Tanna Wild: Ashboarding in Port Resolution

The day after arriving in Port Resolution and doing the night tour of the volcano, we did some adventuring with a new group called Tanna Wild.  They took our family, Aurora B’s foursome (Ed, Gemma, Eva, Henry), and the children of Manihi (Patrick, Alec, Max, Daisy) on a multi-faceted adventure tour.  We started with a swing from a giant banyan tree, overlooking the bay where the boats were anchored.  This was basically a leap of faith out into the void of the drop-off under the tree, which was growing on a hillside.  Tully wanted to do it, and based on her bravery at Cloud 9 (a floating restaurant in Fiji where people jumped off the second-floor deck), she probably would have done it but they didn’t have a harness small enough to contain her little body. 

Joe gets a turn on the banyan swing

Moving on to the next event, we rode in the back of a pickup back to the volcano where we picked up wooden sled-like boards and hiked up to the highest point on the volcano to take part in “ashboarding.”  This is what had sold me on the whole day although I had no concept of what it actually was.  I saw some vague photos of people riding something down a slope and thought Cobin might enjoy it.  He was gung-ho for it so I recruited the other families and we signed up for the whole experience. 

Before we picked up our boards, our guides mentioned that Tully might be too young for the ashboarding.  I’m a firm believer in giving our kids every opportunity they want to take.  But based on the nonchalance with which our guides approached the banyan tree swing, and their openness to anyone doing anything, I thought I should heed their guidance if they were discouraging anyone’s participation.

At that point, I had looked more closely at the photos, noting the people wearing surgical-scrub-like outfits and face masks, and thought that maybe I didn’t want to get that dirty and would volunteer to stay with Tully and Marin, who was also opting out.  Joe was having none of it.  “This was your idea so you should get the full experience.”  Great. 

So our little band of three adults and seven (!) children headed out with our one guide up the volcano.  When I asked where we were going, the guide pointed vaguely up a slope to a signed viewpoint that we hadn’t gone to on our night viewing of the volcano because there was too much sulfur blowing that way.  Either conditions were different today or sulfur doesn’t affect ashboarders in the same way because we went right up to that viewpoint and continued to climb.  We did a practice run with the ashboards which were basically polished, decorated boards with two sticks that could dig into the ash and act like brakes.  The practice runs went fine and we continued up and around. 

I thought we might be almost to our final destination at that point, but I was wrong.  We continued to circumnavigate the volcano’s edge for twenty more minutes while gusty winds blew the sulfur into our faces and blasted us with black sandy ashy.  Several of the children were no bigger than Marin and looked like they might get blown off the top if the wind caught their ashboards just right.  We were all wearing goggles and face masks that were more annoying than helpful.  My goggles were scratched so I had one tiny clear patch to peek through and my face mask seemed to discourage deep breathing more than it filtered out any sulfurous fumes. 

At one point, I had to pause with one of the children while he worked through some sulfur-breathing issues.  There was a brief moment when it was just the two of us on the volcano in the worst of the fumes and, based on the panicky look in his eyes, I struggled to remember if he was asthmatic or just somewhat susceptible to respiratory issues.  Thankfully, slowing down and pacing ourselves resolved the issue and I didn’t have to ?? I have no idea what I would have done.  But I didn’t have to do it.

Around that time, I was extremely grateful that Marin and Tully weren’t with us because I was having enough trouble getting myself and the older kids to the top of the sledding area.  By the time we reached it, the winds were at the point where we were getting sandblasted and everyone just wanted to get down.  There was a cool moment when we could see down into the bowels of the volcano and got a glimpse of the lava bubbling and boiling.  I took a number of videos of this cauldron, probably to the detriment of my ash-encrusted phone.


I took some video of the people in front of me on their boards, disappearing into a cloud of sand and then it was my turn.  Any trepidation I had had melted into a desire to descend so I just got on and went.  It was an incredibly smooth ride and I tried to go easy on the brakes and avoid the rocks since several of my predecessors had toppled over. 

Cobin and Max head down

So I had a good ride and then it just stopped.  I was about 100 meters up the hill with no forward momentum.  The guide came down next to me and she, too, stopped.  I followed her to a new spot and did the sit-on-my-butt-and-scoot technique to no avail.  I finally gave up and walked down the hill, with that horrible gritty, sandy ash piling up inside my shoes like a giant, unpleasant sock.

Cobin was at the base with the others, eagerly reviewing his Go-Pro footage and showing the others.  I just wanted to dump out my shoes.  At that point, we were supposed to do something involving these cumbersome 3-wheelers that we had been riding around with in the truck.  The truck that met us was also supposed to have brought Joe, Marin and Tully to join us but there was no sign of them.  We were all getting hungry and it was getting late in the day so we opted to skip the three-wheeling, pick up the others and go to the last stop – the hot springs.  I think we all shared a vision of warm, bubbling clear pools where we would rinse our sandy, sticky bodies before getting on our boats.

Probably none of us envisioned a young boy on the beach within view of our boats, digging trenches in the sand to allow the sea water to mix with the hot water bubbling up from under the sand.  The “hot springs” were just warm patches of water where we could wade, unless the boy shoveled a much larger quantity of sand in a very short period of time.  The hardier souls ventured into the sea where the boy showed us bubbles that indicated hot water entering the cool waters of the bay.  I am not a fan of swimming in cold water at night without an immediate chance of warmth so I refrained, knowing that I would have had to wait in line behind the smaller wet, sandy, cold bodies that did not refrain.  Joe walked around the bay to get our dinghy and we returned to the boat with some very chilly passengers.  Sadly, no one had been on the boat, running the starboard engine to warm the water so all the wet, sandy people had to take cold showers. 

Somewhere between the end of the ashboarding and the cold shower, disaster struck in the form of an accidental erasure.  Cobin discovered that even young brains, with their superior neural connections, occasionally make mistakes.  He had accidentally deleted his ashboarding footage and was utterly distraught.  After listening to him bemoan his fate and tell us that the experience alone wasn’t worth it – he needed to record it, my video of him going down wasn’t enough, when would he ever ashboard a volcano again (valid point), etc, etc and seeing him follow pointless leads on the painfully slow internet to try to recover the footage, Joe finally said, “Why don’t you just go again tomorrow?”  And so it was that Cobin, in the company of Nikitoo’s Demi and Ellie, repeated the entire experience the next day, including the three-wheeling (which was apparently more fun than everything else), capturing GoPro videos of it all. 

They squeezed all this in between the gift-giving ceremony and the welcome feast, returning just in time for roasted pig and taro root along with other local offerings.

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