We are all pretty familiar with the classic hamster ball; you know, the one that provides our furry rodent pets with a safe means of conveyance and exploration. Since the 1970s, people have been using these balls to provide exercise for their hedgehogs, hamsters, and gerbils because they allow them to bump into walls and explore unfamiliar territories whilst staying secure in a sturdy and breathable plastic shell.
About a decade later during the 1980s, a renowned sports club decided to recreate the hamster ball in a life-size variant capable of housing humans. The English sports club successfully executed a plan to construct the giant sphere, which was reportedly 75 feet in diameter and featured a gimbal support structure containing two deck chairs within it. About a decade after the giant sphere came to be, actor Jackie Chan conducted a stunt in a similar life-size hamster ball in the movie Armor of God II: Operation Condor. The ever-popular scene depicted the action star tumbling down the side of a mountain within a flexible plastic orb, much to the delight of moviegoers and alternative sport enthusiasts.
Little did we know that these seemingly insignificant developments would eventually lead to the rise of zorbing, the recreational sport of rolling downhill within the confines of a durable, safe, transparent plastic orb. As a new-age way to get your heart pumping and experience some excitement, it’s definitely worth your while to give this unconventional sporting activity a long hard look. Thus, you can refer to this brief article as your all-inclusive guide to zorbing!
What Is Zorbing?
The large plastic ball that we now know as the “zorb” tumbled into existence during the mid-1990s on the island of New Zealand, after which it officially hit the extreme sports scene in 1998. However, this worldwide phenomenon is essentially comprised of a simple ride down a sloped hill within the confines of a plastic orb. Many zorb operators choose to build metal tracks for more targeted circuits but modern zorbs are entirely capable of tumbling down grassy, sandy, or even snowy hills due to their sturdy construction. Although zorbing usually takes place on land, the secure nature of the sport has allowed zorb operators to weave water effects into the mix as well, both inside and outside of the sphere itself.
How Is a Zorb Built?
Contrary to popular belief, a zorb is actually comprised of two separate balls, both of which are made from highly flexible plastic. The outer shell is usually nine to ten feet in diameter, whereas the inner ball features smaller dimensions, ranging from five to six feet across depending on the specific model. As you might imagine, the safety provisions within the zorb are derived from the space between the two balls, which usually features two to three feet of shock absorption for the riders.
The actual orbs tend to be made with extremely resilient thermoplastic elastomer urethane (TPU) or polymerizing vinyl chloride (PVC), which explains the robust, durable, long-lasting construction. The inner and outer balls are connected to one another by way of hundreds of rigid ropes, which help the zorb maintain a consistent orientation during each exhilarating ride. On either side of the zorb, you’ll find two openings through which the riders can enter and exit the inner ball. These openings also provide necessary breathability, which ensures that the riders have an adequate supply of oxygen throughout the ride.
Although this article started with a comparison to the classic hamster ball, you can know see that the zorb is an entirely different type of product that was merely inspired by the traditional hamster orb. A hamster ball is made from a rigid plastic and requires a rodent to push it forward whereas a zorb, on the other hand, rolls on its own with some help from our good ol’ friend gravity.
Now that you know a bit more about zorbing, it would be wise to get a visual before continuing with the article.
Check out this video to see what a simple zorbing excursion looks like:
…and this video shows an extensive backyard water-zorbing course (with an add twist for laughs)
Take a look before moving on to the next section.
What Do I Need to Get Started?
Provided the fact that zorbing relies entirely on a specific set of equipment, you have to ensure that you’re properly prepared, especially if you’re planning on bouncing around by yourself. In order to get started, you need the following equipment:
- Zorb Ball: This one is fairly obvious; you need the actual zorb! Although the aforementioned dimensions are standardized, each manufacturer’s final product will vary slightly so be sure to keep your size requirements in mind.
- Harness Set: Any reputable manufacturer will include a built-in harness but, in any case, you have to ensure that the proper safety provisions are constructed into the ball itself. Generally speaking, the interior ball should contain shoulder straps, leg straps, and cushioned handles throughout. These implements will allow you to feel in control as you tumble around.
- Storage Bag: In order to encourage longevity and durability, you should always take extra care when storing your zorb. In this regard, you should seek out a suitable storage bag that’s large enough to contain your deflated zorb and all of your other equipment as well.
- Blower: Due to the fact that zorbs rely entirely on air pressure for structural integrity, you should have a serviceable blower, air compressor, or pump at the ready. This will allow you to quickly inflate and deflate your zorb at a moment’s notice.
- Patch Kit: Although zorbs are extremely flexible and durable, sometimes mistakes are unavoidable. For instance, if you accidentally bump into a sharp corner of a fence or a host of tree branches, you’ll be fine but the zorb might get torn or punctured. In these cases, having a proper patch kit at the ready will allow you to get back to zorbing in no time! Simply cut the provided material to the proper size and attach the patch by using a zorb adhesive or glue.
- Clothing: Because you’ll be strapped into the interior ball with nylon harnesses, you’ll need to wear clothing that protects your shoulders and neck from chafing. In this regard, moisture-wicking fabrics are the best as they provide a smooth protective layer that separates your skin from the safety harnesses.
