Following on from Part 1 of my slacklining journey I’m going to take you through the first couple of sessions. How frustrating it was to begin with, but also how if you persist you can quickly make progress. As is obvious within the title I’m looking to learn to backflip on a slackline. This targets the tricking discipline within slacklining and once I’ve completed this objective I’ll be looking for other challenges. To understand more about the sport, have a look at my article which explores the origins of the sport and the disciplines that have been created since.
The target, to begin with, was all about having a go. Trying out my new equipment and just see what I could do. Initially, this was just to get off the ground, to stand up and find some level of balance when not moving forwards. If that was successful it was then looking to link some steps together, and if it went really well I was aiming to walk the full 4m.
Standing up for the first time
My Barefoot Slacklines kit came with a leaflet describing how to set the slackline up as well as how to get on for the first time. The recommendation was to set up the slackline at knee height so that it’s easier to step onto and less distance when you inevitably fall off. I covered how to set up the slackline in Part 1.
I followed the guidance and didn’t just jump straight onto the line. I took it slowly looking to try and balance on one foot first. The problem was, even before I took my second foot off the floor the line was starting to shake from side to side uncontrollably. This was to the amusement of my wife and in-laws! This was the first major challenge and it was just getting off the floor. I realised at this point making it all the way across was a long shot and my journey to a backflip was going to be a long one!
What I found helped in the end was finding a spot on the tree opposite me and using that to focus on, as well as engaging my core. These two things helped me to stabilise, with the tree helping me to keep my head up and a more stable core reducing my upper body movements. I practised this for around 10 minutes until I felt I could start thinking about taking my first steps.
Taking my first steps
All the learning material talks about focussing on balancing on one foot to begin with. I found that really difficult and once I’d managed to stand up it was much easier when I’d got two feet on the slackline. To begin with, this is how I took my first steps, going from two feet stepping forwards and finding my balance on two feet again. Now, I knew this wasn’t an ideal technique but it allowed me to feel like I was making progress. I was able to link 1-2 steps at a time.
I then entered a phase of repetition. Once I’d got a few steps linked, it was all about repetition. I was trying to get from 1-2 to 3-4 steps with a target of getting all the way across the line. At this point, I had to focus on the process rather than the result as it would be easy to become disheartened with little success. However, the feeling of elation when I did manage to walk the whole way across the line was amazing. That first time was definitely more luck than judgement but it gave me such a boost to keep going. This happened during my second session and so it took around 50 minutes to 1 hour of practice to complete 1 walk.
Once I’d proven I could do it once, it started to happen more and more. In my next session, I was still focussed on getting across but aiming for multiple successes. In another 30 minutes, I was successful 4-5 times. Whilst there was still quite a lot of luck involved, the control I had was definitely improving. Below is some videos from my 2nd or 3rd session and you can see that there is some improvement, but it’s still extremely wobbly with little control.
I’m picking up that there will be a theme throughout my journey of learning that everything will take longer than I expect. When you see people who are very good they make it look so easy, and it’s not until you have a go yourself that you realise just how difficult it is.
Set Up Changes
In the first 3 sessions, my homemade set-up had started to take a beating. I’d solely used the lower crossbar, which is around 45cm high, and the connectors had started to come loose. So far I’d only ever used the slackline at home and hadn’t actually used the foldaway functionality that I thought would be useful for storage/travel. Before I looked at some repairs and improvements, my in-laws happened to visit a country show where they saw a group of slackline performers with a very different set-up. They had 2 steel boxes to act as the connection points, with some lifting slings and heavy-duty pegs as the anchors.
This changed my plans as switching to a box would provide easy storage for my equipment and if I bought boxes that could fit inside each other, I could easily have 2 anchors without the need for a tree. I also wanted them to be lightweight, waterproof and non-DIY. With that in mind, I had a look around DIY stores for some heavy-duty plastic boxes and found some perfect ones from Argos for £14.
I also needed to find some lifting slings which I ordered from Amazon, they were both the cheapest (£5) and quickest to arrive. I chose to have four 1m, 1-tonne lifting slings. This provides plenty of strength for when the slackline ratchet tightens the line and builds tension. The idea is to use 2 slings on either side allowing the set-up to be taken anywhere. The pegs I was already using with the A-frame could continue to be used so there was no additional outlay there.
Below you can see it all together in my new and improved set up.
This is where I’m going to end the second part of My Journey to a Backflip. Hopefully, this has given you some insight into how I’m getting on and that this sport isn’t easy but if you are willing to be patient you can learn anything. If you’ve got this far and now realised you haven’t read Part 1, you should go check it out.