Developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, slacklining is a sport that combines extreme balance, mental sharpness, fearlessness, and the sheer love of thrill seeking. Climbers in Yosemite Valley in California invented this sport that closely resembles tightrope walking. Stretching a flat nylon webbing between two rocky walls or cliffs and securing it, the climbers would hop on and attempt to walk from one end to the other over the expanse below. The main difference between slacklining and tightrope walking is the type of rope used to walk on. The rope used in slacklining is fluid and moves with the walker, whereas tightrope walkers generally use a wire or steel cable, which doesn’t move or give much at all.
Slacklining has migrated from the hills and canyons of remote locations into cities. Today, adventure seekers can be seen balancing on slacklines in urban areas and even over bodies of water. A little bit of webbing and a good dose of courage is all you need to enter the exhilarating world of slacklining.
There are typically two different ways to set up a slackline:
Two-Section Slacklining (most common method)
The two-section setup consists of a long (30–100 ft.) piece of one-or two-inch webbing with a loop sewn on one end. The loop allows it to cinch tightly around a tree. The second section is typically much shorter (around 10 ft.) and has a similar sewn loop on one end. Again, this allows it to cinch around a tree. The other end of this shorter piece is sewn to a ratchet. The ratchet allows these two sections of webbing to be connected and tensioned to the user’s specifications.
Three-Section Slacklining (traditional method)
The three-section setup consists of a section of webbing about 30–100 feet long strung tightly and connected to two shorter sections called “tree slings.” The “tree slings” are used as anchors on either end.
The most common anchors for slacklines are trees. Look for trees that are greater than 12 inches in diameter for the best set-up. It’s very important that slackliners take measures to protect the trees they’re using from damage from abrasion and too much weight. One way that has proven to be effective at protecting a slackline tree is by wrapping vertical blocks cut into pieces around the tree. They are strung together by drilling a small-diameter hole through the center and running a cord through them. Blocks are spaced evenly to prevent the anchor slings from contacting and causing unnecessary abrasion. The length of the blocks distributes the load vertically as opposed to horizontally and compresses a continuous line around the trunk.
Slacklining can take on many forms. Whether you want to add some height to your yoga routine, wow crowds with tricks on a wire, or balance your way over the water from one side of a river to another, you can add slacklining to your list of outdoor adventures.
Urbanlining, or urban slacklining, is a mix of all the different styles of slacklining. It is practiced in urban areas, such as in city parks and on the busy streets. Urban slacklining usually utilizes wide, 2-inch lines for tricklining (see below) on the streets. Another type of urbanlining is timelining, where one tries to stay on a slackline for as long as possible without falling off.
Another type of urbanlining is streetlining, which has a participant doing street workout power moves on a bouncy slackline. If you come across someone doing streetlining, you might see them doing static handstands, super splits, a one-arm handstand, and other interesting extreme street workout moves.
The most common form of slacklining today is called tricklining. The easy set-up of 2-inch slackline kits makes this a popular choice. Tricklining has participants performing basic tricks on the rope, such as walking, walking backwards, turns, drop knee, running and jumping onto the slackline to start walking, and bounce walking. Tricklining kits are often set up low to the ground but they can also be done on highlines (for an added level of excitement) as well.
Waterlining is slacklining over a body of water, such as a pool, lake, river, creek, between pier or railroad track pillars, and boat docks. If you’re new to slacklining and still working on getting used to walking above the ground, waterlining is a great way to get started (falling into water hurts a lot less than falling on the ground!). In waterlining, the slackline can be set up high above the water, just above the water, and even UNDER the water (for that walking-on-water feeling).
As its name implies, highlining is slacklining at a high elevation above the ground or water. Highlining is not for newbies of the sport. This is actually considered to be the highest level of achievement in slacklining. With the inherent danger of highlining, many measures must be taken to ensure the climbers’ safety. Sturdy, solid anchors must be used to secure the line into position. The rigging typically entails a mainline of webbing, backup webbing, and either climbing rope or Amsteel rope. Most highliners also wear a climbing harness or swami belt with a leash attached to the slackline itself.
Slackline yoga combines slacklining and traditional yoga poses. Participants strike yoga poses while balancing on a slackline that is tensioned between two trees. This style of slacklining is the ultimate means of developing sharp focus, balance, power, breath, core integration, flexibility, and confidence (all on a 1-inch piece of webbing).
Freestyle slacklining takes place on a “slack” slackline. With a lack of tension, participants can swing and practice static maneuvers. The line is typically anchored into about 15-30 feet apart and 2-3 feet off the ground in the center.
Windlining is the practice of slacklining in very windy conditions. As you can imagine, staying on the slackline can be very difficult in a strong wind. The participant must angle his/her body and arms in an aerodynamic manner to maintain balance in the wind. Slackliners often say that they feel like they’re flying while on the line.