What is zorbing?

The Zorb Founders

Zorb riders enter through these blue and red openings.
Zorb riders enter through these blue and red openings.
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For Dwayne van der Sluis and Andrew Akers, the idea of walking on water held endless fascination. That's why the two friends set out to develop a floating ball that could hold a standing person on water. At the time, such balls were already in production, but they had to be inflated and deflated as the passenger entered and exited, which took time and effort. Van der Sluis and Akers thought they knew how to solve the problem -- design a ball within a ball.­

The idea for the double ball was that the air would remain pocketed between the inner and outer balls, and the rider would climb inside the inner one. This way, the ball stayed inflated at all times. Van der Sluis and Akers built a prototype, which they patented and trademarked as the zorb.

As the partners hoped, the ball enabled passengers to walk on water. But there were other pitfalls. On the open water, in the lightweight ball, the person had little control over the ball's movement or direction.

So, what to do with the plastic sphere? Well, strap someone inside of it and then roll it down a hill, of course. Since New Zealand was known around the world for offbeat extreme sports developments, such as bungee jumping, the zorb might attract a following, the zorb inventors thought.

Akers and van der Sluis picked up two additional partners, and a business was born. The men insisted on proper training and maintenance to guarantee safety and integrity. For this reason, they chose to franchise zorb operators rather than sell the zorbs outright.

In 2000, van der Sluis made the decision to return to his original career as a software engineer, and left the company. Six years later, Akers, citing differences with one of the other partners, left the company as well. Despite these business distractions, the company has continued to add franchises.

In the U.S., you can go zorbing in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. You can also go zorbing in the Czech Republic, Los Cabos, Slovenia, Ireland, Sweden, Thailand, Korea, Australia's Gold Coast, and the spot where it was developed, Rotorua, New Zealand.

Prices vary for different packages, but generally the thrilling ride is about $40 a trip. The price is comparable to spending the day at a local amusement park or taking a helicopter tour.