Zorbing, The Real Story

In the past few years zorbing has rapidly gained popularity all over the world. A lot of people had a blast rolling down hills in these giant inflatable balls called Zorbs, or using them on lakes, pools or the sea while water zorbing. Nowadays the activity, which initially started as a recreation, is actually considered an extreme sport. There have even been people setting official world records trying to reach greater and greater speeds rolling in zorbs. But where and when did this craze begin?

The general consensus seems to point out that the very first time someone rolled in a zorb was in 1994 in New Zealand. It appears that Dwane van der Sluis and Andrew Akers came up with this giant inflatable ball idea somewhere around 1990. They were the ones to call their invention The Zorb and the first people to start mass producing and selling the huge plastic balls.

But is this really the full story? Is this the complete zorbing history?

The Original Zorb Ball
Early Prototypes Of The Present Day Inflatable Balls

Were they really the ones to come up with the idea in the 90s? And should the two New Zealanders be the only ones credited for this invention? Maybe yes, maybe not. Mentions of similar contraptions date back to the 1980s, when the Dangerous Sports Club (a group of adventurers and extreme sports enthusiasts) build a giant sphere which has two suspended deck chairs inside it. Even though the concept was similar to the Zorbing-Ball, the design is quite different from the modern-day plastic balls.

However, even earlier than that, it seems that the French inventor by the name of Gilles Ebersolt had been working on the first prototypes of the present day Zorbing-Balls. The earliest concepts of what he called “the Ballule” (French for “the Bubble”) date back to 1975, when Gilles, aged 17 came up with the first designs for an all-terrain inflatable bicycle. The concept later on turned into the first Ballule, in 1977, and the first giant plastic ball was inaugurated at a memorable event “Agre a Grez” on June 18. The pressure inside the big ball was kept constant by two pairs of inversed vacuum cleaners. This was what the first giant plastic hamster ball looked like.

the first zorb ball, zorbing history and origins
First Prototype of The Ballule, by Gilles Ebersolt

Perfecting the initial model took almost 2 years, and in 1979 Gilles registered his invention at the Conseil des Prud’hommes, where the he and his concept got to make the first professional contacts, with the purpose of possible technical implementation and commercial production. The inflatable ball was even praised in the press in 1980 and made its first appearance on TV on the program called ‘Incroyable Mais Vrai ‘ (‘Incredible But True’) soon after. In the following years up to 2000, Gilles and his Ballule had participated in numerous events.

The Inflatable ball had received TV coverage reaching even the United States on the show called “That’s Incredible” for ABC Television. Later on, in 1985 a perfected prototype of the Ballule even made a descent on Mount Fuji in Japan for a special event by the NHK.

The first zorb ball
Notice the huge size of the prototype used on Mount Fuji.

Despite a lot of other activities and presence on many TV Shows, in 2001, in an incredible turn of events, the press “discovers” the Zorb in New Zealand. Even though these giant inflatable balls are practically an exact copy Gilles’ invention, the press presents it as a novelty, and many people that today practice the sport have no idea of its real origins. This is yet another example of misinformation and poor un-researched reporting by the media. In a nutshell, this is the more detailed history of zorbing and its origins. And at least now, you have a better picture of the birth of the present day Zorb Ball, and who are all the people deserving credit.

For more present-day zorbing check this article out. You can also discover all the present day balls that derived from the Ballule here, and all the sports and outdoor activities you can do inside the inflatable balls here.

For more information on Gilles Ebersolt and his work, visit his site: http://www.gillesebersolt.com/

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