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Zorbing, which involves rolling down a hill while being strapped inside a giant plastic ball, is one of the most outrageous outdoor adventure activities, sharing the top spot with base jumping, mountain biking on Bolivia’s “Road of Death,” sandsurfing and a few other select pastime ‘dangerous sport’ activities for the adrenaline junkies. While you can choose to go zorbing unharnessed, it is obviously far more dangerous, because the chances of breaking your neck or an arm and a leg if you can’t keep up with the speed of the ball rolling down the steep slope is quite possibly probable.
If you’ve never heard of the word before, or you think that we have made a spelling mistake, then rest assured that zorbing is a “real” word, having made its entry into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001. Although the activity also goes by the name of orbing, spheering, globe-riding, or xorbing (in Thailand only), zorbing is defined in the dictionary as “a sport in which a participant is secured inside an inner capsule in a large, transparent ball which is then rolled along the ground or down hills.”
Since all sports have a record system in place, the Guinness Book of World Records lists the longest ride at 570 meters, the fastest ride at 52 km/h, and the fastest 100-meter zorb ride at 26.59 seconds. These three records were established in 2006 respectively by Steve Camp, Keith Kolver and the 14 times Guinness World Record holder Andrew Flintoff.
Ian Rauner is the man behind Chiang Mai’s X-Center, a company striving to provide adventure lovers the thrill of their lives. He first tried zorbing at his own headquarters in the north of Thailand when he decided to introduce this new activity to equal the other scores of adventure-packed deals he has to offer. As Ian is from New Zealand and since zorbing is a tourist attraction invented by David and Andrew Akers in New Zealand in 1995, it made perfect sense for him to bring zorbing to Chiang Mai.
Ian Rauner provides customers with balls especially constructed to fit his company’s strict safety requirements so he has personally stylized the name of the activity from zorbing to “xorbing,” no doubt a play on words on the X-Center, his own company’s name. Licensed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the X-Center has a high level of credibility within Southeast Asia and has appeared on the television channel AXN and The Amazing Race Asia reality TV adventure game show.
When you’re ready to try xorbing, you get inside the hollow center of the ball and the staff will fasten you securely into the harness. Then, as soon as you give them the okay sign, they’ll roll you out of the gate. A steeply inclined ramp will quickly accelerate the ball up to its maximum rolling speed and the riders inside will feel like they’re flying through a gravitational field in outer space. You roll away from the launch platform down a one hundred meters smooth grass slope, all the way down to a large lake. The ball will stop before the lake, but if you’ve got an adventurous spirit flowing in your blood veins, then water entry is both possible and safe.
You can choose to go single but it would definitely be far more fun to go tumbling and bouncing inside the gigantic ball together with your friends and family members. When you reach the lake, you can continue your joy ride and “walk on water” inside the ball.
The xorb balls at the X-Center are inflatable balls with a diameter of 3.3 meters and a hollow center that can “house” up to three people. The height of the xorb balls are well over double the height of most people; the minimum age to participate is nine years old and children must be tall enough to fit into the harness.
Since it was first introduced in New Zealand in 1995, there have so far only been two deaths worldwide, one in the Czech Republic in 2009 and the other, more recently, in Russia in 2013. However, it is important to note that, as these fatal accidents were caused due to riding and rolling in unsafe areas, in conditions without taking all the safety measures possible, it is true to say that zorbing is quite a safe outdoor activity. At the X-Center in Chiang Mai, riders are inside a double-wall air ball, thus benefiting with extra cushioning, together with a full harness securing them.
Zorbing is not something specific to Thailand only and there are other companies providing similar activities within the Asian region. The biggest difference is obviously the weather, with Thailand and especially Chiang Mai benefiting from a climate that allows Ian to have people riding his xorb balls all year round. Also, different companies have different styles and a full range in lengths of rides with different balls, some containing water and some which offer no harness at all.
Choosing to go xorbing at the X-Center seems to be the safest option in the local region and the customers who go xorbing in Chiang Mai are both tourists and locals, with the majority being on vacation. Percentage wise, the customers are 60% foreigners and 40% Thai.
As no experience or special skills are required to ride a xorb ball, any healthy person can participate in this fun and exciting activity, regardless of age. Going down the slope in a xorb ball costs 600 baht per person for one ride, but a discount can be arranged for large groups. There’s no shortage of xorb balls at the X-Center, so the more riders, the merrier it is!
Xorbing takes places at the X-Centre headquarters, located on Samong Road in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai. To find out more details, contact the X-Center on 087 833 6655 or via email at sales[at]chiangmai-xcentre[dot]com. Their website also offers more information about the other outdoor activities they organize and arrange. Fun for all!
A shorter version of this article was initially published in Mango Metro (March 2014, Vol.8, No.4)
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