In this article I will be exploring what slacklining is and how it was initially started, as well as how the sport has developed with multiple disciplines having been created over the years. I’ll also cover how you can get involved if you’re interested and link you up to like-minded people.
Slacklining is a sport that involves balancing, walking or doing tricks on 1-2″ webbing slung between two anchor points. It requires balance and focus in order to progress to longer distances. It can be done low to the ground (30-50cm) or high up across ravines or between buildings (>10m).
What is Slacklining?
Slacklining is a growing sport across the world, having originated in the climbing community in the 1980s, it has significantly grown in popularity with the growth of social media. It began as a pastime for climbers in the Yosemite National Park, USA, as a way to maintain core strength and balance between climbs. The sport has developed massively over the last 40 years and is now a competitive sport in its own right. With multiple disciplines that continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. In order to balance on a slackline you have to engage your core, especially your obliques to keep you stable. The sport has diversified into 6 different disciplines; beginner, trickline, highline, waterline, yogaline and rodeo line.
Beginner slacklines are just that, they’re lines designed to introduce people to the sport and grow with you until you either want to specialise or upgrade your equipment. They’re generally quite cheap and can be found for as little as £30 ($35), meaning the financial barriers to entry are reduced compared to most sports. Often beginner lines are 2″ wide which gives greater coverage across the bottom of your foot, helping with the early stages of balancing. You can also buy these in kits which give you everything you need to get started in one go, as well as some guidance to taking your first steps. Slacklines are generally made from nylon or polyester as they are a cost-efficient way of getting the desired characteristics however, expensive lines can be made from natural products such as silk.
Tricklining takes things up a level, and rather than just walking forwards and backwards, they complete stunts on their slackline. Tricks can include bouncing and landing on the line in different positions, such as on your belly or your bum, as well as twists and flips, and a combination of all of the above. A trickline is designed to be bouncier than a beginner line giving additional spring and making it easier to get more time in the air. It’s also the only competitive discipline of slacklining with competitions held globally, such as the World Slackline Masters, or Red Bulls Walk the Line. However, at the time of writing (2022), the World Slackline Masters hasn’t run since pre COVID (Dec 2019).
Highlining is the discipline of walking along a slackline at height, often over a ravine or between buildings. It adds an additional fear element to slacklining, requiring increased levels of focus and self-control. Highlining may look to be extremely dangerous however, the safety record speaks for itself with c. 200 incidents over a 30+ year period. This is because the safety standards for highlining are particularly high. Every aspect of the line has backups or multiple backups, so there are no single points of failure in the system. Most highliners also choose to wear a harness, meaning any misstep results in a small swing under the line. Some adrenaline seekers do highline without a harness, similar to free solo climbing, however, it is safer as the slackliner can catch the webbing if they do fall.
Waterlining is slacklining over a body of water. It’s one of the safest ways to slackline as waterlines are generally hooked up close to the surface of the water, meaning there is a smaller chance of injury when falling off. It is a more difficult way to learn because the movement of the water combined with the movement of the slackline disrupts your balance. A great activity for summer when it’s hot and you need an excuse to cool off.
A rodeo line is a very loose slackline. They are rigged high up to create a U shape between the two anchors. The challenge here is not to walk across the line but to balance at the bottom of the U. As there is very little tension in the line, there is a lot of sideways movement. Some people look to amplify this sideways movement and that’s called surfing, where the line moves like a big swing.
Yoga lining is all about finding balance and performing what are simple movements on the floor on a slackline. This makes the movements much tougher and requires increased levels of focus. This could be done on any slackline, but having a base ability to slackline is important.
How to get involved?
Hopefully, one of the disciplines above is something you would like to get involved in. As I’ve touched on already the financial barriers to entry are low if you would like to purchase the kit yourself. Or, slacklining is a very social sport, and there are clubs or Facebook groups that are set up in local parks and allow others to get involved.
If you’re looking for slackline clubs globally then the International Slackline Association (ISA) has a world map of registered clubs. There are over 1300 clubs globally so have a look and find like-minded people near you.
For the UK, there is the UK slackline club which was set up during COVID and they organise meets through the summer months. They do run some competitions and their aim is to grow the sport of slackline in the UK, with festivals and competitions to show off UK talent. There is also the UK Slackline Association which has a UK slackmap, showing Facebook groups across the UK.
I am still early into my slacklining experience but learning more and more from each session I do. If you’re interested in following my slacklining journey then I’ll be writing a series of blogs about everything I’m learning. It covers what’s included in a beginner slackline kit, how I built an A-frame and getting set up the first few times.