For a long time I have admired the videos of slackliners performing daredevil feats across places like the French Alps, so I was very excited when an advert popped up on my Facebook feed for lessons in Sydney. For those wondering, slacklining is like tightroping but completely different: the clue being in the name – one is on a tight round rope, the other a slack flat webbed line.
Things I had no eyed deer about slacklining
- It’s a great form of exercise and injury prevention
- Types of slacklining include waterlining (over water), highlining (a very long way off the ground), and tricklining (performing tricks on the slackline)
- You can do butt bounces, super splits and chest bounces
- It is a great form of relaxation as you can’t concentrate on anything else
- Drones are used to help set up slacklines in high places
Lesson One – the first few steps
The lessons take place between palm trees in Clark Park at Milsons Point, an easy trip across the bridge after work. As is my habit, I massively over estimate how long it will take me to get there, and arrive thirty minutes early, so I check out the area and the amazing view. Wendy’s Secret Garden, just below the park really is a secret world in the city. I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland exploring, at one turn there are a couple of ladies in 1940s dress sharing tea from china tea cups, on another turn I interrupt a couple’s passionate moment and quickly scurry away.
After my mini adventure I make my way back to where Shawn and Max are putting up slacklines between the trees and I introduce myself to the other ladies who are sitting chatting. These particular classes were arranged by She Went Wild and so the class is made up of twelve women. Usually I am one of the most adventurous in a group but not this time, my company includes a free diver and a canyoner. We are a mix of those who have never touched a slackline but are up for the adventure, and others who have bought a slackline but want to improve their skills. Those already with slacklines tended to be climbers, and indeed, slacklining came into its current existence in the last 40 years starting in Yosemite where rock climbers would take their webbing and stretch it between two trees and then walk on it.
We start the lesson by doing some basic balancing exercises on the ground including standing on one leg. A simple task it may seem, until we are told to close our eyes and stand on one leg – try it at home, it isn’t easy! I looked like a tree being felled. Cheating with one eye open I notice I’m not the only one.
Next we split into two groups on lines of different widths. I make a beeline for the thicker line. We start by simply standing on the line. This takes more balance then I expected as the line seems to jitter vigorously under my knee, looking I imagine to a bystander, like I have a large gin problem. I am hanging on so tightly to Shawn’s thumb I’m surprised it doesn’t turn blue. I’m told the jitters is caused by the strength of (or lack of strength of) the knee and the tension of the line. Slacklining is a great form of exercise not just for balance and co-ordination, but strengthening knees and abs. It is also great for relaxation, if you are concentrating hard on your body position and not falling off the line then you are not worrying about anything else. We practice getting the feel of both legs on the line and which one feels more natural to start walking with – a bit like figuring out if you are regular or goofy in snowboarding. With Shawn on one side, and another class member on the other, our “stabilisers”, we take our first stuttering steps. Then we progress to a few on our own.
Lesson Two – shedding the human stabilisers
Week two starts with Shawn and Max demonstrating how to attach two different types of slackline for the right amount of tension, whilst ensuring no damage to the host trees. (There are restrictions to the trees that you can attach lines to: definitely don’t do it in the Botanic gardens!) I have to admit that I didn’t pay too much attention at this point as my practical skills are limited and I didn’t think I would be attaching any lines in the future: the Ikea bed that I put together collapsed whilst I was sleeping: I woke up and dismissed it as one of those moments where you feel like you are falling in your sleep, but it turned out in the morning that I really had fallen through the bed. Therefore my summary of this point would be one grip looks more complicated than the other, but the fact people would opt to use that grip means it must have its advantages. Interestingly I also learned that drones are used in highlining to get the line from one side to the other.
This week we practiced walking with our human stabilisers, and a sit to stand move on the line. This move required stronger abdominal muscles than I possess, as I realised that I could not even do the move on the ground, never mind sitting on a moving thin line. For the rest of the class, we practice on our own, taking it in turns to sit on the line to increase tension for the person walking. The less tension in the slackline, the more difficult it is to keep your balance, due to sway and greater sagging under the weight of a person. Key lesson – be careful how you are sitting if someone bounces on the line as it can result in a rather large wedgie.
Rain starts coming down as we are winding up and it is a nice feeling to be protected by the trees watching the lights of Sydney come up.
Lesson Three – learning some tricks
This week is a lot of perfecting the skills of previous weeks. By week three some people are walking the full length of the line, others like me, are excited by our five steps. Those who stay on are the ones who seems to be able to let their body relax and go with the flow, whilst keeping the head as upright and unmoving as possible. My balancing attempts are rather more rigid and look more like a robotic version of someone performing YMCA. In between time on the lines I practice balancing on one leg on the ground and trying not to move my head – which as the heaviest part of the body can massively affect which way you fall.
Shawn and Max demonstrate some tricks and manoeuvres that we can do on the line. I practise some more and learn to cheat slightly by starting walking from the base of the tree where the tension is stronger. It’s amazing how quickly time flies when you are concentrating hard on your posture and how your body feels. The lesson ends and I wish I had paid more attention to how to attach a line as I want to do more – I think if I had my own slackline I would have some very late nights perfecting the sixth step!