Rules To Blob By

We camp people are a strange lot. We involve ourselves in discussions using terms such as blob, blobbing, blobber, blobbee, and then expect people to take us seriously. But where else on the face of the earth can we take a large piece of vinyl, fill it with air, throw in a bunch of screaming kids and water, and have a great time? That’s summer camp, and that’s the Blob.

The company name and original location of the WaterBlob, as the patent reads, is Springfield Special Products (SSP) in Springfield, Mo. SSP patented the name and design of what is now called the Blob many years ago, and the company continues to manufacture dozens of Blobs each year for organizations around the world. For the sake of this article, I will not be focusing on how much fun one can have on a Blob, or why one should even be purchased for your camp. However, I will focus on the elements involved in managing the risks associated with Blobs and blobbing activities. 

From the standpoint of a novice, blobbing may appear to be a generally harmful activity. And, to compound this viewpoint, YouTube shows videos of Blobs operated in such a manner as to increase the probability that harm may occur. However, my experience suggests that when Blob activities are executed within the guidelines of effective risk and safety management protocols, both frequency and severity of injuries can fall even below that of traditional sports, such as basketball, football, and soccer. Like all activities, though, the use of Blobs does have inherent risks because of the height above the surface, potentially awkward landings, and the obstacles that surround the activity. Nonetheless, under proper control measures, participating in Blob activities offers a truly exciting and favorable experience, making it a risk worth taking for many campers.

The Blob has largely self-evolved through a process of trial and error. To this day, blobbing varies from camp to camp, oftentimes without campers knowing the possible risks, and often lacking measures to be taken to reduce injuries. 

Two Types Of Blobbing

As a camp-risk director, I have had the opportunity to study blobbing for the past 12 years. My group has conducted controlled Blob studies, worked with the Blob manufacturer, and monitored several organizations that have conducted over a million actual Blob jumps over that period. My experience suggests there are two general types of blobbing, “Inline Blobbing” and “Freestyle Blobbing.” Depending on what style of blobbing a camp chooses to adopt will determine the proper type of risk-control measures needed.

Inline Blobbing refers to a style in which a blobbee is centered on the Blob a short distance from the end, in the “monkey” position (knees and hands), facing the Blob tower. The monkey position is critical as it reduces the potential for injury. The blobber then leaps onto a designated area on the Blob in the seated position, thus sending the blobbee in vertical flight to land directly back onto the Blob surface, if possible. Inline Blobbing has been successfully operated within confined areas such as pools and small ponds. However, strict disciplines are needed for positive outcomes. 

Inline Blobbing further enables participants to extend their experience if they remain on the Blob on the rebound, thus enabling them to go another round as two blobbees take on one blobber for “King of the Blob!” If the program allows for multiple blobbees, I recommend a Blob no less than 35 feet long to provide adequate spacing. 

Freestyle Blobbing, on the other hand, refers to a style in which the blobbee is placed on the slope of the Blob, in various positions facing different directions. The blobber leaps onto the designated area, thus sending the blobbee in a horizontal arch, landing in the water several feet away. Generally, due to the extreme distance and variable outcomes, only one blobbee at a time is recommended. 

Freestyle Blobbing should be operated in open-water areas that offer large landing zones free from obstacles, such as other swimmers, docks, boats, etc. This style must also maintain the same disciplines in order to manage positive outcomes.

Managing Safety

Managing the safety of a Blob activity has much to do with understanding the risks associated. Special attention should be given to the following areas: 

Water depth: I recommend adequate water depth of no less than 12 feet, due to Inline Blobs potentially reaching nine feet or more.

Weight differentials: Proper but not excessive blobbee(s)-to-blobber weight differentials are needed for successful launch and landing within the boundaries. The manufacturer recommends 60 pounds weight differential as a median.

Blob pressure: Blob pressures change with temperature variances and may spoil the fun of a Blob activity.  Proper Blob pressure is essential for rider comfort and a fun experience, as well as not turning the Blob into a trampoline. I recommend a Blob gauge be installed to monitor proper conditions during each session.

Tower height: Adequate Blob tower height is essential for rider comfort and to provide adequate upward thrust upon impact. I recommend a tower jump platform of no more than six to eight feet above the Blob surface.

Safety padding: Safety padding for pool decks and tower legs is essential during Inline Blobbing, given the closer proximity to these surfaces. Most important is the surface directly below the jump tower because the blobber can sometimes roll backward during the recoil of the Blob.

Staff training: Proper training and supervision for staff operators is critical in aligning expectations with positive outcomes. In doing so, I recommend both an aptitude testing of activity protocols, followed by a skills assessment.  

Dark water: While it is easy to spot struggling blobbees in pools, ponds and lakes add a degree of difficulty. Ensure that spotters are stationed at opposite sides of the Blob to monitor participants. Also, it is wise to maintain a “water rescue kit” that includes goggles, fins, and underwater lights with which to quickly conduct search and rescue, should the need arise.

Safety equipment: As with any activity, injuries can and do happen. Ensure that backboards, rescue tubes, reach poles, and medical kits are on hand at each location.

Zones: The blobbing area should be marked off and free from swimmers, boats, debris, and anything else that may come into contact with a blobbee. 

 I have the opportunity every summer to see the day-to-day excitement of the blobbing experience, which has turned it into one of the most memorable activities in camp. In my travels I often hear this statement made by camp leaders, with varying conclusions, “We bought a Blob, and it was … !” Let’s hope that, as you develop appropriate safety measures for your Blob activity, you can answer with “the most awesome thing we’ve ever done.”

Rick Braschler is the Director of Risk Management for Kanakuk Kamps, a Senior Risk Consultant in Youth Protection, an avid outdoorsman, husband, and father of five.  Rick can be reached at rick@kanakuk.com.  For more information on the Kanakuk Tree Risk Management Plan, or to attend a training seminar, visit www.kanakukchildprotection.org.