Slacklining refers to the act of walking or balancing along a suspended length of flat webbing that is tensioned between two anchors. Slacklining is similar to slack rope walking and tightrope walking. Slacklines differ from tightwires and tightropes in the type of material used and the amount of tension applied during use. Slacklines are tensioned significantly less than tightropes or tightwires in order to create a dynamic line which will stretch and bounce like a long and narrow trampoline. Tension can be adjusted to suit the user, and different webbing may be used in various circumstances. Slacklining is popular because of its simplicity and versatility; it can be used in various environments with few components.
A basic slackline is generally anchored between two trees. For beginners, a length of 15–30 feet (4.6–9.1 m) is ideal, with the line anchored 2–3 feet (0.61–0.91 m) from the ground and tensioned so that it does not touch the ground when walked on.
The sling, the material used to wrap around the tree as the anchor, is generally a simple piece of webbing for basic slacklines. More advanced slacklines are commonly rigged using industrial round slings to wrap the trees for increased strength and durability.
Types of Basic Slacklines
Beginner slacklines are generally of two varieties: primitive slackline or ratchet slackline. A primitive slackline uses carabiners to form a simple pulley system and friction lock to tension the slackline. A ratchet slackline uses a comealong or ratchet to tension the slackline.
A special characteristic of slacklining is the ease with which the dynamics of the practice can be altered. Using narrow (5⁄8 inch, 1.6 cm) webbing will result in a stretchier slackline. This allows for more sway in the line and can make a short line feel substantially longer. Wider webbing (2 inches, 5 cm) is much more rigid, often creating a bouncier slackline optimal for aerial tricks. The tension of the line will also increase or decrease the sway of the line. Weight due to the different methods of tensioning will also vary the performance of a slackline. A comealong and a ratchet will both add enough weight to allow the feedback from quick movements on shorter slacklines to be felt.
Care should be taken when using man-made fixtures for anchors as objects such as light posts, fence posts, and decorative columns are not designed for lateral force.
The most common anchors for slacklines are trees. Trees should always be at least 12 inches (30 cm), healthy, and solidly rooted. To protect the life of the tree, protection should always be used to eliminate abrasion and redistribute the load over a wider area, this protection can be any material which can absorb some pressure and protect the bark. Materials commonly used include towels, mats, cardboard, carpet and purpose-made tree protectors. These materials are adequate for occasional use, but with the high tension of longlines, more robust protection is needed. One of the most effective means is a wrap of vertical blocks (1 in × 1 in (2.5 cm × 2.5 cm) cut into 6 in (15 cm) pieces) strung together by drilling a small-diameter hole through the center and running cord through them. Blocks are spaced evenly to prevent the anchor slings from contacting and abrading the tree’s outer bark, and the length of the blocks distributes the load vertically as opposed to horizontally (which compressed a continuous line around the trunk). The addition of a carpet square between the block wrap and the outer bark is considered ideal among the founding community of slackliners.
Styles of slacklining
Urbanlining or urban slacklining combines all the different styles of slacklining. It is practiced in urban areas, for example in city parks and on the streets. Most urban slackliners prefer wide 2-inch (5 cm) lines for tricklining on the streets, but some may use narrow (5⁄8 or 1 inch, 1.6 or 2.5 cm) lines for longline purposes or for waterlining. Also see the other sections of slackline styles below.
One type of urbanlining is timelining, where one tries to stay on a slackline for as long as possible without falling down. This takes tremendous concentration and focus of will, and is a great endurance training for postural muscles.
Another type of urbanlining is streetlining, which combines street workout power moves with the slackline’s dynamic, shaky, bouncy feeling. Main focus are static handstands, super splits — hands and feet together, planche, front lever, back lever, one arm handstand and other interesting extreme moves that are evolving in street workout culture.
Tricklining has become the most common form of slacklining because of the easy setup of 2-inch (5 cm) slackline kits. Tricklining is often done low to the ground but can be done on highlines as well. A great number of tricks can be done on the line, and because the sport is fairly new, there is plenty of room for new tricks. Some of the basic tricks done today are walking, walking backwards, turns, drop knee, running and jumping onto the slackline to start walking, and bounce walking. Some intermediate tricks include: Buddha sit, sitting down, lying down, cross-legged knee drop, surfing forward, surfing sideways, and jump turns, or “180s.” Some of the advanced tricks are: jumps, tree plants, jumping from line-to-line, 360s, butt bounces, and chest bounces. With advancements in webbing technology & tensioning systems, the limits for what can be done on a slackline are being pushed constantly. It is not uncommon to see expert slackliners incorporating flips and twists into slackline trick combinations.
