By Derek Neumeier
Growing up, I had a pet hamster named Kappy. My favourite thing to do with Kappy was to take him out of his cage and let him roll around in his transparent hamster ball. As soon as he was in, he would run full-speed in a random direction until something stopped him, crashing into chairs and tables with reckless abandon.
I always imagined him having a great time in there and deep down, I was a little jealous. Rolling around in that ball always looked like a lot of fun, and I wished that I could try it out for myself.
Recently, I got the chance.
Zorbing, created in New Zealand in the early ‘90s, involves people rolling down a hill inside a human-sized hamster ball. A few years ago this quirky activity was brought to Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park, where I jumped at the chance to try it out.
Walking up the hill towards the ball I felt mixed emotions of excitement and nervousness. I was eager to try zorbing ever since discovering it a year ago, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. My mind raced with painful visions of me flying wildly through the air as I bounced uncontrollably down the hill.
Approaching the run however, I felt instantly at ease. The ball is situated at the top of a shallow, man-made dirt valley with high walls, ensuring that it doesn’t roll out of the confines of the designated path. The slope of the track was not nearly as steep as I expected, but, after seeing the length of the length of the track (which is roughly 600 feet), I knew that I would be in for quite the ride.
The ball itself is made out of two layers of plastic, an outer and an inner, with the space between filled with enough air to cushion you from harm while careening down the hill.
Instead of bouncing around inside the ball itself, there are two sets of harnesses, one on each side, which two passengers can strap themselves into. Unlike a hamster ball where the occupant controls the speed and direction, the zorb determines it’s own path.
The zorbs that I had heard about and seen videos of were transparent enough to see clearly out of, but the one at COP wasn’t nearly as clear, only allowing light in. At first I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the world outside as I rolled past it, but that changed once my ride partner Brendan, my media liaison on behalf of WinSport Canada, and I began moving.
In fact, the best part of the ride was the feeling of weightless disorientation; not knowing which way was up as the momentum carried me down the hill.
The small, round opening that I used to enter wasn’t sealed, offering quick glimpses of sky and ground as I travelled, giving me an idea of speed but teasing my sense of gravity.
After about 30 seconds of rolling we came to an abrupt halt at the bottom, the COP staff settled the zorb and helped us crawl back outside. The trip itself was short, but it was without questions one of the most unique experiences of my life, one that I would be more than glad to recreate in the future.
COP is taking group bookings for the Z-Trip throughout the month of September. Visit the COP website for more details.