Zorbing: Fun For All The Family With A Thrilling Past

Ben Mountain

How many ways are there to make a fool of yourself in today’s world? Countless, we can assure you. But none will stick a smile on your face more so than the wacky art of zorbing.

We’ve all seen them and wondered what it’s like. From activity centres to football pitches as half-time entertainment; Zorbing has swept the nation.

But where did this novel little sport come from and where does it go next?

How did the human equivalent to impersonating a giant hamster become such a popular trend?

The trick, it seems, is in the thrill.

Believe it or not, zorbing originated with sporting intentions in the dramatically named ‘Dangerous Sports Club’. From here, in the early 1980s, the world’s first ever giant sphere for sporting use was created. We can’t begin to imagine how the board meeting for that one went.

Sadly, however, it didn’t take off, and the 23-metre-wide orb was cut up and used for covering a compost heap. Clearly, the lads over at Dangerous Sports also had a penchant for horticulture.

Though, even before the thrill-seeking hard nuts had given the zorb a go, the concept was in full swing.

The French inventor, Gilles Ebersolt, was one step ahead of everybody else. ‘The Ballule’ was first conceived in 1975, when a 17-year-old Ebersoft drew up plans for an inflatable, all-terrain bicycle.

And this time it did take off, with various TV channels across the planet later featuring the bizarre contraption in shows such as ‘That’s Incredible’ and ‘Incredible But True’. Clearly, it would seem, the consensus was something along the lines of ‘incredible’.

So even the Dangerous Sports Club’s insulting and novel use didn’t stop the mighty Zorb from forcing its way onto the global stage; far from it.

Having picked itself up and dusted off the compost, our bouncy little friend continued to roll to prominence and in 1990, it made a major TV appearance.

Steel balls in the ‘Gladiators’ event, ‘Atlaspheres’, were a catch with the public and in the following year, Jackie Chan shot the mighty creation into the big time when he famously rolled down a mountainside – like the children of today do down the local centre – in a primitive zorb.

But Zorbing in itself still wasn’t a thing.

Thankfully, this all changed in 1994 when two inventors from New Zealand began an entrepreneurial enterprise based on mega-sized hamster balls. This was where the term ‘zorb’ was first recorded as ‘ZORB Limited’ became a franchise based company.

Sadly Gilles Ebersolt, the original inflatable bike man, doesn’t really get his dues from this point in and it’s the Kiwis who have taken his credit.

They globalised Zorbing like never before and the trend became commercial gold dust.

Today, there are countless companies that trade in zorbing and some people, amazingly, consider it a serious sport.

Get this, Zorbing is listed as an ‘extreme sport’. We’re glad to see it’s kept in touch with its dangerous roots from the compost-loving lads who first attempted its sporting recreation.

We now even have world-records for the pastime and a few celebrity names have helped the sport along its way.

According to the Guiness Book of Records, the world’s ‘fastest human hamster’ – we’re not kidding – is Keith Kolver, who notched up an impressive 32mph speed when a local policeman clocked him on his police radar.

In the same day, Steve Camp set a new world-record for the furthest distance travelled in a zorb. The South African managed to roll for 570m in one single go.

Then the legend that is Freddie Flintoff rolled up. In an attempt to break the most world records in a day for Sport Relief, the fella aced an incredible26.59-second 100m sprint in a Zorb.

Zorbing has been a popular one for Sport Relief as, much like Flintoff, another big-name star harnessed their power to raise money for charity. Lindsey Russell actually tried to zorb her way across the Irish Sea. Sadly, dangerous weather conditions stopped her noble journey after 20 knackering miles of water-based Zorbing. She was just four miles from finishing.

Although clearly the practice has been ruined a touch for Russell, zorbing remains a unique and enjoyable pastime for people up and down the country.

But it’s far more than just a novel way to tire the kids out. From a pioneering teenage Frenchman, to world record-breaking charity events, via Jackie Chan and a rocky mountainside, zorbing is a sport like every other, with its own odd and illustrious history.

Who knows, perhaps we’ll be seeing the World Zorbing Championships coming up on Sky next year. Fingers crossed.

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