Central America Travel Writing

A new sport erupts onto the scene in Nicaragua

Teetering on the precipice of a 1,600 foot slope on one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, Holly Hrynyk can’t help but wonder how she got herself into this.

With just a small wooden board and an orange jumpsuit for protection, she sits pondering all the things that could go wrong. No waivers or release forms, barely any safety instructions given – just a rough and tumble guide on how to steer and break – the undertaking seems suicidal.

“I think I was trying to block out all my thoughts; not to scream or cry. The only thing that kept me actually going was the fact that if I didn’t, I would have to hike back down,” Hrynyk says now.

All too soon, her guide gave her a mighty push that sends her over the edge, plummeting down the steep, black slope.

Hrynyk’s first reflex was to scream, but ash, grit and rock began hitting her in the face, bouncing off her goggles and lodging themselves into any exposed crevice. Her pale skin turned a dusty charcoal as she boarded down the steepest section at a 41 degree angle – seen by others as a rushing trajectory of volcanic dust.

Eventually, Hrynyk’s board slowed to a gentle stop amidst a tumble of rock and ash. At that moment, she became another survivor of the world’s newest, gnarliest adventure sport, called “volcano boarding.”

This bit of daredevilry is presently unique to the slopes of Cerro Negro, located roughly 20 kilometres outside the city of León in northwestern Nicaragua.

Cerro Negro, meaning “black hill,” is the youngest and one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. At just 163 years old, over 20 eruptions have been recorded to date.

The black, behemoth stands at 728 metres. It’s technically a small volcano, but it’s still a daunting hike in the 40°C Nicaraguan heat with a heavy board and gear strapped to your back.

Sulfur rises with the blistering temperatures, and hot ash covering the slopes absorb the sun and reflects it, making the 60-minute hike feel as if you’re climbing through a giant frying pan.

Fortunately, those undertaking the challenge are offered unobstructed views of the verdant Nicaraguan landscape. To one side of the crater rim, the horizon is dotted with the other consistently smoking, erupting members of the Maribios Volcanic Chain. To the other lies the sprawling colonial city of León, under a haze from the extreme temperatures in Nicaragua’s hottest region.

Sweaty and full of nervous excitement, Hrynyk and other streams of volcano boarders plunge down the sides of a dangerously active volcano. Some reach speeds up to 90 km/hr. So, despite Cerro Negro’s unstable reputation, many adventurists are flocking to Leon to try this new extreme activity for themselves.

As Hrynyk says, “Once I was midway down and spit all the gravel out of my mouth, it was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done in my life.”

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Originally published in The Runner 

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