Slacklining has Become a Popular Sport Among Rock Climbers
"I tell them I'm just tight-rope walking and leave it at that," said Matt Blank, 20, of Costa Mesa, Calif.
It isn't a circus act but rather an art. It is a sport combining balance, concentration and walking a line, and it has become a world-wide phenomenon.
"It's growing so fast, it's just amazing," said Maria Quinones, who, with husband Ric Phiegh, established the first online site for slacklining in 2002.
Germany, Britain, Norway, Austria, Canada, Poland, Argentina and Italy are among the countries with slackline communities, aside from the U.S., where it originated among rock climbers.
The sport's birthplace is Yosemite at Camp 4 where a permanent slackline is said to be in place. Climbers in the late 1970s started balancing and walking on the loose chains alongside parking lots.
Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington, climbers who lived in Yosemite Valley, took it further and became the first to walk on nylon webbing, or so the story goes.
The sport evolved from there.
A slackline can be stretched between two trees three to five feet off the ground or between canyons thousands of feet up.
Scott Balcom, Phiegh's brother, became the first to slackline the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite. He walked 55 feet across a 3,000-foot drop – with a safety line attached, of course. This is also called highlining.
Slacklining is different than tight-rope walking because the line moves and a balancing pole is not used.
"Since the line can move, it's all about body position," Blank said.
Blank, who has been slacklining for two years, works at Rockreation, an indoor climbing gym in Costa Mesa where most of the employees have tried it.
Though it started with rock climbers, slacklining is said to be spreading among surfers, skiers, snowboarders, rowers, martial artists and gymnasts.
Quinones called it "the ultimate crossover sport," which helps to promote concentration and balance.
Meg Lord, 22, and Nathan Gerdes, 27, both of Costa Mesa, joined Blank in demonstrating the sport at Estancia Park in Costa Mesa recently. Blank stretched one line 40 feet between two trees about 5 ½ feet high and another 30 feet and 3 ½ feet high.
Barefooted for better grip and feel, Blank ran and jumped up on the shorter line. On the higher line, he nimbly climbed up.
Then with the balance of a cat - at least most of the time - Blank walked the line, methodically putting one foot in front of the other while looking down at the line in front of him.
One time he answered his cell phone while walking the highest line and didn't falter. Other times he'd lose his balance, tried overcorrecting and fell gracefully to the ground unhurt.
Because of the concentration factor and its ability to relieve stress, slacklining has also been called "moving meditation."
"For me, it takes a lot of concentration to walk a line," Blank said. "When you're doing that, you're not thinking of anything else, so it does have a calming effect."
How does Gerdes feel about slacklining?
"I just think it's fun," he said.
What is it? A sport whereby participants walk across a one-inch wide, nylon webbing stretched tight between two anchor points, such as two trees. The slackline can be three feet off the ground or thousands of feet, in which case a safety line is used.
Highest slackline: 3,281 feet by Christian Schou on Aug. 3, 2006 in Kjerag, Norway.
Longest slackline: 506 feet by Damian Cooksey on July 10, 2007, in Munich, Germany.
Popular slacklining spots: Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Idyllwild, though it can be done just about anywhere.
Book on slacklining: "Walk the Line: The Art of Balance and the Craft of Slackline" by Scott Balcom (see slackline.net)
Web sites: slackline.com, slacklineexpress.com
© 2008, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
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