Zorb: Another Reason New Zealanders Are Cooler Than You

Zorb in backlight.

Who of us didn’t want to try it when we saw Jackie Chan bounce down a mountainside in one in Operation Condor (well, who of us who saw Operation Condor didn’t want to try it)? But until Cool Hunter gave me a pointer, I had no idea what the these strange inflatable balls (yeah, go Google that) might be called or where to look for more information.

As it turns out, they’re called “Zorbs,” and the company even has a promo video to show them off. But as much as I want one, Allen, a spokesman for the manufacturer, tells me that while they might lease one to me for an event or promotion, I can’t buy one. Why not? Aside from legal and insurance issues, Allen tells me that the Zorbs are entirely hand-made and would be prohibitively costly.

For now, if you want to try it, you’ll have to go to New Zealand, where they’re made, or to another permanent site in Europe, Asia, or Australia. A run will set you back NZ$45 (about US$30), and prospective “Zorbonauts” get to choose between being harnessed in or trying to run it like a hamster wheel (you get a free t-shirt if you make it all the way down the hill on your feet).

Nobody really needs to ask “why?” (well, not if you’re reading this site, I hope), but I did want to know the story:

Andrew Akers and Dwane van der Sluis wanted to walk on water. Years earlier there had been an advertisement on TV with a few people inside a large clear ball floating on water. It looked like lots of fun BUT … a single skin ball had problems in that every time you entered or exited the ball it would deflate and need to be reinflated and sealed. The idea for a double skin ball was born. A prototype was built in the garage of Andrew’s house and lo and behold – IT WORKED! ASTONISHING! So down to the water to test it. It was kind of fun on water, but exhausting and after being blown out to sea a few times they realised it was more work than it was worth. BUT … the same device could be used to roll down hills. This was fantastic fun, extremely bizarre, and bizarrely extreme. Some seed capital, patents, trademarks and a business plan equaled the latest adventure sport from New Zealand: Zorbing.

The good news is that the company is working furiously to open Zorb sites in the US, Canada, and Mexico:

Our plan is to open sites in the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee region (Pigeon Forge, TN), Las Vegas area (Boulder City, NV), and in Los Cabos, Mexico. We should be open in Pigeon Forge, TN by May or June 2006.

Zorb at sunset.