExpertVagabond.com/ Matthew Karsten

      It’s really not that bad if you control yourself, which is easy to do with your feet. At least up until a point. But if you go gangbusters, it can get a bit wild.

      Some people prefer to run down. Maybe you could get one of them to bring your stuff? But really, everyone I was with just risked it. I burned a hole in my backpack when I leaned back. Make sure to bring extra padding (towel, shirts, etc.) to wrap a camera in. Can’t wait to see the photos or video!

      • http://www.gobackpacking.com Dave

        I ended up packing light (no backpack), and whatever we had with us at the top (empty water bottle), we just put in the bags we used to carry our suits up, and hung it around our neck. I kept my iPhone in a Lifeproof case, and kept that in my pocket. Others with backpacks for their cameras had to position them between their legs.

        The fastest guy from our group hit around 75km/h, then wiped out hard and lost his glasses. Amazingly, he ran back up and found them. The fastest girls were on the 2-person sled, and also went 75, and wiped out hard too.

        Watching them tumble, I wondered if our guide had any medical training. I know a lot of people have broken bones over the years (like your reader who broke her ankle). I didn’t mind playing it safe, it was still a lot of fun.

        And yes, you can do a walking tour and skip the whole boarding thing. I saw a group running down the volcano before we started our hike up it.

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