April 14, 2008 It has the consistency of breast implant, a lycra coating and unlike any ball prior to now, it bounces on water. The slight change to one of man’s oldest playthings, offers an entirely new set of ways to have fun. Swede Jan von Heland had the idea a decade ago when playing at a lakeside holiday house in Sweden. Throwing a tennis ball and a Frisbee were fun, thought Jan, but a purpose-made ball with the right balance of buoyancy and surface finish and weight, that could actually bounce on water, would be so much better. So he began prolonged experimentation with materials, and eventually patented what has become the Waboba Ball.
The ball has now been refined to the point of manufacture and is getting market traction in Sweden and Australia, but we expect it to become quickly adopted worldwide once people realise what it can do and how much fun it is. It is so similar to the balls we know, yet so entirely different, that it constitutes a major invention – a category buster that is perfect for children in the 10+ age group to develop their hand-eye coordination and reflexes and catching skills to extraordinary levels – in a safe environment. It’s part physical education apparatus, part training aid, and part toy, with the added advantage that it just so much fun to play with and explore that it will develop natural skills anyway.
With all these benefits and a retail price point in the sub US$10 bracket, we expect the Waboba to be big in Christmas 2008 and beyond because despite its sporting and developmental uses, it’s close to the perfect toy – it’s cheap enough to be available to any child, durable enough to withstand plenty of use, and so much fun that we reckon it has a good chance of becoming one of those rare and iconic toys which captures the imagination of the public and serves a purpose in developing a healthy physical culture for our invaluable youth.
In its short time on the market, the beach-loving Australian market has embraced the Waboba. As one convert with two teenage boys we spoke to said, “we have two in the glovebox of the family car - it’s instant, low cost, high involvement fun, that leverages our favourite playground to the max. Given that the ball encourages spectacular catching dives where people get thoroughly soaked anyway, we’ve even found the boys will use it when it’s raining.”
The original patent was for a far more intricate construction than the Waboba that has gone into production. Originally a series of layers of different substances, the latest iteration is made of polyurethane with a stitched lycra shell.
The resultant ball is slightly smaller than a tennis ball, with a soft, slightly squeegy feel not unlike the material used for breast implants, and just the right surface, buoyancy and weight so that it bounces on water ... kinda like skipping a stone. It means you can play bounce-catch, sharpen your reflexes, make spectacular diving catches, and have hours of fun … all for less than EUR5 (US$8).
We’d caution against using the ball with children under the age of ten, because it comes off the water so fast that it is difficult to catch unless rudimentary hand-eye coordination is already developed, and getting hold of a Waboba too early might spoil the fun to come later.
That’s one of the overriders that came through strongly in discussions with Waboba – it’s being marketed as a sporting product and not a toy, because you’ll get the most value with some instruction and understanding.
For tweens and teens the ball is ideal. Once you’ve got the hang of the fast-paced ball, you will not put it down until you are thoroughly exhausted, and all the time you’ll be fine-tuning those motor skills.
The lycra skin may seem like an odd choice until you go to catch the ball, when you’ll see how well you can grasp and handle the self drying surface. Throw the near-indestructible inner ball made of the aforementioned breast implant material and it’s slick and hard to catch once it gets wet. The lycra-like surface on the Waboba is just right.
That’s another tale of caution – how you handle the ball will largely determine its longevity. It isn’t designed to be hit with a bat, or against a wall, or to bounce against sharp objects because the integrity of the lycra coating greatly effects the ball’s characteristics and all of those activities will increase the likelihood it will split or puncture.
The internal polyurethane ball is like we said, almost indestructible – dogs which can normally torture-test any ball into submission seem unable to break the Waboba, which has the added advantage of offering a hand-me-down route for any damaged and deskinned Wabobas – throw them to Deefer!
The inventor of the ball of the story is just about getting the "recipy" of the first test ball right, setting up a business, getting international patent rights etc. The story is still developing with new great distributors and partners, new and better versions of the ball, new markets and most of all, more people having fun with waboba on the beaches of the world.
We came across the Waboba Ball in a sports store and at AUS$10.00 (US$8), it was the ideal impulse buy – cheap enough so it didn’t matter if it failed to meet the claims. We get quite cynical in this role and I didn’t expect it to be that much different to throwing a tennis ball, but I was wrong. It is fantastic. You can’t help but reflect on how a series of small change to the humble ball can make it so much fun compared to any of the permutations and combinations of construction, density, and consistency we’ve seen of the humble and elegant orb prior to now and apart from being an ideal toy, we think it has great potential as a promotional item for any water-related company.
The reason it changes things so much is that it bounces on water – hard to fathom until you have done tried it, but an entirely new phenomenon due to the unique physical attributes of the Waboba Ball.
The simplest way to have fun with a Waboba Ball is to throw it so that it bounces on the water between you and a friend. It reacts slightly to the particular water surface it bounces off, so bouncing it in surf or even small waves varies the angle enough to require some fine-tuning of your hand-eye coordination to catch it, and it has enough weight so that it maintains a lot of its momentum when it bounces, meaning it carries a fair distance and comes through much quicker then you initially expect.
Whilst the Waboba is most fun in waist deep water, making it the ideal beach toy, it’s just as effective in the pool or anywhere else you can find water. The only problem with using it in the pool is that it bounces so well and travels so fast that you spend a bit too much time getting out of the pool to fetch it.
Most significantly, it’s fun – just catching it with one hand, particularly if you have an enthusiastic and powerful friend, is quite exacting and physically demanding. Watch these videos for some inspiration.
A new sport
The capabilities of the ball just demand experimentation and it just cries out for a new sport of some sort, and Waboba has already defined a game for six people. The idea of the game is to pass between team members, three in each team, without losing the ball to the other team. When all team members have caught the ball at least once, without interruption and with at least one bounce on water in each pass, the team gets one point (one round). The opposing team shall try to interrupt passes and start passing within their team. First team to three rounds wins the match. You have to pass the ball within 5 seconds after receiving it. It is allowed to tackle opponents, but not the player that has the ball. You are not allowed to hold an opponent. To play tournaments you need the Match Game rules, you can download them here.
We think there’s potential for a more formalised game with more participants – great for varying a gruelling season long training regime for teams of all types, and perhaps even a new sport in waiting.
Woboba is now seeking international distribution through sporting goods channels in most countries. We’re very bullish about the prospects for the Woboba – it might look like a simple ball, but it's not. It’s a killer example of how some thought and technology can make something soooo different, and valuable in the right circumstances.