Try Your Hand at Slacklining
It's for more than just coeds
Slacklines bolted onto the mainstream stage a few years ago when a toga-wearing extreme athlete named Andy Lewis tricked out on one during Madonna’s 2012 Super Bowl halftime show.
Something of a love child between tightrope walking and a trampoline, slacklining requires balance, creativity, flexibility, concentration and core strength while traversing a line of nylon webbing strung between two points generally low above the ground.
Though most mortals may be happy to just use a slackline in the backyard, local park or campground, the pursuit can be practiced with much higher stakes. Daredevil types slackline high above rocky gorges, while adventurous coeds can often be found doing spins and flips on them on college campuses.
Like any sport, slacklining has its special terminology. Those who cross water are waterlining. Towering above it all? You’re highlining. Trickliners are those twisting, flipping and more. There are even those who combine slacklining with yoga and fitness.
There are national and international competitions for the sport, which traces its origins back to rock climbers in Yosemite National Park setting up lines across intriguing high real estate. There’s lots of crossover interest too. It’s a natural for those with a background in gymnastics and for rock climbers. Skiers, snowboarders and skateboarders are drawn to it as well, since tricks in those disciplines have similarities to tricklining feats. Those adept at winter sports can even slackline over snow.
But it can also be an endeavor for the whole family. It doesn’t cost much to get started (under $100 for a kit), and you can implement safety measures. If you’re concerned about losing your footing, put mats under the line to soften the fall.
Keith Moon, manager of Eastern Mountain Sports’ Climbing School in North Conway, pontificates patience for new slackliners.
“Start out low to the ground, and go slow,” he says. “Don’t get discouraged. It can take a while to get the hang of it. But, once you do, it is a great way to keep your mind and body sharp.”
So keep at it.
So, you’re ready to set up a slackline in the backyard. A good all-around slackline is the Gibbon Classic, which is pictured below ($70, gibbon-slacklines.com). Nearly 50 feet long, it’s two inches wide, allowing for some fine first tentative steps on its rubbery grip. Its setup is also fairly simple. Another beginner alternative is the Slackers 50’ Wave Walker Slackline ($79.95, slackersline.com). The kit comes with a second line that goes above your head for some handy hanging on. You can also protect those trees with padding ($19.99, slacklineindustries.com).
Expert Q&A: Keith Moon
Keith Moon is manager of the EMS Climbing School’s North Conway location. Proficient in guiding clients over pitches of rock and ice in New Hampshire’s backcountry and beyond, he’s also at home on a backyard slackline.
What are its benefits?
The main benefits are increasing your balance, concentration and core strength. Learning to focus 100 percent of your attention on what you are doing in the moment can be an addicting thing.
Is setting it up difficult?
No, so long as you have two very solid points on either end, such as trees that are at least the size of your thighs. This is where pre-made kits shine because their setup can be much easier.
How high off the ground and how long should the slackline be?
This is where things get interesting. The longer the line is, the more it will move and bounce when you get on it. The higher off the ground it is, the more difficult it is to get a visual reference to focus on. So, shorter and lower, like 20 feet long and 2 1/2 feet off the ground, is a great place to start. Once you have mastered that, longer and higher lines are the obvious extension.
What are some tips for starting out on a slackline?
The hardest thing to do when starting out is to not look at your feet. It seems counterintuitive, but you need to focus on a fixed point in the distances, such as an obvious mark on the tree you are moving towards. Your body will be more calm if your vision is locked in one spot. Having someone spot you and using a long stick like a cane in one hand is a good way to start.