Set up a slackline in your campsite or yard – and jump into an addictive balance tune-up.
Slacklining started in the late 1970s as a rainy-day pastime for rock climbers in California’s Yosemite Valley. Unlike tightrope or high-wire walking, slacklining is done without using a pole and, as the name would imply, on a stretch of nylon webbing that has some give.
Dean Potter, originally famous for soloing some of the hardest climbs in the world without the aid or the protection of a rope, learned to slackline a few decades ago from one of the sport’s founders, Chongo Tucker. Today, Potter is probably just as renowned for having stretched lines 790 m over Yosemite Falls and for walking without the reassurance of a tether that would save his life if he fell.
But along with Josh Greenwood, a professional slackliner who taught Madonna the sport, Potter says that it’s a fascinating challenge close to the ground as well. Greenwood, a former gymnast, recommends slacklining as a full-body workout. Here are both experts’ tips for getting started.
If you already have rockclimbing equipment, Potter says, putting up a slackline is as simple as setting a toprope. Otherwise, buy a kit from a company such as Gibbon Slacklines; for under R700, you can get a ratcheting device and 5 cm-wide webbing custommade for the sport. Alternatively, choose a kit from Amazon: http://amzn.to/OfeTGj
Wrap the line around one tree and connect it to the ratchet system, which should be anchored to another tree up to 6 m away. “You want it nice and low, maybe 30 cm off the ground,” says Greenwood, who is a member of Gibbon’s pro team, “and keep it short” to minimise bounce while you learn.
When the anchors are snug but not tight, work carpet remnants or blankets beneath the webbing to protect the tree’s bark.
The line should remain just under knee height as you bounce on it. The webbing will stretch during your first session; adjust it with the ratchet.
Potter suggests slightly elevating a short section of line between two boxes, or between one box and a tree. This reduces wobble. “Practice standing on one foot, then the other foot, then both feet,” he says. “Once you can stand with both feet, taking a step is a lot easier.”
First, don’t look down. “Empty your head and just focus on your breath and watch the anchor point,” says Potter. Second, balance by making an upturned U shape with your arms. Finally, use your unweighted foot as another balancing aid. “You can use that foot as a way to catch yourself,” Greenwood says. “You’re walking, start to wobble, and if you take one foot off, you’ll be able to stop the wobble.”
Sound like your kind of thing? Visit the Facebook page of South African slacklining enthusiasts here: http://on.fb.me/TJkoE7