The Weird History of the Human Hamster Ball


When it comes to fun and games, we don’t often stop to think about where these games come from. After all, we’re looking for a good time -- not a history lesson. But, we miss out on some pretty interesting stories that can inspire new ways of having fun when we ignore history.

One game that has a surprisingly interesting story is Zorbing (i.e. the human hamster ball). It’s been invented independently a few times by artists, entrepreneurs, and extreme sports enthusiasts. Each time there’s an interesting story and background -- fitting for such a weird device!

If the hamster wheel represents confinement and wasted time and energy, then the hamster ball represents the freedom to explore new things. This isn’t only true for hamsters, but for people too! This might explain the rapid growth in popularity Zorbing has seen. 

But how did it get here and where did it come from?

The Ballule

The Ballule (French for ‘Bubble’) was first invented by the French artist and architect Gilles Ebersolt. In 1975, at just 17 years old, Gilles designed what would later become The Ballule: a giant inflatable plastic ball with pressure stabilized by two pairs of vacuum cleaners. 

It took Gilles two years of trial error, but, in 1977, he finally had a workable model. The exact design remaining a closely guarded secret to this day. Later that year, The Ballule would make its first public appearance. By 1980, The Ballule was being featured on popular TV programs such as “Incredible But True”.

Over the years, The Ballule would see new iterations and designs while being featured at events and extreme sporting competitions. His invention was beginning to be a well-known attraction.

The Ballule looked as though it was set to become a popular, consumer-available sport. But, as Gilles sought to produce a commercially viable version of his ball, the market for the ball was ultimately not available and he moved on to ever more ambitious inflatable projects. One of his most ambitious being an inflatable platform designed for scientists to float over trees. According to Gilles, he is now focusing on creating sustainable living modules that could potentially be used on future journeys to Mars.

Dangerous Sports Club 

Another human hamster-ball emerged in the ’80s from a group of extreme sporting enthusiasts called “Dangerous Sports Club” based out of Oxford University. The club was famous -- attracting a great deal of attention for its weird, dangerous, and sometimes silly, public stunts.

With all this attention, naturally, some celebrities wanted in. Famously, Graham Chapman (of Monty Python) was a member of the club. Their meetings lived up to their Oxford reputation -- being known for their formal attire and champaign, and, of course, fearless attitude.

This club pioneered a number of sports that have since become well known -- including bungee jumping, hang gliding, and extreme sports more broadly. According to Vanity Fair, one day the group got the idea to jump off a bridge with some bungee cord and the sport was born.

Other famous stunts included skateboarding with the bulls in Pamplona and taking a grand piano down the slopes of Saint-Moritz. Who knows why these didn’t catch on?

The Club’s hamster ball design was hardly like what we use today. Inside the ball, the user would sit on a suspended lawn chair without much control over the direction of the ball. It was intended mostly to send a person rolling down a hill at great speeds with little regard for anything else.

For the Club, the hamster ball was yet another stunt and wasn’t intended for broader use. So they didn’t go further attempting to market or perfect the design. But others soon would.

From extreme sport to party game

Zorbing first became available to the average consumer in the early 90s when in ‘94 two brothers, Andrew and David Akers, invented a marketable Zorbing ball in their garage. They called their creation the Zorb ball. The Zorb ball’s popularity boomed and by 2001 the word “Zorbing” was officially added to the dictionary.

Since its creation in Rotorua, New Zealand, the Zorb ball has become a global phenomenon inspiring extreme sports, friendly competitions, and, of course, lots of fun.

Initially, the Zorb ball, similar to the other hamster-ball creations, was designed for racing down New Zealand’s hilly landscape. A fact that helped propel the product to success. Since then, however, the Zorb ball has come to find a number of applications including obstacle courses, races, soccer, and even battle. The designs now also vary widely depending on the specific use they’re intended for.

Zorbing with Flyside Games

The human hamster ball has taken on quite a few iterations since its origins in the ‘70s with the sport continuing to grow and evolve. Today, Zorbing is a fun and safe game for all ages. It’s also available to those in the Austin, Texas area!

At Flyside Games, we have special attractions ready-made for the Zorb ball including the Zorb race track and obstacle course. Zorbing is now the perfect game to help your party stand out and ensure that everyone has a memorable time.

Want to feature Zorbing at your next party? Follow this link to find out how.

Looking for a Foam Party Canon instead? Click here!