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“Zorbing (n.) 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. -ORIGIN 1990s: invented word from zorb (the name of the ball used in this activity) + -ING”. (Taken from the Oxford English Dictionary).
My first introduction to a “sport” of this kind was whilst watching a Jackie Chan film (Operation Condor - I think), in which he Zorbs down a cliff face to escape from some villains. At the time I thought “Hmm that would be a fun kind of thing to do” and in my admiration of all things J.C. thought I would try and do it one day (perhaps on a mildly less treacherous terrain). I made some enquiries and found out there are two versions of the same sport; Zorbing and Sphereing. As far as I can see they are the same sports with different names. Anyway, a few years passed and I never got round to doing it until I received a Red Letter Day gift from my sister for my birthday! It came with the instruction to hurry up and get on with it as everyone wanted to see me actually do it!
Red Letter Day vouchers can be purchased from Debenhams for just about any experience you could wish to have and they range in price from £49 to £1000 according to how much you can afford and the equivalent value of the experience. Valid for a year, they are split into 8 colour coded sections with around 20 different experiences to chose from in each. I received the blue voucher which offers amongst other things: High-Speed Passenger Rides, Snowboarding, Zorbing, Canyoning, The National Trust Experience for Two, Sailing, Aromatherapy Massage and Scuba Diving for Two. Further discussion of my experience with the Red Letter Day Company demands a whole new review of its own as I don’t want to detract from the main issue, but I will just say it’s not the cheapest way to buy these sort of gifts and not the most user friendly. You are not given nearly enough details to make an informed choice.
However, arrive at the day of reckoning I did! You must give the site a call on the day to check that weather conditions are suitable, which does sort of scupper any ideas of staying over for the weekend. So with this in mind, on a nice bright Sunday on the 19th of September we drove down to Swanage in Dorset, with my sister, her fiancé and mine in tow. I was told this site is the only place in the country that you can do Zorbing and it’s the only location you can go to via Red Letter Days, but have since seen other places around the country offering Sphereing. I managed to convince my fiancé; Lee that he would do the Zorbing with me. I was comforted with the knowledge that he was going to go through the same thing as me, because by this time I had become rather nervous and was wondering what on earth possessed me to think that I could do anything remotely like something J.C. would do! Plus, what with my friends’ amusement and discussions of what would happen if a severe wind threw me off course and out to sea, I began to worry that I would be found bobbing about in the harbour and have to be rescued, or worse still that the Zorb would deflate on impact!!
We were booked in for 4pm so we had time to wander round Swanage first and I found the site was nowhere near the sea - phew. We had about a half and hour delay due to how many people were having a go. It gave us time to have a look at what was going on and if we were nervous before we were even worse now!! It’s quite a primitive set-up but I liked this about the place. You sit along with spectators outside the small reception shack at the bottom of the hill with a view of the slope and all the Zorbs coming down. Four Zorbs go down the hill, one after the other, giving time for each one to be stopped (it’s quite funny to see a man trying to stop one of these things), then the balls are loaded onto a trailer and taken back up. There are two kinds of rides, Harness-Zorbing, where 2 people are strapped into the inner ball opposite each other and rolled off down the hill. The second is a Hydro version, where you can sit, slide or run in the ball along with the 2 buckets of water that are thrown in with you. We kept seeing people doing the latter one. They didn’t appear to be doing downhill that fast and fell out of the ball soaking wet looking very comical. However, just before we went off for our go we saw a couple of men who had gone for the dry version come hurtling down the hill at great speed and we realised you build up a lot more speed being strapped in and according to your weight. We weigh a lot combined!
We were driven up the hill and funnily enough the driver had seen the same J.C. movie and felt the same as me! At the top, the hill looked steep and the bottom a long way down. The man handling the Zorbs had trouble manoeuvring ours into place due to the wind which seemed almost gale force. He explained that we wouldn’t actually go as fast as was normally possible because we were facing a head wind! It was very funny getting into the zorb itself as the only entrance/exit is via a small hole. To get in you are required to dive head first into the inner ball! This proved both embarrassing and hilarious to watch! Once inside we had to strap ourselves into shoulder, feet and waist harnesses although I proved to be a bit short for comfort. Im 5.1ft and the height limit is 4.10ft or above. The combined weight of 2 “Zorbonaults” cannot exceed 28 stone. You are strapped in facing each other so you can see every expression that crosses the other persons face as you go down.
The feeling of looking down at Lee from above as we were ready to roll down the hill, knowing I was going to go head first, is indescribable! I was terrified! I had no idea what the experience would be like at all but...I LOVED IT! It was an incredible feeling of doing massive head-over-heals whilst not actually being able to see the ground coming towards you. Apparently this experience involves G-forces similar to a fairground ride. I’d say it’s worse. It was scary because we bounced and you could see the ball indenting inwards when it hit the bumps. It didn’t revolve so fast as to make me dizzy or sick but on the whole it seemed to hurtle down the slope. The ball is frosted more than transparent which helps as I don’t think I would’ve wanted to see the ground coming towards me. A dizzying feeling does come over you when you slow down near the bottom which is quite gruesome. The best part about it was how much we laughed, first from terror then from pleasure. We didn’t stop laughing all the way down apart from when I was saying “Oh my God”. It’s a personal experience and I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to bare my terror to a complete stranger if they were strapped in opposite me! When we did reach the bottom we were told the man had to hang on for dear life to stop us and my sister raced over with her camera to take those all important shock photos. I didn’t stop shaking for some time after leaving the ball Exhilarating, petrifying, hilarious, an extreme sport that uplifts you in every way.
Thank you Lisa and Daniel for enabling us to do this, it was fab, an unforgetable day!!
Costs: I stress these are the prices taken direct from Zorb South UK itself 01929 426595. £30 for a single person sharing with a stranger. £50 for two sharing. Hydro-Zorbing = £35 single, £55 sharing, £65 triple sharing. The rides generally take place between March and September each year and there are the mentioned height and weight restrictions plus health constraints. Go for it, you even get a little certificate at the end!
We went sphereing a few months back and although we thought it was too expensive to ever justify doing again (unless they did a more 'extreme' version somewhere) we really loved it!
lifeinla 19.01.2007 10:02
long but great review. I rode in a zorb ball recently and it was awesome. It truly is a different experience. I almost threw up afterwards though because i was already feeling sick before the ride. Anyways i did a little investigation to see if I could buy one for myself. Turns out there is a website that sells these zorb balls (but they call them Zorbanauts) for about $3000. Website is www.zorbasales.com . I've been in touch with the company and they seem pretty legit. I may have one myself soon!!!! Hope this helps.
jimh1 21.09.2005 12:58
Great review - You have certainly captured my interest on this one.