Waterlining is slacklining over water. This is an ideal way to learn new tricks, or to just have more fun. Common places to set up waterlines are over pools, lakes, rivers, creeks, between pier or railroad track pillars, and boat docks. The slackline can be set up high over the surface of the water, close to the surface or even underneath the surface. It is important, however, that the water be deep enough, free from obstacles, and that the area should not be travelled by boats.
Highlining is slacklining at elevation above the ground or water. Many slackliners consider highlining to be the pinnacle of the sport. Highlines are commonly set up in locations that have been used or are still used for Tyrolean traverse. When rigging highlines, experienced slackers take measures to ensure that solid, redundant and equalized anchors are used to secure the line into position. Modern highline rigging typically entails a mainline of webbing, backup webbing, and either climbing rope or amsteel rope for redundancy. However, many highlines are rigged with a mainline and backup only, especially if the highline is low tension (less than 900 lbf (410 kgf; 4,000 N)), or rigged with high quality webbing like Type 18 or MKII Spider Silk. It is also common to pad all areas of the rigging which might come in contact with abrasive surfaces. To ensure safety, most highliners wear a climbing harness or swami belt with a leash attached to the slackline itself. Leash-less, or “free-solo” slacklining – a term borrowed from rockclimbing – is not unheard of, however, with proponents such as Dean Potter and Andy Lewis.
Slackline yoga takes traditional yoga poses and moves them to the slackline. It has been described as “distilling the art of yogic concentration”. To balance on a 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece of webbing lightly tensioned between two trees is not easy, and doing yoga poses on it is even more challenging. The practice simultaneously develops focus, dynamic balance, power, breath, core integration, flexibility, and confidence. Using standing postures, sitting postures, arm balances, kneeling postures, inversions and unique vinyasa, a skilled slackline yogi is able to create a flowing yoga practice without ever falling from the line.
Freestyle slacklining (a.k.a. “rodeo slacklining”) is the art and practice of cultivating balance on a piece of rope or webbing draped slack between two anchor points, typically about 15 to 30 feet (455 to 915 cm) apart and 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) off the ground in the center. This type of very “slack” slackline provides a wide array of opportunities for both swinging and static maneuvers. A freestyle slackline has no tension in it, while both traditional slacklines and tightropes are tensioned. This slackness in the rope or webbing allows it to swing at large amplitudes and adds a different dynamic. This form of slacklining first came into popularity in 1999, through a group of students from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. It was first written about on a website called the “Vultures Peak Center for Freestyle and Rodeo Slackline Research” in 2004. The article “Old Revolution — New Recognition – 3-10-04” describes these early developments in detail.
Windlining is a practice of slacklining performed in very windy conditions. Depending on the intensity of the wind, it can be difficult to remain on the line without being blown off. The sensation one experiences is like flying as the slacker must angle his body and arms in an aerodynamic manner to maintain balance.
