Zorbing looked SO fun when we booked it online from the safe confines of our living room couch. My wife and I figured, while traveling in New Zealand, the land that invented adventure sports, what could be more audacious, more “Kiwi” than climbing into a giant, inflatable, plastic ball and rolling down a hillside! Weeks later, however, actually standing on the narrow platform at the top of Mt. Ngongotaha in Rotorua, New Zealand, looking down the precipitous slope before us, I am definitely having second thoughts. “You want me Donica and I to superman dive into this flimsy ball and roll down THAT hill?” What have I gotten myself into?
Created by Andrew Akers and Dwane van der Sluis back in 1994, Zorb Rotorua is the only place in New Zealand where you can experience completely bonkers sport of Zorbing. The company offers three ball-rolling tracks – two straight down the hill and one zig zag. Crazy people that we are, Donica and I opt for the VIP program – 4 runs down the mountain (2 zig zag, 2 straight), with a t-shirt included as a badge of honor at the end.
So there we are, at the top of the mountain, getting ready for our first run. To my surprise, the Zorb ball isn’t empty; there’s a small pool of water in the bottom. As we dive into the ball via a narrow, circular aperture, we land – splash – in the pool, head first. To my surprise (and relief), as the ball starts its descent down the hill, we don’t flip and tumble around as I’d feared. Instead, as the ball rolls forward, we slide ahead in the water as well, at the same pace as the Zorb. In essence, the ball is a giant water slide – albeit one where we’re constantly flipping from back to tummy and back again, rotating left and right. It’s not exactly the inside of a washing machine (thank gawd), but we’re definitely active participants in the journey. This is especially so on the zig zag course, where you climb up the wall of the ball every time it changes directions, then come plummeting back down into the pool with a shriek of laughter.
At the bottom of the hill, our Zorb slows down and comes to a stop with the help of a small reverse hill. There, an attendant tips the ball to the ground, opens up the aperture, and urges us to “Pop on out, feet first,” like fish flopping into the bottom of a rowboat. Collecting ourselves and shaking off some dizziness, we stumble over to the waiting line and get ready for our next delirious spin down the mountain.
(It’s funny, isn’t it, how great everything looks AMAZING when viewed from afar — on the internet, in a book, a magazine, or wherever. All we see are these young, healthy people having a ball – literally! In reality, though, the first time I dive into the Zorb, I get stuck in the hole and have to winch my way out for another try! Then, once inside the ball, Donica and I take turns smacking each other with errant knees and elbows. In other words, life isn’t a photo shoot with perfect, graceful models. It’s awkward. It’s clumsy. It’s uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new things! It just means you have to manage your expectations – take the experience as it comes, and at the very least, appreciate the opportunity to laugh at yourself. Growth doesn’t happen in the peak moments. It happens in the valleys, the imperfections.)