It doesn’t matter what you call it; sphering, zorbing, orbing or globe riding it’s all the same thing – a human hamster ball. The idea of rolling around inside a large transparent ball for fun is credited to Andrew and David Akers from New Zealand. Who knows what possessed them to try rolling downhill in a human adaptation of a long popular rodent toy, but they certainly started something that has grown and developed into an incredibly popular past time and money making commercial business.
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Variations on a Theme
Sphering is normally done on a natural gentle slope, although those with a good deal of control can use their spheres on level surfaces. Zorbing courses have been designed with artificial obstacles to maneuver around and manmade slopes and inclines to traverse for competition purposes. Typically there are two variations of sphere, none harnessed which will carry up to three people, and harnessed for either one or two people. Spheres fitted with the double harness have greater specifications on where they can be used to ensure safety of the riders. The current length of the longer sphering courses is around half a mile which is still quite challenging for a rider.
Building the Ball
The sphere is actually constructed from two individual balls, one inside the other with a layer of air in between. The air functions as a great shock absorber which eliminates any jolts from bumps along the course. They are constructed from a very flexible and lightweight plastic, unlike the rigid structure of a traditional hamster ball. Spheres that have not been fitted with harnesses allow the rider to be thrown around the interior of the sphere, and just to make it more interesting water can be added to the riders sphere so they know what it feels like to be laundry! This is known as hydro zorbing or an aqua or water ride.
A standard sphere measures 3 meters across with the inner sphere being 2 meters in diameter, which provides a cushion of air around 50-60cm thick. The plastic material is just under 1cm thick and the inner and outer spheres are usually connected to each other with hundreds of small ropes. Entry to the rider’s area is made by climbing through a small tunnel in the sphere, and you should be prepared to get hot and sweaty in there too, especially on a warm day.
Sphering is now performed worldwide and the orbs are a popular attraction at fairs and commercial events where riders can experience life as a hamster on a pay by ride basis. It has even been done at the North Pole. There are currently two world records in the field of sphering; the longest ride which stands at 570 meters and the fastest ride which was recorded at a stunning 32mph. Such is the popularity of these transparent balls that they have been selected as a symbol of the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia.
Creative Commons photo by Tim Welbourn