October 16, 2013
By Lara Jung and Sierra Lai
Imagine running on dewy, wet turf, a soccer ball at your feet. You’re in control of the ball and running at an even pace.
All of a sudden, someone knocks into you and you go tumbling backward onto the grass. Instead of looking to the ref for a foul, you start rolling around struggling to bounce back up.
Confused? Don’t be. Meet the sporting trend that’s sweeping (or bouncing?) across the nation: bubble soccer.
The sport has the same basic premise as regular soccer—score a goal in the other team’s net—there’s only one small difference: the top half of your body is enclosed in a giant, plastic, inflatable bubble.
It’s the same concept as the bubble rollers you see at carnivals, the kind that allow you to roll around and float on water. The soccer bubble suits allow you to knock into opponents and send them flying backward and bouncing straight back up while playing a traditional game of soccer. The trick is to keep standing. Once you start rolling, it’s kind of hard to stop.
Bubble soccer originated overseas and made one of its first appearances on a Norwegian TV show. Then came YouTube clips and the sports’ spread across Europe and Australia, and then comedian Jimmy Fallon played the game several times on his late-night show in the past year. In Chicago, the sport made its debut in Wrightwood Park on Sept. 23 with the Chicago Bubble Soccer League’s first game.
Groupon employee Greg Caplan founded the league, which costs $1,000 to sign up as a team or $100 for individuals. He had his company offer a discount this summer for people who wanted to try it but couldn’t justify spending $100 on a giant bouncy ball.
But where does one find an inflatable ball to play bubble soccer? You won’t find them produced in America, which is why they had to be specially ordered from FunBallz, a company in Denmark. Each ball costs about $500.
When asked if the bubble ever felt claustrophobic, Chicago player Tiffany Breyne said, “It’s kind of what you think wearing an astronaut helmet feels like. But a bit airier. It took getting used to because you’re in your own bubble, and can mostly just hear yourself breathing, but you’re playing a team sport and have to focus on everything outside the bubble.”
At the first game of the Chicago league, a team appropriately named In’flatables We Trust met up and got a crash course in bubble soccer etiquette. My Tang, a Chicago player, described his first experience playing as “getting in the bubble and realizing that bubble soccer is just as ridiculous as I’d hoped.”
The players seemed to be having as much fun playing as people had watching. The best part about this sport? “Just being in the bubble and figuring out how to stand up,” Lisa Catalano said after playing her first game. “You fall down, usually on your back, and it’s like an awkward crunch when you’re trying to stand up. You can watch everyone else do it, and you’re like ‘I’m not going to do that, ‘I’m going to learn.’
“The most fun is falling down and trying to get back up,” she said.
The outdoor league has scheduled six games per team, including playoffs, to run through the end of this month, according to bubblesoccer.squarespace.com/chicago. In order to accommodate players with jobs or class schedules, games are scheduled between 6 and 10 p.m.
You can sign up for the winter season that starts in January on the Squarespace site, and catch up on all things bubble soccer on their Facebook page (search “Bubble Soccer”).
Spectators can attend matches for free and watch as players hysterically tumble and fall in giant inflatable bubbles. If you can’t make it out to a game, there’s a sea of YouTube videos perfect for a gut-busting procrastination sesh.
Regardless of where you find your bubble soccer fix, it will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The next question on our minds: When will bubble soccer find its way into the high school sports arena?
Because between you and us, we want to play too.
* * * * *
Wanna play? To learn more about bubble soccer, check out bit.ly/bubblesoccerchicago.
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