Surprise body-checking is a thing. Slide tackling friends is a thing. Soccer on ice is the thing.
With the Soldotna Parks and Recreation debut of “bubble soccer,” the city created several new avenues for residents looking to get rough-and-tumble with friends, family and anyone else willing to strap into an inflatable KnockerBall-brand, human-sized plastic bubble.
Barring unforeseen challenges, the Soldotna City Council will consider a fee schedule for renting either the 14 kid-sized or 12 adult-sized bubbles and running around in the Soldotna Sports Complex chasing a soccer ball and bashing into opponents.
To play, users hoist one of the surprisingly heavy inflated bubbles — they can weigh up to 28 pounds when inflated — over their heads and put arms through backpack-style shoulder straps. A pair of handles in front of the wearer help to steady to wearer. Then, it’s off to the races.
During the inaugural game in early December, Soldotna Parks and Recreation staff along with several others debuted the new toys during halftime at a Brown Bears game. Participants chased the ball, bounced off of each other and struggled to roll over and get up once felled. Members of the audience laughed several times while Parks, Recreation and Maintenance employee Trevor Baldwin said the group got a surprising workout.
“It’s a blast,” Baldwin said. “It’s a little tough to see. The ice adds an extra bit of slippery-ness so you can really hit each other. But you bounce and you roll and you’re fine,” he said.
The hits are hard, but not dangerous, he said.
“It takes that first hit to realize (it),” he said. “You bounce and you’re like, ‘Hey, I’m totally fine.’ But then you’ve got to figure out how to get back up.”
Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael said he hasn’t tried one out yet, but has put both his granddaughter and his daughter’s mother-in-law into one with similarly hilarious results.
“My granddaughter just had a ball,” he said. “She was grinning from ear to ear, bopping all over the place, running to walls and giggling every time I kicked it and knocked her over and she slid across the ice,” Carmichael said.
Falling can be somewhat tricky as wearers are encased from somewhere between the knee or hip up above the shoulders.
“You don’t want to catch yourself, you just gotta let it go and let the bubble catch you otherwise you end up banging your knees on the floor,” Carmichael said.
Parks and Recreation staff are hoping the addition of bubble soccer will help them fill gaps in the ice rental schedule, but will also rent the balls out for private outdoor parties.
Tentative cost for rentals — subject to city council approval — will be $250 an hour on ice at the sports complex or $250 off-ice at the complex. But if staff has to transport the balls to Farnsworth or Soldotna Creek Parks, the price jumps up to $300 an hour with a minimum $350 rental.
Carmichael said a referee will be on hand for bubble soccer rentals, primarily to keep things from getting too rowdy.
“Otherwise, it’ll turn into a bash and smash,” he said.