Bubble Hopping




In the 1980's, I ran with a group of high school friends who were always engaging in thrill seeking adventure. Adventure could be building our own illegal homecoming float in the shape of a giant eat me cake or hosting an epic toga party talked about at the host's funeral thirty years later. We weren't bad kids, we were just bored and we were fairly creative in dealing with the boredom. We tried towing a nine foot plastic dingy as a sled behind a Datsun 310 on snow days. It always ended with the rope breaking as we flew through some neighbor's yard before we crashed.

We heard about an activity called bubble hopping and wanted to try it. Bubble hopping was similar to car surfing, cow tipping, and other ridiculous dangerous teen activities. Our YMCA had an outdoor Olympic sized swimming pool that would be covered in winter with a inflatable bubble cover resembling a giant hot air balloon lying on its side. The pool facility was surrounded by a 7 foot high fence.

The goal was to climb the fence and climb up on top of the one-story pump house building adjacent to the pool. Once you were on the pump house roof you would get a running start and leap onto the fifty foot high bubble while climbing. If you did not hit it just right you could fall off or slide down in an out of control manner landing hard and possibly injuring yourself. Your body weight and the act of climbing would assist you to get to the center of the bubble. Once you made it to the top of the fifty foot high bubble you would bounce around like a children's bounce house. Bouncing in the frigid Maryland winter air under the influence of alcohol mingled with fear made the activity seem surreal.

Getting down from the bubble was a challenge because you did not want to come down too fast. Coming down had many hazards such as breaking a leg, getting trapped between the bubble and the fence, or crashing thru the bubble into the pool. There was all kinds of cautionary tales of dead or injured students who came down too fast. One teen from our high school got stuck between the bubble and fence until the police rescued him before placing him under arrest for criminal trespass. The joint where the bubble and the pump house connected was an additional hazard where several people fell thru landing in the pool or on the tile floor.

I fell thru one cold winter night. We were bubble hopping after a night of partying. As I slid down I fell through the seam between cover and pool.  The impact of the fall mixed with the alcohol and adrenalin knocked me out.  I awoke unable to move and surrounded by steam. I was covered in pool hoses and surrounded by mist. I landed on top of the box of pool hoses. I thought I was dead and had gone to Hell as I could not see beyond the steam rising off the pool and my Catholicism got the best of me. The temperature outside was below freezing, so the hot air covered everything in steam. I realized where I was and got out from underneath the hoses and walked out the exit. My friends did not know what happened to me, so the look on their faces when I walked out was priceless. I punctured the palm of both hands climbing the fence to get out.

The following night, we tried it again. I was not able to bubble hop due to both my hands being bandaged from the fence punctures. My friend did not listen to the instructions on coming down the bubble as he slid down way too fast. I saw and heard him fly down screaming the whole way down. He landed hard breaking his leg in the process. He ended up in a cast the next day with knee surgery a week later besides having to make up a crazy story for his parents. His parents already knew me by an alias, Joe Smith we created after I'd gotten him drunk, so this would not help any. I felt terrible about it as I originally proposed the alcohol fueled activity. Everyone's concerns were the impact on his future attending the Naval Academy. It did not hurt him getting in and gave him a wicked scar to start conversations with.