Go with the flow: Ride volcanoes

Surfing started with big waves and wooden boards. Then it moved on to ski slopes and sand dunes. But those are nothing compared to the latest thrill – riding active volcanoes. Simon Usborne reports

When Captain James Cook and his lieutenant, James King, landed on Hawaii in 1778 they were struck by a strange sight in the surf. Men with "oval pieces of plank" were riding waves that "sent them in with a most astonishing velocity". The passage in King's log was the first recorded account of surfing. Little did he or those early daredevils know how many extreme sports it would spawn. The latest addition to a list of boarding prefixes that includes kite, sand and horse (no, really): volcano.

Yes, volcano boarding is the hottest thing on the Nicaraguan backpacker trail. Intrepid travellers are hiking up the precipitous Cerro Negro, near the western city of León, before hurtling back down its rock-and-ash slopes at eye-watering speed. Adrenalin junkies at the Bigfoot Hostel are provided with orange overalls and plywood sleds. More experienced daredevils use adapted snowboards. Either way, balls are not provided.

"The volcano is active," says the hostel's owner, Phillip Southan. "But the biggest risk is getting scratches if you fall off." And those scratches are likely to be big – volcano boarders regularly reach speeds of up to 60km per hour. "It's hot, dusty, a little scary – and crazy enough to be fun," says one of thousands of backpackers who have taken on Cerro Negro, which has erupted 20 times since it first blew in 1850.

All board sports can trace their origins to surfing, a pursuit rooted in Polynesian culture centuries before Cook rocked up on Hawaii, but whose exact origins are shrouded in the mists of time. It was then all but forgotten until the early 20th century, when Duke Kahanamoku, a champion swimmer from Waikiki, led a revival that soon swept the world.

But surfing is a slave to the weather, not to mention proximity to a coastline. It was bored surfers in Los Angeles who, on an unrecorded day in the late 1940s or early 1950s, screwed wheels to small pieces of wood and invented skateboarding. Those wheels were ditched and the boards fitted with a rope at their tips by a Michigan man in 1965. His "snurfer", a surfboard for snow, sold by the million. One fan by the name of Jake Burton screwed bindings to his and cut the rope. Snowboarding was born.

The big three board sports – surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding – have been joined by a host of evolutions. Wakeboarders get towed by speedboats, kiteboarders use the wind and sandboarders take on dunes. We've even seen videos of surfing hamsters and skateboarding cats, but horseboarding?

Daniel Fowler-Prime is chair of the British Horsesurfing Association, a group that uses horses to tow them on boards through shallow surf or, with wheels, along the ground at speeds of up to 40mph. At the end of this month, the Association is hosting championships at its base in Harefield, West London. "We're doing drag races where boarders and horses go head to head," Fowler-Prime says. "Some have called it the world's first team extreme sport – you have to work with the horse to go as fast as you can but you can't go flat out because even the best pros will get spanked."

No need for horsepower on Cerro Negro, where volcano boarders have almost brought the sport full circle. The Polynesian pioneers were not content to ride waves. They developed a sport that has much in common with the exploits of backpackers in Nicaragua. "He'ehölua", or mountain surfing, is as old as its aquatic counterpart. More than 2,000 years ago, men used 12ft sleds to careen down manmade courses of hardened lava or grass to honour Pele, the goddess of fire. Or they did it for the thrill. As King observed of surfing: "[It] must, I conceive, be very pleasant; at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this exercise gives." Whether you're being dragged by the wind, a horse or plummeting down an active volcano, some things haven't changed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Event Management and Marketing Admin Support

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Central London based firm loo...

Recruitment Genius: Events / Conference Operations Manager

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot