Marisa Linares, a 26-year-old accountant from Long Beach, is blindsided. She goes flying, landing with a whomp so loud it makes spectators at the inaugural game of the Long Island Bubble Soccer league cringe.
But Linares isn’t hurt — she’s encased in an inflatable plastic bubble that surrounds her arms, upper body and head; only her legs stick out from the mid-thighs down as if she is the stick of a human lollipop. She struggles to right herself as other players wearing bubbles race down the field inside East Coast Sports Academy in Oceanside. “It’s hard to get up,” Linares explains later. “You can’t use your hands.”
Bubble soccer is a new fad, best described as a cross between traditional soccer and bumper cars. As players chase a soccer ball, they inevitably — or purposely — knock into each other. Because they are top-heavy (the bubbles actually weigh close to 20 pounds), they easily topple, which can be a comical sight. Karen Cicalese, 38, a special-education teacher from Long Beach, says she told her teammates she was afraid she’d be hit and “get stuck on my back like a turtle.”
“This is the craziest organized sport I’ve done,” says Joseph Sanfilippo, 31, of Long Beach, who creates educational technology.
A NEW LEAGUE
Bubble soccer got a burst of publicity last year after the league commissioner of the National Association of Bubble Soccer appeared on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” to pitch it. “It’s big for children’s birthday parties and corporate events,” says Max Feinberg, 32, of Garden City, owner of Let’s Play Long Island, an alternative adult-sports company that runs coed kickball and dodgeball leagues.
One of Feinberg’s devoted kickball players, Deone Williams, 30, an IT technician from Long Beach, launched Long Island Bubble Soccer in January, hoping to establish league competition for ages 18 and older, and Feinberg’s company is helping to promote the effort.
The indoor winter league consists of six coed teams with names such as Bubble Boppers and Screwballs that play every Monday evening for 10 weeks. Each team fields five players, with substitutions allowed during play. A game entails three 10-minute periods alternating with rest.
Williams brings the bubbles and inflates them before games; they have the sturdy consistency of an air mattress even though they look like clear, enormous beach balls. Each has a long, narrow tunnel in the center. “You just kind of crawl in there and wiggle your way on in,” says Alan Schoner, 27, of Long Beach, a porter in an apartment building.
Two backpack-like straps hold the bubble in place. “It kind of sits on your shoulders,” Williams says. Players have room to bend their arms and hold two handles inside the bubble to help them balance and brace for impact. The top of the bubble is open.
WACKY BUT TOUGH
Seeing through the thick plastic distorts vision like being underwater, players say. It’s also difficult to extend the leg completely to kick, because the bubble ends mid-thigh, players say. Teammates wear matching T-shirts, but some players suggest they add matching colored socks to identify each other by their shins.
The sport may be wacky, but make no mistake — it’s a serious workout, players say. Playing even for 10 minutes is surprisingly exhausting, they say, comparing each period to playing an entire regular game.
“You can barely breathe in that thing, and you’re carrying around that extra weight,” says Lauren Sarrel, 29, a special-education teacher from Oceanside. “I’ve played soccer my whole life and this is exhausting. The sweat is literally dripping down my back.”
OTHER WAYS TO PLAY BUBBLE SOCCER
GameTruck Long Island
INFO 917-327-8700, gametruck.com
Brings Bubble Soccer equipment to kids’ birthday parties and school, camp and corporate events. Prices from $300 for a one-hour event.
The Long Island Sports Hub
165 Eileen Way, Syosset
INFO 516-364-4000, lisportshub.com
Offers birthday parties, primarily for kids 13 and younger, that include one hour of Bubble Soccer play. Prices start at $845 for a 90-minute party for 13 kids.