Zorbing (globe-riding, sphereing, orbing) is the recreation or sport of rolling downhill inside an orb, generally made of transparent plastic. Zorbing is generally performed on a gentle slope, but can also be done on a level surface, permitting more rider control. In the absence of hills some operators have constructed inflatable, wooden, or metal ramps. Due to the buoyant nature of the orbs, Zorbing can also be carried out on water, provided the orb is inflated properly and sealed once the rider is inside. “Water walking” using such orbs has become popular in theme parks across the UK.[not in citation given] There are two types of orbs, harnessed and non-harnessed. Non-harness orbs carry up to three riders, while the harness orbs are constructed for one to two riders. Double-harness spheres have different slope requirements, and must only be operated in specific locations. The longer runs are approximately half a mile. The first zorbing site was established in Rotorua, New Zealand, by David and Andrew Akers.
Hamster balls, hard plastic single layer spheres made for small rodent pets, have been manufactured and sold since at least the 1970s.A Russian article on the Zorb mentions a similar device having debuted in 1973.In the early 1980s, the Dangerous Sports Club constructed a giant sphere (reportedly 23 metres or 75 feet across) with a gimbal arrangement supporting two deck chairs inside. This device was eventually cut up for scrap, with some of the plastic remnants used to cover a compost heap. Human spheres have been depicted in mass media since 1990, when the Gladiators event “Atlaspheres” first aired, albeit with steel balls. The 1991 film Armour of God II: Operation Condor features a scene in which Jackie Chan appears to roll down a mountainside in a flexible plastic orb very similar to the Zorb, except with only one entrance/exit tunnel, and with more space between the inner and outer orbs.
In 1994 three investors created the firm ZORB Limited to commercialize sphereing. Their business model was to develop the activity via a franchise system.
Zorbing entered the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in 2001 where it was defined as: “a sport in which a participant is secured inside an inner capsule in a large, transparent ball which is then rolled along the ground or down hills”.
The zorb is double-sectioned, with one ball inside the other with an air layer in between (unlike the water walking ball, which is usually a single thin-walled ball). This acts as a shock absorber for the rider, damping bumps while traveling. Orbs are lightweight and made of flexible plastic, as opposed to the rigid plastic, for example, of a hamster ball. Many orbs have straps to hold the rider in place, while others leave the rider free to walk the orb around or be tossed about freely by the rolling motion. A typical orb is about 3 metres (10 ft) in diameter, with an inner orb size of about 2 metres (6 ft 7 in), leaving a 50–60 centimetre (20–24 in) air cushion around the riders. The plastic is approximately 0.8 millimetres (0.03 in) thick.The inner and outer orbs are connected by numerous (often hundreds of) small nylon strings. Orbs have one or two tunnel-like entrances.
Zorbing is performed at commercial locations, where prospective riders pay a fee for each ride or for a whole day’s activity. ‘Hill-Rolling’ (the generic name for this activity) is practised in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the middle of Sweden, Estonia, the Gold Coast in Australia (currently not available), Canada, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Switzerland, Japan, Kochi in India, Phuket in Thailand and Slovenia. In the United States, there are facilities in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (Outdoor Gravity Park near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, Amesbury, Massachusetts, and Roundtop Mountain Resort, Lewisberry, Pennsylvania (near Hershey). Several franchise-based companies have entered the market.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognises two sphereing records, set over two consecutive days in 2006:
- Longest distance travelled in a single roll held by Steve Camp who travelled 570 metres (1,870 ft).
- Fastest sphereing ride held by Keith Kolver who reached a speed of 52 kilometres per hour (32 mph).
- Longest time spent zorbing – 3:49:06. Held by Rebecca Mazonson.
- Fastest 100m in a Zorb – 26.59 seconds. Held by Andrew Flintoff who broke the record as part of his attempt to break 12 world records in 12 hours for BBC Sport Relief.
Injuries and deaths
Although the cushioning design of the orbs prevent many serious injuries, light injuries such as bruises and grazes can often be sustained by colliding with objects or tripping whilst the orb is rolling down an incline. Even though severe injury is rare, there have been cases of children passing out due to lack of air, and even some deaths. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has urged consumers to stop using water walking balls “due to the potential risks of suffocation and drowning”, and reports that several states have banned their use.
In June 2009 a teacher died and a pupil was seriously injured in the Czech Republic while trying zorbing.
In January 2013, at a ski resort in Dombay, Russia, a man died from a broken neck and another was seriously injured when the Zorb he was in rolled out of control down a mountain, hitting rocks and eventually coming to a stop a kilometre away on a frozen lake. The incident was caught on camera and uploaded to the Internet.After the incident made international headlines, Russian authorities called for tougher safety laws.