Last Updated on January 10, 2023
Volcano Boarding (also Volcano Surfing, or Lavaboarding) is an extreme sport performed sliding down volcano slopes from a recent eruption on an active volcano.
The unique and dangerous nature of this sport has made it a popular tourist attraction in certain locations such as Cerro Negro volcano in Leon, Nicaragua, but it can be practiced on a number of active volcanos all over the world.
What is Volcano Surfing / Volcano Boarding?
Volcano surfing is an extreme sport that involves sliding down the slopes of an active volcano. The activity, which is similar to sandboarding, is performed on a board or sled and involves descending a volcano’s ashy and rocky terrain generated by a recent eruption.
Because of this, volcano surfing can only be practiced on a few selected locations worldwide, and it has become a popular activity and tourist attraction in countries such as Nicaragua, Indonesia and Vanuatu, attracting thrill seekers from all over the globe.
Where can you go volcano boarding?
Because only volcanoes where a recent eruption generated a hardened lava slope are suitable for this activity, there are only a handful of locations where volcano boarding can be practiced: Nicaragua, Guetamala, Indonesia, Italy, and Vanuatu.
Additionally, in order to “qualify” as volcano boarding, the activity must be performed on a slope that is formed on the volcano itself, and not on nearby hills that may be formed by the wind blowing ashes, as it’s the case in many Hawaiian islands and the El Arenal dunes in Mexico City, where ashboarding is practiced on volcanic sand hills nearby volcanos but not on the volcano itself.
1. Cerro Negro – Leon, Nicaragua
Cerro Negro (lit. “the black hill”) is an active volcano in the Cordillera de los Maribios mountain range in Nicaragua, about 10 km (6.2 mi) from the village of Malpaisillo.
One of Nicaragua’s youngest and most active volcanoes, Cerro Negro is currently the top destination for volcano boarding. It last erupted in 1999, when lava created what is now an ash-covered dune. In the early 2000s, someone had the crazy idea to try and slide down the volcano – on a mattress.
Nowadays, you can rent a sandboard and join a volcano boarding tour, which is one of the main tourist attractions luring people to Leon.
Read more: Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua
2. Mount Bromo – East Java, Indonesia
Mount Bromo is a more recent addition to global volcanoboarding destinations, with its latest eruption dating 2015. Rather than a mount, it is a volcanic plateau, giving the suggestive feeling that you are skiing on the surface on the moon rather than on a deadly active volcano. It is located in the main Indonesian island of Java.
3. Mount Yasur – Tanna Island, Vanuatu
The Republic of Vanuatu comprises a group of small islands in the pacific ocean. Despite its size, this country has not one, but nine (!) active volcanoes, some of which underwater. The volcanoes themselves are the main tourist attraction of Vanuatu, with Mount Yasur on Tanna Island being the most popular.
The Republic of Vanuatu, a country located in the Pacific Ocean, comprises a group of small islands. Despite its relatively small size, Vanuatu boasts an impressive nine active volcanoes (!), with some even located underwater. These volcanoes are a major draw for tourists visiting the country, with Mount Yasur on Tanna Island being the most popular destination for those seeking adrenaline.
The volcano’s accessibility and regular eruptions make it a perfect destination for volcano boarding, attracting adventure seekers and thrill-seekers from all over the world. With its combination of adventure, natural beauty, and volcanic activity, volcano boarding on Mount Yasur is considered a must-do experience for those visiting Vanuatu.
4. Pacaya Volcano – Antigua, Guatemala
A less popular volcano where sandboarding can be practiced in Central America is the Pacaya active complex in Guatemala, close to Antigua and Guatemala City.
The Pacaya volcano has multiple craters and it has erupted at least 23 times in the past 500 years. The latest eruption occurred in January 2021, so there are some rather “fresh” slopes available for volcano boarding.
5. Mount Etna – Catania, Italy
The largest active volcano in Europe is located in the wonderful island of Sicily in Southern Italy. Skiing on Mt. Etna when it is covered in snow during the winter months is nothing new, but it’s only recently that people have started bringing their own sandboards to enjoy some summer gliding down volcanic ashes.
Getting there it’s not going to be easy, though. Unlike other places in this list, there is no dedicated sport facility for sandboarding on Mt Etna, which means you will have to go independently. For experts only!
Video: Sandboarding on Mt. Etna
6. Stromboli – Stromboli Island, Italy
Another Sicilian volcano, located in the Aeolian Island of the same name famous for its black lava beaches. There have been some successful attempts by amateurs to sandboard in Stromboli.
As for Mount Etna, there are no official volcano surfing tours taking you to Stromboli and it is not reccommended to go there alone unless you are an experienced sandboarder and know what you are doing.
7. Mt. Fuji – Shizuoka / Yamanashi Prefectures, Japan
The iconic Mount Fuji is a well-known symbol of Japan and has not erupted since 1707, but it is still an active volcano. While the idea of volcano surfing on Mt. Fuji may seem appealing, it is important to note that it is not a regulated activity and may even be illegal.
That said, in the early 2000s, there were videos that surfaced of people attempting to sandboard down its slopes, however, there are no official volcano surfing tour operators or designated areas for the activity.
