Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I’ve loved rolling down hills since I was a kid.  I’ve rolled down sand dunes and grass covered slopes.  I’ve rolled down icy hills.  I’ve rolled down a hill with a cast from my toes to my hip.  I’ve rolled down a hill after dinner at a fancy executive retreat resort.  The fun of rolling sometimes overtakes my sense of decorum and common sense.

I’m no dare-devil but rolling just seems so natural.  It gives me a wonderful sense of freedom.  Gravity is in control, but not in a scary way, like leaping out of a perfectly good plane or jumping off a bridge when you have no intention of committing suicide.  It’s just belly-laughing fun. 

When I heard about Zorb I knew I had to try it.  Unfortunately, at that time Zorb was only in the north island of New Zealand and I was unwilling to fly 20 hours and pay thousands of dollars when I had hills in my own back yard.  Finding out that Zorb was less than an hour from where I was spending Christmas was perfect.

A Zorb is a giant rubber ball.  There’s a hole in one side about 16 inches in diameter.  The hole is connected to a rubber tube which is about 2 feet long.  It leads to an inner chamber.  That’s where you ride.  The air space between the inner chamber and the outer ball provides cushioning from the ground as you roll and bounce down the hill.  That’s for all the skinny kids who aren’t as well prepared as I am, since I have lots of my own natural cushioning.

There are two kinds of Zorbs.  One has water and one doesn’t.  In the dry Zorb, you’re strapped securely into the inner chamber and then pushed down the hill.  You go head over tea kettle all the way.  I’m guessing that sometimes dry Zorbs become wet Zorbs when the staff has to hose them out after a Zorbonaut  (I kid you not, that’s what they call riders) urks during their ride.

Wet Zorb has water in the inner chamber.  The weight of the water keeps the Zorb somewhat stable so you slosh around a lot but don’t actually go upside down.  I wasn’t anxious to get wet on a chilly summer day in New Zealand, but better water than my breakfast.

My two new young friends and I rode up the hill in the back of a 4 X 4.  Given the way the young employee drove up that hill, I believe it was the most dangerous part of the adventure. 

We waited on a platform at the top of the hill while two employees positioned a ball, which had come up on a huge conveyor belt.  Clever, those Zorb people.  I watched as a young boy entered the partially water filled chamber and was rolled down a curvy path, with lots of zigzags and berms on both sides to keep you heading toward the landing pad.

Next, my 10 year old friend was ready to go.  But the next ball was “special”.  The inner chamber was made of deep purple, rather than clear, rubber.  As if rolling down a big ass hill in a rubber ball wasn’t enough, they wanted to add the extra thrill of not being able to see where you’re going.

The 10 year old and his 13 year old sister didn’t want to go in the “special” Zorb.  I really didn’t either, but seemed like a good time to act like an adult and suck it up.  I stepped on the platform next to the ball and the young employee said “Just step back five feet then run and dive into the hole.”

I had to laugh.  Yes, I’d just seen a 12 pound kid run and fly head first into the tube and on into the inner chamber, but really, had she not looked at me?  Run and dive headfirst into a hole that was about chest level?  She might as well have suggested that I sprout wings and fly down the hill on my own power.

Even as I was mentally measuring the relative widths of the hole and my ass,  I stepped back and went for it.  I bounced off.  The employee called over another young female employee and the two of them tried holding the ball so the hole was a bit lower.  I tried again.  Umph.  No success.

I decided that it was less the size of my bum than the fact that I wasn’t fully committing to the dive.  I stepped back.  Deep breath.  Ran and went airborne.  And bounced back onto the platform.

I was not about to let my life’s dream be foiled by one fat ass.  I suggested that I wiggle into the hole and through the tube.  The employees assured me that that did not work.  I was determined.

I put both arms in and tried to grab the far end of the tube, to help pull myself through.  Luckily, there are no photos of that.   At the same time, the two employees, who were understandably anxious to get me off their platform, one way or another, each grabbed my butt and pushed.  I landed in the inner chamber on my head into a puddle of warm water.  Success!

As the girl was zipping up the opening I asked if I should be sitting in any certain way.   She just laughed and said “No.”  She gave the ball a push to send me on my way.  I think she may have pushed with a bit more vigor than for others as payback for my having taken so long, but that could just be paranoia.

The first push sent me sideways, parallel to the hill and into a berm.  I bounced off and started sloshing/rolling downhill.  I was screaming and laughing with an equal combination of glee and terror.  That’s when I learned a valuable lesson about wet Zorbing.  When water is splashing over your head and all around you, keep your mouth shut.  For a second there I was too busy trying not to drown to even notice that I was rolling and bouncing down a hill.

The ride lasted about 2 minutes.  I rolled, I bounced and caught air a couple of times.  I bounced sideways off berms.  I had zero control over my body or trajectory.  I had a blast.

Stopping was easy.  Although I rolled past the “official” stopping place, two guys got in front of the ball and used their bodies to slow my roll.  One unzipped the opening and without warning, they tipped the ball down and I unceremoniously gushed out, along with all the warm water.  Yes, I felt reborn.

BTW, I went back to Zorb again when Donna and I went back to Rotorua.  I was ready to go, waiting for the ride to the top when I saw a kid getting out of a ball, shivering.  I asked if they’d used hot or cold water.  Through blue lips, he said “Cold.”  I got a refund. 

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