There is a universal moment of incredible laziness (or craziness!) when you reach the top of a mountain…or a towering sand dune…or any significantly high structure. No matter how leisurely the hike or journey upwards has been, there is always the fleeting yet distinct urge to leap over the edge and tumble downwards to quickly reach the bottom. For a moment, all bodily harm seems worth the expedited process. Most have resisted scratching that itch, but adventure duo Andrew Akers and Dwane van der Sluis didn’t want to settle.
In what seems like an obvious stroke of brilliance, the pair created a human-size hamster ball specifically designed for rolling and bouncing down sloping terrain. Being from New Zealand, it naturally didn’t take long for the land of adventure to make a sport of it, and so zorbing was born.
What Is It?
Zorbing is a bit like hardcore summersaulting, only going much, much faster. It’s a large orb with a smaller orb suspended inside that is made of sturdy yet flexible plastic that’s perfectly clear so you can see outwards during the ride. The accumulating velocity of traveling downhill often changes the ball’s center of gravity, causing the orb to bounce unpredictably, adding an extra thrill to the downhill trip.
There are two different kinds of zorb rides: wet and dry. In the water ride, called Zydro, roughly ten gallons of water are poured inside the ball and you (and your friends) crawl inside the hamster-ball like sphere. The riders get soaked as they slip and slide around the inside of the ball, but not defying the principals of gravity, there is no actual tumbling. That is, unless you can figure out how to do it yourself. Since Zydro can be compared to a moving water slide, it is often considered the more relaxed and less intense ride.
For summersaulters and those looking for more excitement, there’s the Zorbit, which is the dry ride. For this ride, you’re strapped into the side of the inner orb so you’re suspended. As the ball travels downhill, the rider turns upside down continuously. Although there are hand holds, it truly feels as if you’re independently turning through space. They say it’s the closest to an astronaut experience you can get.
One of the greatest things about zorbing is that there isn’t much prep work: there is no training and you don’t have to wear any special clothing. However, keep in mind that the Zydro ride is wet, and you’ll probably want to wear something really comfortable or a bathing suit. It’s also a very family-friendly activity (ages 8 and above), and the experience can vary in intensity based on course and ride type.
Zorbing doesn’t require an all-day commitment. One ride lasts about four minutes, and while four minutes seems really quick, you’ll feel differently once you’re actually rolling and bouncing down a steep hill! Zorbing is pretty affordable too–$40 for one trip down the hill, and $70 for three rides (the second price is a “buy two get one free” special that is constantly in effect).
The Side Effects
Although it may seems like something that would churn your stomach, zorbing, like skydiving, doesn’t really affect the digestive system. Of the hundreds of thousands who have gone zorbing, only a couple of people have vomited or gotten an upset stomach. Even becoming dizzy and lightheaded after the rides is rare; the body is surprisingly well equipped to zorb.
This adventure activity doesn’t require a lot of prep work, like scuba diving, does but it’s different enough from an everyday experience to get the adrenaline pumping. It’s also a very family-friendly activity, since the experience can vary in intensity based on course and ride type. Plus, seeing the world go ‘round and ‘round is a unique experience.
The Safety Dance
To maximize safety, zorbing is done on a series of courses which vary in length and degrees of decline. There are straight tracks that emphasize speed, and there are curved and zigzag tracks that vividly highlight the ball’s movements. There are also restrictions on the number of people that are able to ride down the course at the same time. Zorbing is very dependent upon weight, and the more weight there is the more likely the zorb will go off course. Needless to say, it wouldn’t be any fun freewheeling uncontrollably down a mountainside, slamming into trees and falling into crevasses.
That being said, the original zorb site in Rotorua, NZ has a new course called The Drop, where you free fall roughly 25 meters (82 feet). While it seems scary, the terrain around the zorbing area is smooth to ensure safety.
Since gaining popularity in Rotorua, NZ, zorbing has become a global phenomenon. The official ZORB company has four locations worldwide–two of them in the contiguous US, the Smokey Mountains in Pigeon Forge, TN, and Amesbury, MA. Many cities, however, host similar companies who specialize in zorbing activities. However, be cautious when selecting a site that’s not affiliated with the official ZORB brand; some have been known to lack practical safety structures, which can cause serious injury or even death.