Weird Sport of the Day: Volcano Boarding

Despite this blog's title, I don't think I'm going to make weird sports a daily feature -- but there are so many out there, and new ones cropping up all the time, that I could. Just last week, for instance, I found myself an hour outside of Las Vegas, ziplining across the desert at speeds of up to 50 mph. A few weeks before that I had (and declined) the opportunity to rappel down a waterfall, and while I was briefly in tropical North Queensland, Australia last month, I heard something about how "jungle surfing" was all the rage (though I never quite figured out what exactly it was). The point being, crazy new "sports" are cropping up everywhere, and it's tough enough just trying to keep up with them all, much less try them!

The latest craze? Volcano boarding. Sandboarding has been around for awhile -- you can do it on the endless dunes of Namibia or at a special sandboarding park in Oregon's coastal dunes, so it was only a matter of time, perhaps, before the sport migrated from mountains of sand to the ash plains of active volcanoes.

boom.jpgI climbed to the rim of Vanuatu's Mount Yasur volcano last month, one of the most active and accessible volcanoes in the world. (Pictured above, looking relatively benign in the daytime, and to the left, raging, at night.) There's no volcano boarding on Yasur: the locals are respectful enough of the "Old Man" to allow tourists just to gawp at the volcano's power from its rim -- which isn't that far away, considering a few get burned (and occasionally killed) every year by flying lava bombs. When Captain Cook landed on the island a few centuries back, attracted by the volcano's orange glow in the night, the locals wouldn't let him anywhere near it. It was taboo to climb Yasur. And you can bet they wouldn't have let anyone slide down it on a surfboard.

Nicaragua, however, is a different story.

According to a recent New York Times travel section article:

There's nothing quite like the sudden silence one experiences midway through the descent down a roughly 1,600-foot volcanic slope, having just somersaulted out of the pebble-scraping, air-rushing trajectory previously occupied by you and your volcano board.

... This was my introduction to volcano boarding, a young adventure activity that has popped up, most notably at Cerro Negro, an ominous charcoal-black volcano in western Nicaragua. Boarders hurtle down the active volcano's bald, steep slope atop a sledlike piece of plywood, at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. It's hot, dusty, a little scary — and crazy enough to be fun.

The fellow who started it all is an Aussie named Daryn Webb, who'd grown up sandboarding in his native Queensland. Which was all well and good, but in Corro Negro he found "a dunelike slope, only bigger and blacker, and with the added thrill of a potential eruption."

"After a lot of trial and error with sledding vessels — he tried boogie boards, mattresses and even a minibar fridge — he settled on plywood reinforced with metal and augmented with Formica under the seat."

Speeds can reach 30 mph, and "crashing and burning" is common. If you're interested in playing where Sandanistan rebels once trained, here are the details:

Bigfoot Hostel (half a block south of Banco Procredit in León; 505-917-8832; runs boarding tours Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The price is $28, including $5 park admission. Dorm rooms at the hostel cost $6 a night; there are also four double rooms for $13, and a room for four is $28.

And for the faint of heart who'd rather just watch, here's a video.

Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice

Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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