Marla Hardee Milling photo
Zorbing in the mountains
Take a tumble in Tennessee in a ZORB ball built for one to three.
Perched on a hillside in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., three humongous balls crafted out of flexible, transparent plastic provoke natural curiosity. At first impression, the oversized globes resemble exercise balls for giant hamsters. There’s a smaller ball inside the big ball, and a single opening allows participants access to climb in and out.
For adventure seekers looking for a new thrill—this is it. It’s called Zorb, the newest extreme sport to emerge out of New Zealand (bungee jumping also got its start in the country). Pigeon Forge is the only place in North America that offers a Zorb experience, but plans are in the works to add a Zorb site near Boston.
During a recent trip to Pigeon Forge, I drove into the Zorb parking lot with my 14-year-old son, Ben, and cautiously eyed the distant row of Zorb balls poised for that day’s continuous line of customers.
This is an adventure that’s not for everyone. Zorb officials say people might not be able to participate for a number of medical conditions including back, neck or head injuries, epilepsy, pregnancy, previous dislocations and other ailments. Since I have a history of lower back pain, I opted not to take a tumble down the hillside. For my healthy, adventurous teen there was no hesitation.
There’s the Zorbit—only one passenger is strapped inside a dry ball; and the Zydro, which allows riders to go solo or join up to two friends sloshing around together inside a water-filled globe. The Zorbit follows a straight path, while there is a choice between a straight path or a zig zag track for the Zydro.
Zorb Manager Shane Marks sealed the decision for my son when he described the Zydro as a “combination of a roller coaster and a water slide.” Ben changed into his swim trunks and then waited eagerly outside for the staff to transport him and others via a red truck to the top of the run.
The view from the top can be a bit intimidating as customers gaze down the hillside. There’s a refund offer for anyone who gets cold feet, but that is very rare.
Awesome Adrenaline Rush
I watched from an observation deck near the bottom of the hill as the Zydro carrying my son started its descent. Inside the ball, my son’s eyes got wide, and I heard, “Oh no! Oh no!” as the gyrating globe began to move faster and faster. I could see inside the globe thanks to a video camera inside each globe to record the participant’s reactions so they can remember the excitement.
Ben whooped and hollered with delight as he sloshed and rolled and finally came to a slow stop. “THAT WAS AMAZING,” he shouts on the recording. Each roll down the hill in a Zorb generally takes about forty seconds, but it’s a wild, bumping, rolling ride.
Two crewmembers stopped Ben’s rolling Zorb, tilted it so the water poured out followed by my son, feet first, sliding back to earth. Smiling with delight and soaking wet from the ride, he was instructed to jump wildly in the air while the crew snapped a picture.
Ben is now an official Zorbanaut—the name given to Zorb riders. And was it fun? “It was thrilling,” he said. “When can I do it again?”