The first time I … tried zorbing

For some people, rolling down a hill is one of the scariest things that can ever happen in their life. For others, it’s a fun activity.

Zorbing is an extreme sport of sorts in which a (willing) participant rolls down a hill in a plastic ball … that’s placed within a much larger ball.

Sometimes, you can also use the orbs to “walk” on water, or to just bounce around a field without getting hurt, as the ball is light and double walled. This provides the rider protection from the full impact of hitting the ground.

A few years back, my friends and I decided to try this activity for the first time at the place where zorbing was created in 1995 – Rotorua in the north island of New Zealand. OGO Rotorua, the company that started it all, is the largest ball rolling park in the world. Well, at least that’s what their website claims.

At first, I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing. I am a huge person, so I was worried that the ball might not be big enough to fit me. I am also afraid of heights, and just the thought of being on top of a hill already made me anxious.

But once we got there, we saw just how huge the orbs were – I would say it was about 3m tall. The folks at OGO also assured me that I would be able to fit into the smaller inner ball and to not worry about anything.

However, in the brochure (and on the company’s website), they do mention a weight limit: Maximum 125kg per person, per ball, or a combined weight of 250kg in a single orb. Also, I had to be at least five years old to ride … phew, no problems there then!

We chose the H2OGO Sidewinder ride, which the staff say is their most popular option. Basically, it means riding in a pool of water – 40l to be exact – on something called the Sidewinder Track. It’s a twisty track that runs for 350m and, in my opinion, is the best track for beginners to try.

It was autumn and the weather was a little chilly so the thought of being shoved into a ball filled with water made us a little anxious.

“It’s warm water, folks!” says our chirpy attendee, adding, “and when you’re all done, go ahead and take a dip in our hot tub to warm up.”

Cool.

Once we were done listening to the safety briefing, we rode a truck up to the top of the hill where the balls are parked. Another attendee handed us a GoPro camera and strap each, which we could either wear around our head or just hold in our hand.

I chose to just hold it, and what a mistake that was.

Inside the inner ball, all drenched in warm water, I started to feel excited. Despite being afraid of heights, I had always wanted to roll down a hill ever since I saw it being done on the German Telematch game show way back in the 1980s. In the show, participants wore funny costumes inflated with air, and then simply pushed down a hill. Whoever reached the bottom first, wins. Fun!

At OGO, nobody pushes you. Instead, you have to drag yourself and the ball out of the starting box using your legs and bottom. I believe this is so that you would have better control of the ball once you start rolling.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen to me. Things were fine in the first few seconds but once I got to the second loop, it felt as if I had lost my balance and I started to panic. My arms started flailing and my legs were wide open. It was not a pretty sight, and I know this because the camera recorded every ungraceful movement I made and every high-pitched shriek I let out.

Thankfully, I somewhat managed to gain control of my body and the ball in the last 15 seconds of the roll (based on my video, the actual roll only lasted for a whole minute, although it felt longer). I calmed myself down and literally just went with the flow – and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I still did not look graceful, though.

At the end of the roll, the attendees will help you slide out of the orb, and take your picture. You’ll be asked to pose inside the orb as well as outside, where they will suggest you do a triumphant jump shot.

When you’re done, you can head to the souvenir shop to review your pictures and video, and decide whether you’d want to spend money on shots of yourself looking silly (and a little crazy, too).