PLAYA DUNA—On a hidden, white-sand beach nestled in a rocky cove at the bottom of a treacherous bluff, a new extreme sport—dune sledding— is being tested under careful scientific method.
Well, actually, it’s only an “extreme sport” if you consider sledding down a hill on a boogie board at 5 mph “extreme.”
And the testing could only be considered “careful scientific method” if you got a C- or lower in remedial high school science and have no idea what scientific method means. Still, here is a summary of some of the amateur “science” that was rigorously documented on a recent Saturday:
Step 1) Purpose: To sled down the sand dune at a reckless speed, hopefully reaching the bottom at Mach 2 and ripping across the beach all the way to the water.
Step 2) Research: Drink a Toña and stare at the giant sand dune. Notice feet are getting hot in the sand.
Step 3) Hypothesis: I bet I can slide down the sand dune even faster if I have another Toña first, to give me another 12 ounces of liquid weight and before the beers get warm.
Step 4) Experiment: Trudge up the sand dune (way harder than it looks). Stop half way up. Look down. Huff and puff. Ask Ra, the sun god, for a little reprieve from the afternoon heat. See no sign of acknowledgement from Ra. Continue to plod the rest of the way up to the top. Sit in sand and admire the amazing panoramic view of the beach and the sun twinkling off the cerulean ocean, just before the surf tumbles across the rock outcroppings. Notice how small your friends (fellow scientists) look on the beach down below, and suddenly realize—for the first time—that you could probably injure yourself from this height. Sit on boogie board and begin to slide down the hill, moving much slower than you anticipated/hoped. Listen to the wind carrying the sound of the fellow scientists’ laughter up the dune. Wiggle yourself into a lying position on boogie board to get more aerodynamic, pointing your toes for minimum wind resistance. Move approximately 1 mph faster than you were before. Eventually come to a plopping halt at the bottom of dune, 40 feet away from the ocean, at the feet of the laughing scientists. Jump up, full of sand, and race to the ocean for a wash-off. Repeat Steps 2-4.
Step 5) Analysis: A boogie board has too much friction for proper dune sledding—the combination of cloth lining and buoyant foam material makes for a lousy sand-racing contraption.
Step 6) Conclusion: If I am going to break the sand-dune land speed record and get my picture on a Toña billboard, first I will need a faster sled—perhaps some type of sand toboggan fashioned with a space-age aluminum bottom, and cup holders.
In a way, this is how sand boarding started on León’s Cerro Negro a decade ago. Pioneers of that sport realized the potential for dangerous fun and tourism revenue long before they figured out the best way to get down the mountain at a frightening speed.
So it is on “Cerro Blanco,” the enormous white sand dune that has formed against the cliffs of the appropriately if predictably named Playa Duna, the fifth and least-visited beach at Rancho Santana, in Tola.
Rancho Santana, a private residential community that has developed a reputation as one of Nicaragua’s top vacation rentals for surfers, has just started offering dune-sledding tours to Playa Duna.
The sport—if you can call something that’s only been attempted by a dozen or so addlepated beachgoers a “sport”—is still very much in the experimental phase.
But even in its inchoate stage of development, dune sledding is still giggly fun. Says Calley Prezzano, one of the sport’s pioneers, “The cool thing about dune boarding was having a reason to climb to the top of the dune; I wouldn’t have done it otherwise, since there is no shade up there. But once you get to the top, the view is amazing,”
She says the fact that the beach was empty also helped her work up her nerve to give it a try.
“This is not something I would have tried if the beach were full of people watching,” Prezzano said.
Even for those who aren’t into downhill dune domination, the rugged and remote majesty of Playa Duna—one of Nicaragua’s many unspoiled and undiscovered seashore secrets—also makes for a great daytrip for guests staying at Rancho Santana.
But the beach, which is very difficult to access and limited to guests at the Rancho (unless you’re a strong swimmer), is not for everyone. Just getting there can be an adventure.
After a very hilly drive through the lesser-developed headland roads of Rancho Santana—in which you may find yourself wondering nervously if your 4×4 is even going to make it up the next incline—you’ll arrive at a small dead-end on a bluff overlooking the ocean on both sides. From there, you walk down a dirt trail that ends with a slight rock-climbing expedition down to the beach.
Once there, you’ll probably have the landlocked cove all to yourself, with spectacular views of the cliffs, the rocks jutting out into the ocean, and the occasional fishermen casting lines from a small wooden boat out beyond the breakers.
The beach doesn’t provide much natural shade, so you’ll want to bring an umbrella, sunscreen, a blanket and a specially designed sand toboggan with alien technology micro-lattice, nickel-phosphorous running blades for maximum speed.
If you don’t have one of those, a boogie board will do in a pinch.