While rope walking has been around in one manner or another for thousands of years, the origins of modern-day slacklining is generally attributed to a young rock climber named Adam Grosowsky from southern Illinois in 1979. A then sixteen-year-old Adam, the son of the head of Southern Illinois University’s Design Department, became obsessed with a photo he found in the university library with the understated caption “Circus Performers c1890”; the photo depicted a wire bolted low on a wall on one end and the other terminating in a wristloop held by a performer doing a one-hand handstand on the top of a flagpole with his body canted far to the opposite side counterbalancing the weight of the wire. In the middle of that wire was another performer in a handstand. Adam successfully harassed the small band of local climbers into almost believing they could reproduce this feat. They all set about learning to walk on climbing ropes, webbing, chains and low / high wires, but only Adam managed to carry through with achieving some elements of that historic circus feat, most notably being able to maintain an indefinite handstand on 1-inch (2.5 cm) webbing and even getting it rocking side-to-side while in the handstand. Adam carried those bad habits to Olympia, Washington’s The Evergreen State College in 1979, where he met fellow climbers Jeff Ellington and Brooke Sandahl. Adam set up his permanent heavy highwire in the woods on campus while the trio continued to perfect walking, handstands, and jump mounts on webbing. Their handstand work focused on 1-inch (2.5 cm) flat climbing webbing and they also employed the dynamics and flexibility of the nylon webbing to develop all manner of other tricks, including a three-club passing (juggling) routine between two slackliners balanced simultaneously on the same line. Red Square, Evergreen’s central campus plaza, was a convenient between-class practice area where they often drew crowds of spectators. Grosowsky, along with Ellington were fascinated with wirewalking history and circus culture from the start, and in 1981 performed leashless on a 30-foot (9 m) highline strung 25 feet (8 m) over a concrete floor as part of a project to recreate a traditional one-ring circus in The Evergreen State College’s main performance auditorium. During this period Grosowsky, who is now a regionally well-known Northwest artist, devoted much of his lithographic art to themes involving wirewalking and circus culture. The sport blossomed within the West Coast rock climbing community, and then spread to other areas. It got attention during the 2016 Rio Olympics when slackliner Giovanna Petrucciperformed on the beach at Ipanema, attracting the attention of the New York Times.
A professional slackliner was credited with climbing a ski lift tower in Colorado and shimmying across a cable to save a man caught by a ski lift in January 2017.
Highlining was inspired by a number of highwire artists who walked steel cable up high in unique places. From 1907-1948, Mr. Ivy Baldwind of Eldorado Springs, Colorado crossed Eldorado Canyon on a high wire numerous times. His final crossing was documented on his 82nd birthday. On August 7, 1974 Philippe Petit set-up and crossed a high wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. In the summer of 1983, Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington set up a 55-foot (17 m) high wire at Yosemite’s Lost Arrow Spire that was nearly 2,890 feet (880 m) high. However, neither of them were able to completely cross this line because of inadequate guying. In the autumn of 1983, inspired by Jeff and Adam’s efforts, a 20-year-old Scott Balcom and 17-year-old Chris Carpenter successfully completed what is believed to be the first documented high walk on nylon webbing, instead of using cable, giving birth to what slackliners now call highlining. This first highline, referred to as The Arches, was a span about 30 feet (9 m) long and about 120 feet (35 m) above ground in Pasadena, California under the California SR 134 Freeway bridge, between two arches that spanned the trickling Arroyo Seco below. The next summer (1984), Scott Balcom set up a highline on Yosemite’s Lost Arrow Spire with the help of Darrin Carter and Chris Carpenter. Scott’s attempt, however, was unsuccessful (neither Darrin nor Chris made an attempt). On July 13, 1985, Scott Balcom returned and successfully crossed the now-famous Lost Arrow Spire highline. In June 1990, Chris Carpenter purposefully “surfed” a highline spanning the gap of Horsetooth Rock in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1993, Darrin Carter became the second person to successfully cross the Lost Arrow Spire highline. In 1995, Darrin Carter performed unprotected crossings of the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite and The Fins, in Tucson, AZ on Mt. Lemmon highway. On July 16, 2007, Libby Sauter became the first woman to successfully cross the Lost Arrow Spire, with Jenna McLennan walking it shortly after. In 2008, Dean Potter became the first person to BASE jump from a highline at Hell Roaring Canyon in Utah. On September 10, 2011, Chris Rigby and Balance Community: Slackline Outfitters owner Jerry Miszewski established the Balance Community Highline Festival in Garden Valley, California. There has been a highline fest each month since; nine highlines are set up, ranging 35 to 400 feet (10 to 120 m) long for highliners from across the U.S. to come train on.
Competitive sport history
Since 2010, the World Slackline Federation has tried to establish tricklining as a competitive sport. Jumps and other tricks are judged according to five criteria: difficulty, technique, diversity, amplitude (of jumps) and performance. Competitions are held on several levels.
Andy Lewis is known for having the longest history in competitive slacklining. He is considered to be the father of modern-day tricklining and has been the Overall World Champion of Competitive Tricklining since 2008.] To date, he holds more prestigious international competition titles than anyone. In 2012, he performed a series of tricks during Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show, to a worldwide audience of 114 million people.