My favorite hobby requires two trees and a lot of patience.
When I first heard about slacklining I saw some YouTube videos and thought I’d finally found the perfect outdoor sport. It was kind of quirky, burned a few calories and didn’t look too hard. A few spills and bruises later, I remembered looks can be decieving.
Being on a slackline isn’t like walking anywhere else. To an outsider it looks like a low-to-the-ground tightrope. It’s an inch-wide flat rope between two trees, pulled tight with a homemade pulley system of carabiners or a ratchet that comes in some of the fancier slacklining kits. From there the only thing you need is creativity. People walk the line, jump it, flip on it, do handstands, lay down, sit, stretch and pretty much any other yoga-type pose you can think of. The difference is that it’s not a tightrope; in every video you see, the line isn’t held straight by the trees, but the slackliner’s muscles.
When I started slacklining I joined Outdoors Club, because they slackline before meetings. Here the Outdoors Club encompasses activities like slacklining, but according to slackline.com other universities are forming clubs for the sport as it trickles to the United States from Europe. A number of universities including the University of Deleware, Florida State University, University of Minnesota and the University of California, Santa Barbara have slackline-specific clubs. The sport itself started with rock climbers, but I surveyed some Outdoors Club members, and it seems their start-up stories involved cool people with rope.
“I heard about slacklining from a friends in Forestry several years ago. I decided to start myself because I love being outside,” said forest science senior Margaret Studer.
For zoology junior Eric Raslich, it was something he’d accidentally put on the back burner.
“I first heard about slacklining way back in middle school when I was looking for something sweet to do on Boy Scout camping trips when there weren’t lakes/boats/climbing towers around. Then after realizing I had no idea how to get any of the webbing or real carabiners, I promptly forgot about it until my sophomore year at MSU when I heard about people doing it and bought my own kit and never looked back,” said Raslich.
For me, the adventure started with Google. I didn’t know any slackliners at the time, but I looked up some knots on the internet and bought my first slackline at the Moosejaw in East Lansing. A worker there helped me pick out the right kind of line for the right kind of price, gave me some knot-tying tips, and sent me on my way. I ended up with two 10-foot pieces of anchor webbing, one 35-foot piece of webbing and five carabiners for about $55 (the slackliners I interviewed for this article all spent about $50-$100, so I was right in that range.) But I threw my new materials in a bag, found some trees near my friend Kathy’s house, and got to work.
I didn’t realize at the time what kind of work I was getting into. Every line I tie is different, and this one was too high and too tight, though I had no way of knowing it at the time. I didn’t realize that keeping the line from moving horizontally was up to my woefully underprepared leg muscles, and I’m afraid most of my time was spent trying to hug Kathy and stay on the line. Kathy was a childhood gymnast, but even she wasn’t too sure-footed on the slackline.
I figured practice made perfect, so I started going every day.
I took my line to class, and set up anywhere with trees. I spent hours mastering the basics … my friend Jen and I took three hours one day to work on mounting the line. We got tips from passerby, and slowly got better. A gentleman from Germany told me it was bigger in Europe, and stopped to show me some of his favorite moves. Some Cuban visitors stopped for a couple hours and applied their skateboarding tricks to the line.
From what other slackliners have said, meeting people is part of the sport.
“I set up where ever I’m able to. I’ve gone to the local park, the beach, my backyard, I even went downtown once. I am usually by myself, but slacking with friends is much more enjoyable. Even if you’re by yourself, you usually will get one or two curious people that want to try it out for a while,” said Japanese major and freshman Michael Lohr.
Raslich too says it’s not a sport he ends up doing alone.
“I usually end up setting up alone or with one or two other people and more people join as they walk by and stop to see what it is or I heckle them into trying it. No one has left wishing they didn’t try it as far as I know,” he said.
I, for one, enjoy the company. I still have trouble doing things like walking more than a few steps, or balancing on anything that’s not my feet. I like trying to run the line, and practicing different mounts never gets old.
“Its freestyle. everyone is better at different things on the line, some people are good jumpers, others can surf like pros, and there are also different mounts and balances you can try too. No matter how good you get, there’s always something new to try thats inside your safety zone, you never really have to worry about extreme injury unless you decided to be stupid,” said Lohr.
I’ve set up my line or hopped on other people’s upwards of 50 times now, and I’m always finding new things to do. I’m more into moving on the line, but my sister and her boyfriend like to try to translate yoga poses and balancing acts onto the inch-wide surface. My parents just like to prove they’re still young by hoping on, and most of my friends are still in the stage where they’re just trying to stay up.
“I like the challenge that slacklining provides both mentally and physically,” said Studer.
And when it comes to my mind, nothing clears the slate like a few hours airborne, fighting gravity with a one-inch rope. My body’s coming along, and my balance is getting closer every time my mind and body hop aboard for one more go.
“My favorite thing about slacklining is the instant gratification you get from staying on longer or better than the last time you hopped on,” said Raslich.
A good way to get involved is to practice with the Outdoors Club before meetings at 7 p.m. in IM West (or outside during warmer months). But if you’re itching to try it, find a friend that’s into it or purchase your own setup. There’s something about seeing my senior year from between two trees that has helped me focus, and I don’t mind when strangers ask for a turn at that kind of zen.