River Festival

Bubble soccer comes to Riverfest

Bubble Soccer

Bubble soccer is a new attraction at the 2015 Wichita River Festival. (Video by Jaime Green)
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Bubble soccer is a new attraction at the 2015 Wichita River Festival. (Video by Jaime Green)

Regular soccer is for the rest of the year.

At the Wichita Riverfest, soccer players compete while wearing giant, inflatable bubbles that confine their arms and upper bodies and send them wildly bouncing and rolling around the field.

Bubble soccer, a trendy extreme sport that’s attracting a teenage fan base, is one of the new events on the Riverfest agenda this year. It was invented as a joke in Norway in 2011, and when a video of a bubble “football” game from Italy went viral, people started playing it around the world. The National Association of Bubble Soccer was founded last year.

Bubble Soccer at Riverfest is being offered by the Wichita Sports Center from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in a field at Waterman and Water. Pre-registered teams of eight can play four-on-four games of bubble soccer, which is sort of like traditional soccer except the rules are looser, the field is smaller, and the players are encased in inflated bubbles from their knees to the tops of their heads. They can only sort of see where they’re going, and players frequently bump into each other, sending one or both of them bouncing backward.

Jeff Sanders owns Wichita Sports Center, a giant, eight-court volleyball complex that opened in October at 3001 S. Madison. He’s also in the process of trying to get a bubble soccer league going in Wichita. He’s waiting on approval from the city and wants to organize a league that would meet at various parks and schools several days a week.

He learned about bubble soccer from some college friends, who said they’d seen an indoor bubble soccer arena in Texas with people waiting in long lines for a turn to play. He ordered two dozen of the balls (sometimes called “body zorbs” or “loopy balls”) around Christmas time – a hefty investment, he said. He’s been renting them out for birthday parties, pep rallies, graduation retreats and more ever since.

When Sanders decided not to bring volleyball back to the festival this year, he offered organizers an alternative: bubble soccer.

“You don’t have to be able to play soccer,” Sanders said. “I’ve never played soccer in my life. It’s way too much running. But bubble soccer is a blast because you get to have fun and knock each other around.”

Organizers prefer that people pre-register for the bubble soccer games so that players of similar sizes and athletic prowess are playing each other. It’s $10 a person for a 30-minute game, and pre-registrants must organize a group of eight people, who must sign waivers.

Organizers will also accept walk-up players if there’s space available. To register, visit www.wichitasportscenter.com.

Sanders has two sizes of bubbles, so people of any age can play, he said.

Even those who don’t feel brave enough to participate will still enjoy watching, said Ann Keefer, the festival’s vice president of program development.

“It looks ridiculous,” she said. “It looks like people in those big sumo wrestler outfits out there running around.”

If You Go

Bubble soccer

When: 3-9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday

Where: Waterman and Water

How much: $10 a person; register at www.wichitasportscenter.com

Online: See a video of how bubble soccer is played at kansas.com/entertainment.