NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 19, 2013

Sports park: Zorb ball rides safe

Officials cite lack of safety protocols for death in Russian accident

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Amesbury Sports Park is reassuring customers that the Zorb rides it offers are safe following a report out of Russia that one man was killed and another seriously injured last week after an inflatable ball they were riding in veered off track and rolled down a rocky ledge.

In the Jan. 9 incident in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia, 27-year-old Denis Burakov suffered a fatal spinal injury after the ball they were in picked up speed down a hill and bounced over the ledge. Burakov and his friend, Vladamir Shcherbakov, were eventually ejected from the ball after it had violently bounced more than a mile down the mountain.

Since the incident, Amesbury Sports Park on Hunt Road has reportedly received numerous phone calls from customers concerned about the Zorb rides it offers in warmer months.

Amesbury Sports Park President MaryCarol Fowler issued a statement yesterday emphasizing that the activity is safe when conducted properly. She also stressed the ball involved in the fatal was not manufactured by Zorb.

“When operated under recommended guidelines by trained staff in an appropriate environment, the sport is exceptionally safe,” Fowler said.

Often called Zorbing, globe riding involves traveling down a hill inside inflatable plastic balls containing water. The sport has become popular all over the world and has been a fixture at Amesbury Sports Park in recent years.

The sport also has a published code of safe operations, and the Dombai ski resort where the Russian incident occurred was found to have been in violation of most every safety rule. Primarily, the slope being used was much too steep and there were no fences or secure landing spots where the globe could safely be brought to a stop, according to Fowler.

Fowler also said the operators involved had no training and the globe itself being used was an independently manufactured product that has no association with Zorb, which doesn’t make globes with two harnesses because of “the inherent dangers with that configuration.”

“In many parts of the world, people buy similar products on the Internet and begin operating them with little to no training and licensing,” Fowler said. “This is an extreme sport, and it’s not something that any guy off the street should be operating without training and understanding of the necessary safety precautions.”

Typically, globe riding is conducted on steady grass slopes to control the globe’s speed. Most courses will also incorporate berms to keep the rider on a defined path.

Globe rides are typically a warm-weather activity at Amesbury Sports Park, which prefers to use its hill in the winter for snow tubing. Fowler said the park sometimes uses its Zorbs on flat terrain in the snow, but never on a hill because of how unpredictable the globes can behave in the snow.

“Under the right conditions, riders can see speeds from 25 to 45 miles per hour when snow tubing; that’s extreme enough for us,” Fowler said. “We leave our Zorb activities for the summer months when the globes ride in controlled, grassy tracks in the hill.”