The whistle blows. The 10 medical school students encased in clear blue and red bubbles from the thigh up race toward the soccer ball in the middle of the field. The two guys in the center slam into each other and bounce backwards, never coming close to kicking the ball.
You can hear the laughter, not just from the friends watching on the sidelines but from the inside of the other bubbles.
BubbleBall Soccer is new to the area, and based on the reactions of the medical school students using the game as an exam break, it’ll be a big hit.
The 10 players spend about 10 minutes going full speed, bouncing off each other, flipping upside down, gasping for breath and scoring a total of two goals. They take a short halftime break, then finish the first 30-minute session, exhausted.
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Avery Zierk played in the first group and offered advice to fellow students getting ready for the second 30-minute session. “Just run fas as you can and stay away from everyone else,” Zierk said. “Your soccer skills don’t matter at all.”
Soccer-type conditioning might help. The plastic bubble is like a fat donut that you wear like a backpack. Your head is inside the donut hole, which can get hot and sticky quickly. Zierk joked about having just taken a test on respiration and then learning a few nuances about it playing BubbleBall.
And despite the comical collisions that sent every player flying, some head over heels, everybody said the falls didn’t hurt.
“Most of the pain comes from getting up after the falls, getting up on your knees,” said Sean Christensen.
In addition to the backpack straps, the BubbleBalls have a support system inside of dozens of ropes that ingenuously absorb the contact from the other BubbleBallers and the ground. As the players get used to the contraptions, they learn it can be easier to get back on their feet if they just let the balls flip all the way over.
Carolina Outdoor Adventures’ owner Billy Easterbrooks rents the BubbleBalls for $250 an hour, or $350 for two hours. He also provides the soccer ball, two small goals and a two-person support staff. With four 30-minute games, a total of 40 University of South Carolina School of Medicine students got to enjoy the experience from inside the bubbles, while dozens more had a blast watching and taking videos from the sidelines.
More info: Smaller groups can rent just five BubbleBalls for $125 for an hour. Because of the size of the opening in the BubbleBalls, they won’t work for most children younger than 10 or for extremely large adults. Participants must sign an injury waiver. A large open space is required. If you don’t have a place to play, many parks have public fields that can be rented with fees passed on to players. www.carolinaoutdooradventures.com, or (803) 381-2293.