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Christmas trees, by the numbers; Alabama’s despot depot; spreading the word about Burgundy’s mustard; New Zealand goes global; the sun sets on a Samoan claim to fame

Spinning the Globe

A dizzying New Zealand export goes worldwide

AT THE TOP of a hill in the Smoky Mountains, Angela Laubach, 50, squeezes headfirst into a large inflatable ball and attaches harnesses to her shoulders, waist and ankles. The ball is suspended by 1,000 colorful nylon strings inside an even bigger globe, measuring about 12 feet across. A thin cushion of air separates the two transparent spheres.

On cue, a “wrangler” stationed on the hilltop yells, “Zorb!” and a gate clanks open, sending Laubach bouncing down the incline, careening some 300 yards toward a wooden “catching platform” at the bottom.

Laubach came from Knoxville seeking adventure, and she found it at Zorb Smoky Mountains, America’s only official outlet for Zorbing — the trademarked term for a sport generically known as orbing or globe riding.

“Zorbing is still a baby here,” says Andy Havill, spokesman for Zorb Ltd. Popular in its New Zealand birthplace since 1995, Zorbing rolled into North America in 2007, with the establishment of Zorb Ltd.’s Pigeon Forge site. Four additional orbing locations, run by rival company OGO, have since popped up in the U.S. and Canada.

Of course, that’s nothing compared with the stature the orbs will attain in two years, as an official symbol of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. At a press conference earlier this year, Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi organizing committee, remarked that “the transparency of Zorbs reflects the open, accessible and inclusive society that the Sochi 2014 Games are helping to build.”

But Chernyshenko’s use of the word “Zorb” rankles Havill, who’s quick to point out its trademarked status. He worries that using it to describe any orbing enterprise could, among other things, dilute Zorb Ltd.’s safety record: Out of 700,000 rides, he notes, there have been no serious injuries.

Back at the catching platform, Laubach emerges from the globe, dizzy but smiling. “That wasn’t as scary as I thought,” she says. Make that 700,001. —LORI HILE


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