Additionally, there are safety concerns associated with volcano surfing on Mt. Fuji, as the volcano’s slopes can be unstable and unpredictable. This is the reason why Japan’s government has strong restriction on climbing the mountain without proper permission and because of the potential dangers that climbing on the volcano can pose.
Instead, visitors to Mt. Fuji typically head there for snowboarding during the winter season, which is a safer and more regulated activity, practiced when the slopes of the volcano are covered in snow.
Video: Sandboarding on Mt. Fuji
Volcano Surfing F.A.Q.s
When was volcano boarding invented?
The history of modern volcano boarding as we know it is very recent, but Ancient Hawaiian Lava Sledding (“He’e holua”) can be considered a precursor of volcano surfing, and was potentially practiced thousands of years ago.
He’e holua consisted of sledding down lavic paths and volcanic hills using a particular wooden board, and the practice had a ritualistic nature. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that modern volcano boarding took over, as an alternative to sandboarding.
Who invented volcano boarding?
Zoltan Istvan is considered to be the pioneer of volcano surfing, having recorded himself boarding down the slopes of Mt. Yasur back in 2002… while the volcano was actually erupting!
That said, it was actually Darryn Webb who popularized the sport when he hit the slopes of Cerro Negro in Nicaragua, using different types of “boards” and eventually settling for something similar to a sandboard to achieve optimal speed.
What should you wear when volcano boarding?
While sandboarding gear is rather minimalistic, wearing a protective suit and dust-proof goggles is a must when surfing on active volcanos.
Gloves, hiking boots, long pants, and long sleeves are recommended, as well as scarfs or similar cloth pieces that can be used to protect your mouth from flying debris while gliding down the volcano.
How fast is volcano boarding?
Volcano boarding rides can be very high-speed and usually take only a few minutes, reaching speeds up to 43 mph (70 km per hour).
The current volcano boarding speed record is 54 mph (almost 90 km per hour), set by an Israeli woman sliding down Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua.
Is volcano boarding dangerous?
Volcano boarding is relatively safe, but accidents are not uncommon. It goes without saying, but you should never attempt to board a volcano while an eruption is ongoing and volcanic ashes and rocks are hot and more painful to crash on than soft sand.
Sliding when a volcano is in activity is not recommended as it poses additional risks of being hit by flying molten lava, ash and debris, and inhaling toxic – and potentially lethal – volcanic gases. Injuries from volcano surfing can be very serious and lend you at the hospital.
We report a few personal experiences of volcano boarding accidents from someone that that found dangerous andd required medical care, someone who reportedly had their faces ripped off, and several reports of people getting bruises and injuries due to falling off their boards.
It is imperative that you make sure that your travel insurance covers volcanoboarding if you are planning to practice this extreme sport.
Volcano boarding deaths
As of 2022, there have been no reported deaths caused by volcano boarding. Keep in mind that volcano eruptions can happen quite suddenly and you should always rely on local government information regarding whether it is safe to visit a volcanic area or not at any given time.
Furthermore, there have been cases of people dying while sandboarding on “regular” sand dunes – so make sure to always wear safety gear and adequate clothing, and to cautiously follow precaution guidelines from your instructors.
How to be safe when volcano surfing
Regardless of where you go volcano boarding, keep an eye on the local news and warning issues by the local authorities. They will usually track volcanic activities and advise tourists on whether it is safe to visit the site and what distance to keep from the main crater.
Make sure to join a group of volcano surfers, never attempt to do this alone. Most volcano boarding hot spots offer guided volcano boarding tours which will also provide you with safety gear and a volcanoboard, more importantly – they can rescue you should something go wrong.
Volcano boarding accidents are not rare and can easily lend you at the hospital, so make sure to get a travel insurance that covers volcano boarding.
Can you go volcano boarding in Costa Rica?
You cannot practice volcano boarding in Costa Rica. Many countries in Central America like Costa Rica and El Salvador have plenty of volcanos you can hike and enjoy, but none of these have slopes suitable for sandboarding.
At present, the only places where you can practice volcano surfing in America are the Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala and Cerro Negro volcano in Nicaragua. This can however change in the future following an eruption, since new lava slopes could be created as a result of volcanic activity.
Can you go volcano boarding in Hawaii?
With the rise of volcano boarding as the latest crazy fad for adrenaline seekers, it may seem surprising that the Hawaiian sandboarding scene hasn’t grown more. The main island of Hawaii, after all, resulted from the eruption of five volcanos – two of which are still active!
Unfortunately, no slopes on the island are currently suitable for volcano boarding: the peak of Mauna Kea is covered with snow and better suited for “winter” sports, while the one-million-years-old Kohala is covered in beautiful vegetation and hence sandboarding cannot be practiced.
Younger volcanoes in the achipelago – such as Loihi, Hualalai, and Haleakala – are active to date and could become potential volcano boarding destinations if a new eruption causes lava flow to generate a steep slope, similar to what happened in Cerro Negro in 1999.
An ancient form of volcano sledding was also born in Hawaii, and is sometimes still practiced by local enthusiasts, but it is fairly different from modern volcano boarding.
That said, regular sandboarding is often practiced with a skimboard and limited to smaller slopes of several Hawaiian beaches such as Sunset Beach, Big Beach Makena, Green Sand Beach.
Read also: Sandboarding in Hawaii
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