by Molly Steere
Like all good sports, slacklining has endured its ‘bad boy’ phase and is now becoming a fully integrated and accepted sport. From its Camp Four birth to its present-day popularity on campuses and in public parks, it has grown in popularity while remaining blissfully elemental.
Slacklining is a balance sport. Nylon webbing is stretched between two anchors and the tension is adjusted to suit the slacker’s skill. Dynamic webbing can be used to achieve different feats and stunts. The flat webbing keeps the user’s foot from rolling as he or she walks the line. Unlike tightrope walking, the line isn’t pulled taut and can sway wildly with the slightest misstep.
For this reason, most slackers practice just a few feet off the ground, running a line over a grassy stretch between trees. However, there are always those daredevils who push the sport. The highest recorded slackline took place in Norway in 2006 and was 1000 meters high. You can bet Christian Schou’s mom wasn’t very happy with that stunt!
Slacklining had a humble beginning, attributed to a pair of rock climbers living in Yosemite Valley, California in the late 1970s. As a training exercise and campsite diversion, climbers Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington started walking on loose chains and cables, and eventually started setting up their own lines with climbing webbing. The sport gained popularity in the Yosemite climbing community and eventually spread across the globe.
For those of you who haven’t tried slacklining, it’s great fun. And potentially embarrassing if you, like me, have limited balance skills. The element that draws me in is the fact that you can’t concentrate on anything but that next step while you’re up there. You can’t worry about work, what’s for dinner, or why your pet is making that suspicious noise in the other room. You’re one with the webbing. More often than not I find myself unceremoniously one with the ground, but I keep muscling my way back on the line.
If you go online, you can find slackline kits. The kits usually include webbing, an integrated tensioning system, anchor slings and instructions on how to set it all up in just a few minutes. Trees are often used as anchors (respect your environment and use padding when anchoring to trees) but you can also use trailer hitches, cement posts, eye bolts or anything else capable of withstanding high lateral forces.
Seasoned slackers can begin adding tricks to their ‘line surfing” including walking backward, Buddha sits, jump starts, 180 jumps, lying down, back flips, tandem walking and even handstands. Although I get enough of an adrenaline rush just trying to get on, let alone get to the other side of a lowline, some slackers feel the need to raise the bar. Highlining has become a popular facet of the sport with the Lost Arrow Spire gap quickly becoming the Holy Grail. Only a couple dozen people have braved the span of 55 feet, 2890 feet above the ground.
Talented slackers make it look easy with their arms spread wide, a calm look on their face, performing muted maneuvers that hardly seem to sway the line. In contrast, I need to hold onto someone’s shoulder while I get myself situated. My tenseness transfers to the line where it starts violently oscillating under my feet and I can only imagine the Joker-esque grimace on my face as I race to get in as many steps as possible before I’m ejected. Will I ever be a good slacker? Absolutely not. But I have a blast every time I try.
This post was originally published in 2016.