LEÓN – To the casual observer, Darryn Michael Webb’s tour of Cerro Negro Volcano looks a bit like a prison break from a James Bond movie.
Dressed in bright-orange jumpsuits and protective goggles, people sit on sleds and tear down the black-sand side of the volcano, trying not to burn their behinds in the process.
Webb says that after some of the heavier tourists race down the mountain on their sand sleds, they have to wait up to 10 minutes for the metal-coated toboggans to cool before picking them up.
After a dozen or so trips down the mountain, the bottom of the metal sleds start to look like the outside of a Space Shuttle that has just reentered the atmosphere – a series of stratospheric-looking scars generated from a friction heat that is intense enough to set ice cream on fire.
Webb, an Aussie by birth, says that he experimented with his sled prototypes for more than a year before arriving at his patentable sled design – a combination of wood, plastic and metal, whose velocity is determined by the rider’s distribution of body weight.
Earlier sled models included mattresses, chairs and upside-down plastic tables.
The final product, however, is more environmentally friendly because it displaces the least amount of sand and doesn’t shred on the mountainside while coming down the slope,Webb said. And, it’s fast as all hell.
Webb says the top speed clocked with radar guns was 72 kilometers per hour, fast enough for a speeding ticket in most parts of León. But,Webb explains, the speed of the sled is adjustable by the rider.
“The mountain slope is 400 meters, and it takes people anywhere from 24 seconds to 11 minutes to get down the hill, depending on how fast they want to go,”Webb said.
As the owner of León’s Big Foot Hostel, the birthplace of Nicaraguan sandboarding, Webb now has one of the most popular tours in León, attracting an average of 80 people a week, most of whom are women, he says.
The tour, including park entrance, transportation, all the equipment and a mojito cocktail to compare battle stories afterwards back at the hostel, costs only $22.50.
Aided by positive word of mouth and international press, including a recent feature story in the Chicago Tribune,Webb has built a name and a small empire for himself by offering a tour that is unique in Central America and without competition, for the moment.
He knows that copycats will come along soon, and that’s why he keeps his sleds under lock and key to prevent potential competitors from stealing his design.
But,Webb says, his tour will always be the original and the safest. There’s been a lot of trial and error, but now Webb has got sandboarding down to an art. For more info, visit www.bigfootadventure.com.