As the program supervisor for the Recreation Department in Arlington, Erin Campbell is always on the lookout for new activities.
Knockerball made a quick impression.
“I wanted to put on a small tournament, because it looked like so much fun and was unlike any of the other programs we offered,” said Campbell, who learned of the sport after receiving a promotional e-mail from a local company.
“We first offered it in May. We held a tournament on a Saturday for families, ages 12-plus. We held the tournament in the hockey rink, since we take the ice out in the summer and it was the perfect arena for Knockerball. Immediately after hosting our first tournament, I knew we had to do it again. Everyone had a blast, participants and spectators alike.”
Jamison Loizeaux, owner and general manager of the Gymnastic Academy of Boston’s branch in Acton, discovered the game watching a YouTube video.
“My first response was, ‘Wow, so much fun,’ ” he said. “I’ve rented the Knockerballs for my gymnastics school twice during the summer. All abilities loved it, especially the adults.”
Knockerball features giant inflated balls that engulf each participant (much like those air-filled sumo wrestling outfits, but big enough to cover the head as well) as they demonstrate Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
“It’s somewhere between a picnic game and an extreme sport,” said Quan Xie, a 27-year-old doctoral candidate at Boston University who organized an event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after sharing a Knockerball video with friends on social media.
“The energy stored inside the ball explodes out” on contact, he said, “and you get either knocked down or jump up high.”
Though collisions happen early and often, players can imitate a crash-test dummy with little chance of injury because they are protected by the enormous air bags, which have internal handles and shoulder straps.
“When I first saw the sport, I was concerned about kids’ knees and ankles, but we didn’t have any lower limb injuries, just someone who bit their tongue, which obviously can happen with any activity,” said Loizeaux.
That, apparently, even holds true for Knockerball vendors.
Robert Cross, owner of the Nuthin’ But Fun event company and Knockerball Worcester, which rents the equipment and organizes events, said he became enamored with the game after watching it played on “The Amazing Race” television show.
“I’m 45, with a separated shoulder,” said Cross, so when he went to play Knockerball with his 18-year-old son Kyle and a bunch of his friends, “I was a little concerned. But it didn’t bother me at all. The fact that I could run as fast as I could and hit someone as hard as I could was so exhilarating.
‘Sometimes when you get hit, it feels like you’re floating in the air in a state of weightlessness.’
“Sometimes when you get hit, it feels like you’re floating in the air in a state of weightlessness,” he said, “You can’t really describe what it’s like to get blindsided by another Knockerballer and go flying and then just lay there laughing so hard that you can’t get up.”
Knockerball generally follows the rules of traditional soccer. For most, though, the rules are secondary.
“We tried playing soccer in the Knockerballs, but quickly realized it was more fun just running and jumping through the air, hitting into each other,” said Loizeaux. “The kids also really enjoyed tucking their knees up into the balls and rolling around.”
“What I enjoy is the lack of rules,” said Campbell. “It’s so easy for groups to play because anything goes.”
And the best part?
“Whether it’s playing or watching, the hits are the best part,” said Cross. “The only rules are trying not to hit people when they’re down, or full contact from behind. Although we set up to play Knocker-soccer, after about a minute, the participants are more focused on hitting each other than they are playing soccer.”
But there are games. Gladiator, for example.
Two to six players spread out and then, at the count of three, all the participants charge to the center and make contact at the same time. “If you’re the only one left standing, you’re the winner,” he said.
According to Cross and Laura Garrigan, a “bubble soccer manager” for the MA Sports Leagues operation, the game is ideal for family gatherings such as birthdays and reunions, corporate team-building, and community fairs and festivals.
Mike Bushell rented Knockerballs for his daughter’s high school graduation party.
“We rented the balls for two hours, and were exhausted playing after 90 minutes,” said Bushell, a hospital executive from Rehoboth. “It’s quite a workout, but it’s a lot of fun. Getting smashed across the soccer field without getting hurt really adds to the fun.”firstname.lastname@example.org.