Tuesday, April 23, 2013


If you keep up with my other online media outlets, you've undoubtedly seen my recent posts on Slacklining.  I have recently become enamored with this "sport". It involves balancing on a thin line or strap between two anchor points, typically trees. It is similar to tightroping except that instead of a tight rope  we are on a slack line. The line itself is pulled tight, but because if it's elasticity it sags under your weight and creates powerful movements that must be constantly counter balanced with one's own body weight.

The reasons to slackline are numerous. Besides it just being a generally fun activity, it improves both physical and mental acuity. It pushes you to find new and exciting lines, causing you to travel and see the world around you in a different light, and it gives yet another reason to meet and inspire people around you.

I first learned of slacklining more than 10 years ago while working with the boy scouts on rope courses in Texas.  One of the camp counselors set one up and recommended we add it to our course. We all tried it once, and scoffed at even encouraging the idea, as it was "impossible". The slack line went back into that counselors bag and I didn't meet it again for another decade and a half. About a year ago I watched a film called  "Flight of the Frenchies" by Seb Montaz (I highly recommend the film) and it reinvigorated my interest. Since my first attempt so many years ago,  I have become very involved in many balance sports like surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding and skydiving. (Yes Skydiving too requires much balance) So, I decided to try it again. I purchase a small piece of webbing, and rigged a 30ft line on the beach by myself.

I tried for about an hour with little to no success then suddenly it clicked. I could stand. A while later I could take a step, then by the end of the day I was walking and turning around. Now many months later I've upped my ability and my gear. I am just starting to do aerial tricks, and The longest line I've now walked is just under 300ft. and the fun is just beginning.

Nearly every time we rig a line, we draw quite the crowd. And almost every time we draw a crowd someone wants to give it a try for the first time. About half the time people that try it say it's impossible, the other half dig there heels in and are determined. Those people 100% of the time end up being able to take a few steps by the end of the session and are instantly hooked.  These folks always have questions about where to get a line at and what line to get.  So alas I am writing a post about my favorite types of lines and the differences between them.

Slacklining started with the rock climbing community repurposing their gear to create new challenges for themselves on down days.  It likely began in the Yosemite valley in the 1970's. Since then it has evolved a lot.

There are many different disciplines within slacklining. Some people only walk the line, meaning they start at one end and attempt to make it to the other side without falling, then possibly turning around and see how many walks they can make. Most begin with shorter lines (30ft - 100ft) and then graduate to longer lines called, imagine this, ..... a longline (100ft + ).  Some people have even walked really long longlines. The current record is 1600ft! There is also trick lining. This is what some consider to be the more impressive displays. Trick liners have a repertoire of tricks up their sleeves including jumps, butt bounces, flips, spins, difficult balancing positions, etc.  Then there are the highliners. These lines are setup at heights that could be dangerous or even deadly if a fall were to occur. Currently the highest highlines are setup more than 3000ft above the ground. Most highliners wear a harness to arrest a fall if it were to occur, but some do it without any protection at all, relying only on their skill to keep them safely on the line.  The equipment and skills required for each of these are very different so i'll only go over the gear needed to just start out and get you well on your way.

Before we begin it should be mentioned that the gear in slacklining is made specifically for either slacklining or for life support in rock climbing. The equipment you find at the hardware store, or the tie down straps you use to haul trash to the dump are not the same thing, and are not made for the extreme tensions we put on gear while slacklining. The amount of force can be misleading. Someone that is only 150lbs can easily put 800 lbs of force or more on a line.

There are two main beginner systems of slacklines. There are the Ratchet kits that come with most everything you need to set up right away, and there are the "primitive" setups that typically need to be pieced together by the buyer. I prefer the primitive setup personally (i'll explain why in a minute) ,but the ratchets are far more popular for beginners. If you do an internet search to buy a slackline the main system you will probably see is the ratchet system like this one from gibbon:


Though many people think these are the easiest to setup, they are somewhat limited in their versatility and will likely leave you wanting more out of a line.  These systems are usually 2" wide and tend to be easier to walk at first. They also provide a very static (non moving) feel to your line. They are great for tricklining and are what most trick liners use. However it's unlikely you will be throwing a backflip off the line your first day and so that aspect of them is not necessarily important to the beginner. There are some issues to the ratchet systems, namely the weight of the line and ratchet, the high failure rate of the ratchet after a lot of use and the fact that the ratchet and line won't help you much in rigging different kinds of lines later on, as they are not typically used (or considered safe) in longlining, highlining, etc.

My favorite type of line for beginners is a 1" primitive. Now there are many different types of 1" webbing out there, but I am specifically referring to 1" climbing spec nylon webbing. This is the webbing often used by climbers and rappellers for making anchors, slings, swami harnesses etc.  It's rated for around 4000lbs and makes a perfect slackline webbing for shorter lines.

Climbing Spec is also one of the cheapest webbings out there, making it great for beginners who don't want to break the bank. In order to tension the climbing spec you must have a tensioning method. My favorite method is called "the primitive". It involves the use of a few carabiners and a bit of mechanical advantage knowledge. The 4 carabiners you require are usually lighter than the ratchets and take up less space. Another advantage of this method is that   They can also be used for other application like attaching your water bottle to you back pack, key chain clips, hanging gear in your vehicle and any number of uses. The video below explains it well.

The 1" climbing spec moves a bit more than the 2" ratchets, which I personally find more fun to walk because they provide a greater challenge and allow for a variety of weight shifts and compensations which is what makes slacklining so exciting (for me).

Another reason I like to choose the 1" climbing spec primitive, is due to the versatility of it's components. Because the ratchets are built purpose specific, they are everything they ever will be. But with a primitive you can use the components to incorporate into larger more sophisticated setups later on (which you will want later on)

Here is everything you need for a complete slackline setup. You can get away with less, but just biting the bullet and getting this gear will make it easier.


This video shows how to setup this particular type of setup:


Hope that is a thorough enough introduction to slacklining for those of you wondering. Feel free to ask any questions. And if you're on the big island come slackline with us! You can find out where at: