A Slacker Activity – Slacklining

I seem to be continually finding outdoor activities I didn’t know existed.  Tightwire walking is common in the circus, but becomes an extreme sport when practiced between skyscrapers.  We hear about these events from time to time, but slacklining is new to me, although I suspected it was just walking on a not-so-tight wire.  Not  quite.  Here’s what I learned.

Slacklining History

As I surmised, slacklining has its roots in tightwire and tightrope walking.  One report suggests that slacklining began at Yosemite National Park with kids balancing on railings, ropes and chains around the valley campground in the early 1980’s.

Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington, students at Evergreen State College, are credited by other sources as doing the same thing around Olympia, Washington in 1979.  The pair innovated the technique of stringing up 1″ flat climbing webbing and walking on it, using the flexibility of the nylon webbing to develop tricks, including a three-club juggling routine between two slackers (practitioners of the sport) balanced simultaneously on the same line. Grosowsky and Ellington and some of their friends were rock climbers who shared the sport among their friends who then carried the idea around the west coast of the U.S. and ultimately around the world.

Slacklining Gear

The gear needed for slacklining is pretty simple.

  • You need a standard slackline.  These days that’s typically a 1 or 2 inch wide piece of special webbing from 30 to 100 feet long.
  • You need  a ratchet-type tensioning device that allows you to tighten the slackline
  • You need two trees, 12 inches or more in diameter about 15 to 25 feet apart for beginners
  • You need something to protect the trees from your equipment

Setting Up Your Slackline

Slackline Tips

• Fold the slackline and the ratchet webbing in half lengthwise where it tightens against the loop at the tree. This will keep the line flat for use.

• The ratchet handle should be below the line so it doesn’t cause the line to twist.

Before setting up, wrap a protective blanket around one tree between about waist and chest high.  Typically slacklines will have a loop at one end or both ends and the ratchet will have a piece of webbing attached to it with a loop in the end of the webbing.

  • With your slackline rolled up, wrap the free end around the tree, over the protective blanket, and feed the roll through the loop.  Pull the slackline tight around the tree.
  • Unroll the slackline as you walk to the other tree making sure that it is not twisted.
  • Install padding around the tree as before and wrap the webbing attached to the ratchet around the tree and pull the ratchet through the loop.
  • Pull the end of the slackline through the ratchet and tighten with the ratchet.

The slackline needs to be tight enough so that when you stand on it in the middle you will be at least a few inches off the ground.

This slackline set-up video demonstrates the whole process:

Video Link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZuJuUd0x_4

Slacklining for Beginners

Slackline Tip

When first getting your foot on the slackline, do not put pressure on it as this will cause the line to shake.

Once your slackline is properly set up, the procedure for beginners is this:

  • Go to the mid-point of the slackline.
  • Balance on one foot while you lift up the other and place it gently on the slackline.  Your foot should be parallel to and centered on the line.
  • Put your hands in the air with your biceps at about a 90 degree angle to your body, for balance.
  • Quickly put your weight on the slackline using your arms for balance as you lift your other foot off the ground.
  • Hold this position, with one foot on the slackline and the other in the air.
  • Practice balancing in this position until you can hold the position for a count of 100.
  • Repeat the process with the other foot.
  • Once you become comfortable balancing this way,  try taking a step or two.

After you can walk the length of the slackline, turn around and walk back,  you are ready for basic tricks.  Here are some you can try:

  • walk backward on the line
  • slackline with a partner – both of you on the line at once
  • staying in one spot on the line, turn around, then turn around again, and again
  • jump up and down while on the line
  • from a standing position, sit on the line then stand back up

These simple tricks, and others, are demonstrated in the following video.  Note however that these slackers did not put a protective wrap on the trees they are using.  This can damage the bark and lead to slacklining being banned in public areas.


Video Link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjHppP8hsvI

The Benefits of Slacklining

There are three primary physical benefits of slacklining:

  1. improvement of your balance
  2. improvement of your mental focus
  3. improvement in core strength

Balance improvement is an obvious result of gaining some skill with slacklining. Mental focus is also paramount. If you aren’t able to focus now, success at slacklining will definitley improve your situation. Dean Potter, in the video below, talks about the mental focus extreme slacklining requires. Finally, the twisting and body control necessary to slackline requires a strong core that will improve as your slacklining skills improve.

Slacklining as an Extreme Sport

While beginners can learn and have a great deal of fun slacklining, There are always those that want to make an extreme sport of of almost any outdoor activity.  The list of extreme sports is long and slacklining is one of the newest additions.  Moving from slacklining as we describe it above to the extreme level can take several forms:

  • Increase the complexity of the tricks you perform and the length of the slackline you use.
  • Raise the slackline higher to make the sport more dangerous.
  • Move to highlining.  Highlining involves slacklining from one high cliff to another.

The following video shows extreme slacker Dean Potter highlining 1400 feet in the air over Yosemite Falls – now that’s extreme slacklining.

Video Link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1t19jKWIS4

Where to Buy Slacklines

Gibbon seems to be the manufacturer of choice for most slackers.  The Gibbon Flowline, Gibbon classic and the Gibbon Jibline generally rank well among other brands and models for those that compare and test slacklines.

The Jibline is two inches wide while the others are one inch wide, thus it should be easier for beginners to use.

Slacklines typically come in kits that include the slackline as well as one or two ratchets, depending upon the style. You will probably have to order the tree protection pads separately. If you can’t find slacklining equipment at your local sporting goods store, click the model names above or the ads above and to the right to find more information and to order them online.

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