A History Of The Ballule | Gilles Ebersolt

The ballule is the french name of a zorb used to roll downhill, generally made of transparent plastic. French architect Gilles Ebersolt worked since the early 70s in the research of this kind of inflatables, but more than technical, his approach to this topic was done in search of poetry. He said “I like to go boating. Why should sailing only be accessible to sailors? I wanted to discover new media; water is a medium, the ground and the air are also media. Trees must become the media of sailing”. He was 25 years old when this idea of sailing on the trees came to him; and at that time he imagined a sort of enormous pneumatic sledge capable of hurtling down wooded slopes.

In the summer 1974, and after making a 400-sq.m. inflatable structure with Philippe L. and Pierre M., Ebersolt presented the object at the Tabarka Festival in Tunisia. Marc P. joined the group and then all of them met a group of Dutch plastic artists, the Event Structure Research Group. For those years, they were experimenting with elongated objects that floated on the sea with a person walking inside it. This idea was developed by Gilles and Marc but changing the design from this elongated shape to a sphere and make an all-terrain device.


18 June 1977. Inauguration of the Zorb at the event: ’Agre à Grez’. Pressure was maintained by a set of 4 reversed vacuum cleaners.

In the way of a diary, Gilles Ebersolt wrote:

29 January 1976, 4.30 p.m: I found the note ‘it’s almost finished’ on an assembly diagram. It was doubtless true but I had no proof. The Ballule was inflated for the first time in my grandmother’s flat on Quai Voltaire in Paris. This showed me that the ceiling was at a suitable height: 3.20 metres!

18 June 1977: Inauguration of the Ballule at a memorable event: ‘Agre à Grez’. Pressure was maintained by a set of 4 reversed vacuum cleaners. It took me two years to finalise the prototype of the Ballule, pass the Baccalauréat and a beekeeping diploma, launch La Montagne Molle and install amateur hives in the Seine-et-Marne department. At the same time, I moved to Batignolles with Marc P. and started work.


August 1980: First article in Presse. Pratique, a magazine for students.


February 1981: First commercial contract for Radio Monte Carlo’s Tournée des neiges (snow tour). Three prototypes in clear PVC.

After the Radio Monte Carlo’s Tournée, in March 1981, Ebersolt added to his diary:

April 1981: The beginning of the ‘events’ career of the Ballule in Tel Aviv. This became routine but I perfected a new prototype, the third generation Ballule.

31 March 1982: The third generation Ballule was ordered, with new materials that are still secret today! I prepared extremely daring sports exploits and needed exceptional elasticity! Pierre Vibert at Etablissements Dumoutier Decré in Châteauroux handled manufacture. I stayed in Châteauroux to monitor manufacture. Pierre V. taught me how to trace templates and use beam compass to mark points at a constant distance.

Altough if the origin of the idea it’s not clear, because we can read that in the early 1980s, the Dangerous Sports Club constructed a giant sphere (reportedly 23 metres / 75.5 feet across) with a gimbal arrangement supporting two deck chairs inside, and some people think that its origins are in the UK, Ebersolt argues that on January 1981, the design was registered at the Conseil des Prud’hommes, as the first professional contact for the technical and commercial development of the zorb.

We can not be sure if it was Ebersolt or the British group Dangerous Sport Club the first ones to develop the ballule, we can just remark the poetic behind the idea. After all the research and experimentation, from 1982 to 1985, Ebersolt had participated in numerous events and in particular in filming for the program “That’s Incredible for ABC in the United States, La noire de Peutrey (Hautes Alpes) and Les chutes du Horisson (Jura)”.

You can see more images and info at Gilles Ebersolt web-site and read the complete story with more amazing images, here [PDF].

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