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Zorbing

Pronounced /zɔːbɪpŋ/Help with pronunciation

Imagine yourself suspended inside a ten-foot clear plastic sphere by nylon ropes, then rolled to the top of a slope and pushed off. No brakes, no steering, just you and gravity. By all accounts, it’s like being a stray sock in a spin dryer, and it’s obligatory to scream a lot. There are reports that some find hillsides too tame, and have tried rolling off cliffs and waterfalls. The balls bounce OK; so usually do those inside. Some have tried walking on water by taking the spheres on to lakes.

This adventure activity was invented by Dwayne van der Sluis and Andrew Akers in New Zealand in 1995 as something exciting for tourists to do once they became jaded with bungee jumping. They created the term Zorb for the ball, presumably a variation on orb, which they trademarked and which they used for the name of their company. Confirming my suspicion that there is no activity so crazy that it will not be taken up by somebody somewhere, Zorbing has large numbers of enthusiastic participants, not only in New Zealand but also in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

The term, and zorbing for the activity, began to appear in print in 1996. Since Zorb is a proprietary name in New Zealand and the US, the term sphereing has been used as an alternative, though zorbing is showing some signs of becoming generic. Variations are becoming known, such as hydro-zorbing, in which you are drenched in soapy water on the way down (the nearest thing in existence to a human washing machine), and harness zorbing, in which two people are strapped together. On flat land, a number of participants can play bumper-zorbs. A participant is often called a Zorbonaut.

Zorbing has a way of making people smile, whether you’re a bystander or literally in the middle of the action. It’s a pretty simple concept: Squeeze into the hollow center of a huge, translucent sphere — the Zorb — and roll down a hill, bouncing up, down and all around.

Chicago Sun-Times, 20 Jul. 2008

For most of us, adventure racing is a pastime that will remain firmly in the spectator sport category, alongside zorbing and base jumping.

The Scotsman, 20 May 2006

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 24 Jan. 1998
Last updated: 20 Dec. 2008

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-zor1.htm
Last modified: 20 December 2008.