Is Zorbing Safe?
The simple answer to this question is a resounding “yes” but much as with snowboarding, skiing, and bobsledding, you do need to follow strict guidelines established by zorbing authorities in order to stay safe. Although the accidents associated with zorbing are far and few between, they remain a staunch reminder of how important it is to follow safety guidelines because each incident can be attributed to a reckless disregard for protection and safety. Thus, when zorbing, you should ensure that the following elements are present in the environment:
- A groomed gentle slope, ideally a grassy knoll or soft sandy incline.
- Sturdy fencing on both sides of the hill, preferably a rigid boundary that stands much taller than the zorb itself.
- A long plain at the bottom of the slope that is free of debris, trees, buildings, rocks, and anything else that you could possibly bump into during the slowdown part of the ride.
- Most importantly, you should always have a knowledgeable zorbing professional present. This is particularly important if you happen to be zorbing for the first time, which leads us to the next section…
Where Can I Start My Zorbing Adventure?
If you’re a first-time zorber or a budding enthusiast, it’s important to experience your first ride in the midst of highly-skilled professionals who actually know what they’re doing. This will allow you to see how it’s supposed to be done, which will translate to good habits when you go zorbing in a private setting. Fortunately, as the sport is becoming increasingly popular by the day, a number of reputable zorbing hubs are popping up all over the United States. Shown below are some of the most renowned zorbing locations:
- Roundtop Mountain Resort: Located in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, this location prides itself on being one of the top zorbing destinations in the entire country. With their specially designed OGO zorbs, plethora of zorbing lanes, and incredible scenery, the Roundtop Mountain Resort has staked its claim as a pioneer in the zorbing community.
- Richardson Farm: Situated in the heart of Illinois, Richardson Farm is well known for its famous ramp approach to zorbing. With a host of prefab incline tracks and gentle manufactured slopes, it’s the perfect destination for families and independent zorbers alike.
- Amesbury Sports Park: As the prime destination for avid zorbing enthusiasts, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more diverse outlay of tracks, slopes, and hills anywhere else in the country. With 12 different tracks on site all featuring varying gradients, you’ll be an expert in zorbing by the time you’re done.
Zorbing Extends Beyond Just the Hills…
The zorbing craze has started truly permeating the cultural zeitgeist, as evidenced by the seemingly infinite number of games you can play with these massive orbs. If you’ve fallen in love with the idea of zorbing down a hill, you’ll be enamored with these alternative zorbing games:
- Bubble Soccer: Olé! Olé! Olé! As the most popular bubble ball game, this variant involves two teams of players battling against each other in a customized game of soccer. Contrary to traditional soccer, bumper soccer features no goalies, no offsides violations, and none of the classic rules, mostly because the decreased field size and constant bumping negates the need for overbearing regulations. Many of the rules in traditional soccer restrict contact whereas bumper soccer actually encourages it.
- Bubble Football: Touchdown! As a close second to bubble soccer in terms of popularity, this fun game calls for one bubble suit wearer from each team to serve as the actual football. The goal is to get your “human football” into the other team’s end zone while at the same time defending your own touchdown marker against the other team’s “human football.” The game often ends up looking like a rugby scrum but goodness gracious is it fun! Contrary to popular belief, being the human football usually provides the most exhilaration because you’ll essentially be taken on a wild roller coaster ride as each team battles to gain an advantage.
- Capture the Flag: Get that darn flag! This game is often referred to as “bubble football without a human football” because it features the same style of gameplay with the only real difference being the presence of a flag or towel instead of a human player. In this bubble sport variant, two teams of players compete against one another to quite literally capture the other squad’s flag. The goal is to get the opposing team’s flag and bring it back to your homebase without getting knocked to the ground along the way.
- King of the Ring: Every man for himself! This is an independent type of bubble sport game in which every man, woman, and child represent his or her own individual team of one. Each player starts the contest inside a large painted circle and the goal is to be the last man standing. You will work to bump and push the other players out of bounds while trying to stand your ground and protect your position. The last player left standing inside the confines of the circle wins.
- Bubble Bowling: Strike! In this slow-paced bubble sport variation, a group of bubble suit wearers stands in a tight-knit cluster as another player runs full-speed in an attempt to knock down the human pins. The winner is whoever can knock down the most pins after a predetermined number of rounds.
- Roller Relays: Go! Go! Go! This is the ultimate two-on-two contest as each team attempts to roll their partner across the finish line before the other squad. One player serves as the ball and the other player operates as the pusher or roller. Bumper ball roller relays can also be played with multiple teams in the form of a classic relay race, which makes it perfect for large groups who want to pursue a systematic activity instead of a hectic free-for-all.
- Juggernaut: Tag! You’re it! The game begins by selecting one “juggernaut” from the group of players. The overall goal is to knock the juggernaut to the ground as many times as possible while the juggernaut tries to do the same to the rest of the contestants. Every time a neutral contestant gets knocked to the ground, accidentally or otherwise, he or she also becomes a juggernaut. The winner is essentially the last non-juggernaut standing so it’s basically a unique contact-based game of tag.
Join the fun and start zorbing today!