You know that feeling when you try out a new sport and you really suck at it? That’s slacklining for everybody, don’t worry it’s not just you! It looked easy when you saw that person in the park balancing, bouncing and floating around on the webbing strap between two trees. You put your leg up and it starts to shake, you step up and the line vibrates and wiggles, your knees wobble and you’re quickly back on the ground.
This is what happens to most people with slacklining, which if you don’t already know is the art of balancing on a slightly tensioned piece of flat webbing. Many put it down to bad balance and give up, but slacklining is one of those sports where the first steps are rarely easy for anyone. The short sharp movements of a slackline will throw your legs into confusion for the first few tries. After 10 minutes you realise those initial shakes, as you put your foot on the line, are gone. You can push up with a little more confidence and suddenly for half a second you find inertia, you are in balance on the line and the surprise quickly throws you off again, but you get a rush. You get sucked into trying to get that feeling, but get ejected again and again. Now you are determined to reach the end of that short line.
I wish these moments happened to everyone but there are many who get blocked by the doubts before even trying. I want to convince you that at any age, size and fitness you can get the hang of slacklining and it has many benefits; the constant balance works a lot of muscles in your body at the same time, and it’s relaxing and focusing for the mind. Even if you are scared of the height or falling, there are many ways to control the variable to make slacklining safe. There is nothing to stop you – just take it at your own pace.
Like yoga, which is gaining much popularity, slacklining can be a form of moving meditation, building strength and flexibility, control and concentration. You can get lost in the flow and let you mind take a break from the chaos of life’s worries and stresses. The focus needed to stay balanced means you need to let go of the thoughts bouncing around in your head and focus on your subtle movements. Get distracted and a little shake catches you off guard to wobble you off.
So, you felt that second of balance and you’re hooked, but don’t think it’s an easy road from there, slacklining needs persistence. You have to get used to the fall and repeat pattern, which there is no way to avoid, but failing is the best way to learn. So, you’re persistent, you want to reach the end of that first short line and eventually that line becomes easy. You want to make it harder and there are so many ways to go. Make it longer, so the movement of the line changes, the line is heavier so you get oscillations that want to flick you off. Make the anchors higher, so your line is looser and the range of movements from the centre increase. You wobble all over the place, until you realise this side to side surf is the best feeling ever and you just want to make it bigger! You want to turn, bounce or stand in tree pose and feel the calm moment of balance, strength and focus.
Then you see a picture on instagram of a little dot suspended in the sky between two cliffs in front of a mountain backdrop. Highlining: it’s magnificent, but damn that looks terrifying. How can you balance with all that space below your feet? Eager to try or more apprehensive, here commences the emotional rollercoaster. Fear and euphoria, doubt and struggle but blissful moments become more regular.
What is up there, out there in the clouds for you? Between the trees for you? The evolutionary survival instinct pulling you back towards solid ground with a stubborn persistence, but the desire to fly pushes you back out. You see the other faces glow, eyes twinkle, the bliss they found and you know you can too but there are many blocks to break…
Written by Sarah Rixham: Sarah is a Highliner from Sheffield. She first tried slacklining at school and when she eventually got into highlining 5 years later, quickly became addicted to the challenges she could find out there on the line. Now she's passionate about establishing challenging and aesthetic new highlines and helping to develop the highline scene in the UK.