The World's Largest Rubber Band Ball Transcends on South Florida Today

Categories: Culture, Flotsam
joelwaul.jpg
Gus Garcia-Roberts
The world's largest rubber band ball stands six feet seven inches tall and has a circumference of 25 feet. It took five years for Joel Waul of Lauderhill to create, weighs more than 9,400 pounds, and contains approximately 720,000 rubber bands. The outer layers consist of multicolored industrial-size bands that weigh several pounds each.

This afternoon, Ripley's Believe It or Not! will cart it away. Eventually, it might end up in Asia or one of the museum-of-the-weird's other locations.

"Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can't even believe this is in my driveway," says the skinny man dwarfed by his own creation. "It's like, 'What the heck, man? What did I do?'"

Joel has always been a strange kid. He was born in Jamaica in 1981, the younger of two sons to schoolteacher Maureen and well-known reggae keyboardist Franklin Waul, who now plays with Ziggy Marley.

He earned decent grades at Plantation High School, excelling in art and science classes. But after graduating, he was more interested in getting a job and playing videogames than enrolling in college.

He works nights at the Sawgrass Mills Gap, organizing stock, and lives rent-free in a house that belongs to his aunt. Reserved in person, he's a daredevil on the Internet, where online buddies would ask him to do very strange things for their entertainment. He attached 76 clothespins to his face in a "beard of pain." He also pierced his face with more than 800 acupuncture needles, which he contends "isn't that painful but is just time-consuming."

One evening in April 2004, over a fast-food dinner with his brother Toby, Joel watched an episode of the now-defunct Ripley's Believe It or Not! TV show that would change his life. In it, a one-ton rubber band ball was dropped from a plane into the Mojave Desert to see if it would bounce. It exploded instead, but Joel was hooked: "My first thought was, I could build a rubber band ball like that. I could build one bigger than that."

That night, he found a shopping bag full of stray rubber bands and got to work. He named his fledgling creation after the McDonald's chicken item he had just eaten: Nugget. From that first night, he aimed to eclipse the Guinness-verified world record, which then stood at 3,120 pounds.

Joel began pilfering rubber bands from work and buying 50-pound bags of them from Office Depot. After a month, Nugget was up to Joel's knees and weighed 300 pounds. By July 2004, the ball reached his waist and weighed twice that.

As Nugget's weight topped four digits, rubber bands became a huge expense. Joel raided his savings for more than $2,000 to spend on bands from a Pennsylvania wholesale manufacturer. "We probably get a hundred letters a year from people claiming they're building the world's biggest rubber band ball," says Lou McKibber of the Dykema Rubber Band Company.

In January, 2006, Oregon home-insulator Steve Milton began building his own. Milton had the aid of his wife and three kids and a much larger bankroll. Only 11 months after beginning, Milton smashed the record. The Oregonian's ball eventually reached 4,600 pounds. In a publicity grab, OfficeMax bought the new record-breaker for $50,000, Milton says, and toured it around the country.

Joel burned for revenge. In 2007, he got a sponsorship of his own: Physical therapy specialist Stretchwell.com agreed to send him more than 5,000 pounds of its industrial-size elastic loops.

Even as his ball supassed Milton's, Joel kept building. At 5,000 pounds, it outgrew his back yard, so he smashed it through his fence to plant it in his driveway. He decided that Nugget was too "soft" a name, redubbing it "Megaton." Joel and his brother had the ball transported by crane and truck to a car show in Orlando, where they sold silicone wrist bands reading "Rubba Ban Man."

In August 2008, Guinness officials lifted Megaton onto a truck scale and determined it weighed 8,200 pounds, earning Joel entry into the book. Since then, he's added 1,200 pounds for good measure. "Nobody's going to touch that for a while," he declares.

Joel has had the last laugh. This summer, he accepted Ripley's offer to buy Megaton for an undisclosed amount. It will grace a collection that already included the world's largest balls of string and barbed wire.

He plans on spending the sale money on tuition to the International Stunt School in Seattle, where students are set on fire upon graduation. He's hoping to set the record for longest time spent as a human fireball.

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