Be the Ball
Bored with bungee jumping? Find parasailing pass�? No worries. Somewhere in the world someone with vision is inventing a new oddball pastime. Take Andrew Akers and Dwane van der Sluis, two New Zealand entrepreneurs who wondered what it would be like to roll down a hill inside a giant inflatable beach ball. Not content simply to ponder the possibility, they went out and built a contraption that let them do it.
Their baby, the Zorb, is a transparent, inflatable plastic ball within a ball. The interior ball, about six feet in diameter, and the exterior ball, about 10 feet across, are connected by nearly 1,000 nylon ties. The Zorbonaut crawls through a passageway to the inner ball, where he is protected by a cushion of air as he rolls downhill, tumbling head over heels while strapped in a harness. (Passengers can also try hydro-Zorbing, sloshing around freely with a few gallons of water.) The Zorb can reach upwards of 30 mph and, according to Akers, can safely descend slopes of as much as 20 degrees. "Any steeper," he says, "and it starts bouncing...and bouncing...and bouncing." The ball stops fairly quickly on flat ground—within 45 to 60 feet.
Since Akers and Van der Sluis set up the first Zorb venue in Rotorua, New Zealand, in 1996, the Kiwi craze has spread, with eight Zorb franchises in Europe and one in South Africa. North America is Zorb-free for the moment, although a segment on MTV's Road Rules prompted a flood of E-mail to the Zorb Web site (www.zorb.com) from Yanks eager to bound downhill. In the meantime, says Akers, "it's only about 12 hours of flying to your nearest Zorb site."