What’s Slacklining?

Lauren Piro

Sometimes you just have to be a little extreme.

Or least that’s the philosophy of Courtney Peterson, junior political science and Spanish major and amateur slackliner.

Don’t recognize the word? Neither did I as of a few days ago, but after some expert Googling that may have lead to more questions rather than answers, what I appeared to have learned was confirmed.

“It’s similar to tightrope-walking,” Peterson says with a hint of reluctance. “[Although], I don’t want to call it tightrope-walking; I’m not a ballerina; I don’t hold an umbrella over my head.”

Slacklining indeed has a lack of tutus and ballet slippers – more like carabineers and the call of the great outdoors. This hobby or sport – its label is up to the partaker – is an offshoot of rock-climbing, often used by climbers to practice agility or just have some more fun with their equipment. As Peterson describes it, slacklining involves taking two pieces of flat rope, called webbing, securing them between two trees at about waist-height and then finding your way up to walk the rope.

Peterson, who used to enjoy rock-climbing herself, was introduced to slacklining last summer by a group of her climbing friends. Now, she brings her new-found interest back to ‘Nova.

“I use it as a hobby to improve balance and coordination,” she says. “I find it relaxing just because you have to escape to your inside. You can’t let outside distractions bother you.”

But walking a rope? Really? One would think such an idea was left under the circus tent for a reason.

“Imagine walking for example across a fence or across the top of a wall,” Peterson says. “It’s firm, it’s hard to do, but you can do it. Same with slacklining – the tighter [the line] is at first, the easier it is.”

It’s here that we see the root of the name “slacklining.” A tighter rope with less slack is perfect for beginners, but make the line a little looser and out come the back flips and other tricks. Peterson calls one of these moves “surfing the line” – keeping your upper body still but moving your legs from side-to-side, all while staying steady on the two-inch surface.

A perusal of YouTube for slacklining footage proves how extreme this sport can be – bold flips and dismounts and lines that are quite high or long. A Norwegian slacklining Web site records the highest slackline walk at 1,000 feet, and a man in Germany completed a walk that was 506 feet long last July. One video even documents the slackline experience as “meditative” and “transcendent.”

For Peterson, though, walking the slackline is a way to escape the stress of exams and bring friends together, absorbing a taste of the hardcore lifestyle.

“I did set it up a couple times this fall; my friends threw some barbeques, and we were playing Frisbee or baseball, and I set up the slackline,” she says. “I’ve gotten a couple people at ‘Nova into it. I feel like it’s a more hippie, wilderness sport, so I don’t know if its really a Villanova mainstream hobby quite yet.”

But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t attracted attention setting up her slackline over on West Campus. She and her friends have often been approached by passersby intrigued by the idea of the slackline.

Recalling an outdoor concert she went to last summer, Peterson remembers the slackline being an icebreaker for meeting new people and also recalls getting attention from an entertainer at the show who practically wanted her to “perform” to attract people to his act.

“It was a pretty big turnoff,” she says. “But it definitely draws people over. It makes people curious, and they want to find out what exactly it is.”

For the most part, though, Peterson welcomes those interested in slacklining to approach her about it. Being fairly new at it herself, she remembers talking to people at outdoor sports stores and other rock-climbers trying to get more information on how she could really enjoy the activity.

She’s more than pleased that’s she’s found a fun and relatively cheap hobby (a foot of slackline will run only about 20 or 30 cents) and hopes others will join her.

“It is a solo sport, but the line only gets as tight as I can pull it,” she says. “It’s good to have a partner and bring two people out because the stronger you are when you can pull it, the tighter the line can get.”

For now, Peterson only walks the line as a hobby but hopes to one day get to the more extreme end of the sport.

She especially admires those who slackline over bodies of water, even small waterfalls.

“I love extreme sports,” she says. “The more extreme it goes, the bigger the rush, the more fun.”