News from the Field, December 1996
First you're shoved into a ten-foot-high clear plastic ball. Next you roll to the edge of a grassy knoll and pause, pointed in the direction of a distant dale for a sneak preview of the semibridled terror that awaits you. Then you throw yourself toward the abyss, soon to be accelerating faster than a hopped-up trucker while at the same time somersaulting like so much laundry in a dryer.
Sounds like the sort of torture that frat boys love to inflict on obsequious pledges, right? Well, yes, but it's also zorbing, the latest entrant into the pay-your-money-and-take-your-chances world of extreme sport. Zorbing was born two years ago, when New Zealander Andrew Akers, then a 25-year-old aspiring graphic artist, decided to invent a new "adventure" for tourists. He initially hoped to enable folks to walk on water, but then, acknowledging that had been done, he turned the rolling-plastic-ball concept into its current, less benign form.
Though Akers says his fledgling company, Zorb Limited, has received inquiries from would-be zorbtrepreneurs throughout Europe and North America, for now the stomach-churning pastime will only be available at three sites in New Zealand, where visitors can tumble at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour. Two ten-second runs will cost you about $31, but Akers says the total won't
be compounded by hospital bills: Zorbs are made of soft, pliable, air-cushioned plastic, which not only means that you're presumably protected, but if you're deft you can actually steer. "The plastic stretches out," Akers explains, "and you just shift your weight against the walls." Could we be witnessing the genesis of yet another X Games hopeful? "Really, it's not that
maneuverable," Akers admits, his lilting voice laced with a vaguely sinister glee. "This is just about having fun without ending up as a broken pile of pulp."
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