2012: a year in review 1

Slacklining can be a frustrating sport. Session after session can go by with seemingly little progress, and new tricks can seem impossible for months on end. While international athletes continue their clear and obvious progress towards ever-more impressive displays of skill and agility, a poor session at the park often leaves us feeling we’ve gone backwards. It’s only until we look back a ways to where we have come from that we can truly appreciate the progress we’ve made, and gain some motivation to press forward – to persist at that trick that’s been evading us, or try something new and more than a little scary. The new year provides the perfect opportunity for such reminiscence.

I can tell you exactly where I was a year ago today. I was sitting at my desk at uni, plodding away at my PhD. It was about this time that I realized a career in academia wasn’t right for me at the time, but I had no idea what else I wanted to do. The question of “What would I do if money was no object?” played heavily on my mind – the answer was simple and staring me in the face… but nobody actually makes a living slacklining – that would be ridiculous.

Nevertheless, the idea persisted. I was only getting out on the line occasionally, but the highlight of my week was always getting together with the few other trickliners in Brisbane for our Saturday sessions at the Botanic Gardens. Highlining – heck, even longlining – weren’t an option back then. They were things other people did, in other countries. A good trickline session was categorized by a few butt-chest-butt combinations – no tricky twisting or rotations – and not being shut down by authorities.

Fast forward to today, and my last couple of weeks holiday should sum up the differences. I’ve been out to Bribie Island and rigged waterlines on three separate occasions with no less than ten others, and tripped down to Dalwood Falls for a highline/midline. I’ve walked a 95m line, sent my first midline ‘solo’ (okay, so it was deep-water soloing), landed my first waterline backflip, and I’m trying tricks I didn’t even know existed a year ago.

From a community perspective, Saturday session numbers have grown roughly 10 fold, and the Slackline Brisbane facebook group has grown to over 280 members. Highlines and waterlines are being developed and walked across the state, and more and more people are investing in longlining equipment and honing their skills in this discipline. Discussions with Brisbane City Council regarding park access have been promising, and plans for artificial slackline anchors are underway for installation in selected council parks.

Multiple lines give everyone plenty of practice time

Indoor anchor points at The Ice Cream Factory took a lot to engineer and install, but they are well worth the effort!

Slackline Academy has progressed from a hopeless dream to a self-sustaining operation, with specially engineered anchor points installed at West End’s The Ice Cream Factory, and we’ve successfully run 4 school programs with Crestmead PCYC. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life thanks to the decision to pursue this dream, and it has no doubt drastically increased my own slacklining skills no end.

Of course, the year hasn’t been without its setbacks. Personally, I had to take several weeks off after I developed a stress-fracture in my femur, and then again after I twisted my ankle. Friction developed between the slacklining community and Brisbane City Council, resulting in the temporary shut-down and permanent relocation of Saturday sessions.

These issues have mostly been resolved, however, and the new year looks promising. If the last 12 months have taught me anything, it’s that predicting the future in this rapidly evolving sport is all but impossible. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have plans and dreams for the coming year, so I’ll have a stab anyway!

Personally, I’m having more fun than ever pushing my body to the limit with tricks and flips – I can only pray the inevitable injuries that will come aren’t too heinous. I’m also looking forward to seeing where the community takes slacklining in the Brisbane region generally, but as the community grows, I gladly accept that I’ll have less and less influence on this. As for Slackline Academy, we’ve recently been given the go ahead to expand into outdoor parks around Brisbane, and a more advanced tricklining course is under development for The Ice Cream Factory. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with PCYCs and schools, and hoping to expand in this direction as well. I also intend to spend a considerable amount of time preparing a respectable entry for Queensland Outdoor Recreation Federation’s (QORF) short film competition, to give an accurate representation of our sport and get it the exposure it deserves.

So what’s changed? What led to this drastic transformation of the sport? I can identify four significant influences, though there are no doubt more. Firstly, I think the effect of the consistency of the Saturday sessions cannot be overstated. Since people know we are in the same place at the same time each week, they can make plans in advance, and avoid clashing commitments. If you’re a slackliner in Brisbane and not attending these sessions (Musgrave Park from 3pm), I can’t emphasize enough how much I think you would gain from coming along – even if only occasionally.

Secondly, the facebook group (Slackline Brisbane) has been incredibly helpful in linking people together, and is now both the first port of call for many new slackliners, and a hot-pot for experienced slackliners to get together at short or long notice. Thanks must go to Slackline Australia for the moment of brilliance in creating the groups that provide such a great space for the sport, and now pretty much run themselves.

The visit from Elepant Slackline’s Niklas Winter also greatly influenced the Brisbane slacklining scene earlier this year. While most of us saw some truly motivating tricks from the aerial artist, it was in the longlining and highlining field that his effect was truly felt. As mentioned above, before Nik’s arrival, highlining and longining were disciplines practiced by other people – not for us mere mortals down in Australia. He introduced many of us to the idea, and led to the development of highlines across South-East Queensland and New South Whales.

The last influencing factor I can identify could be viewed as a combination of all the above – a symptom, rather than an influence – but is significant nonetheless. Over the past 12 months there has been a significant change in attitude towards the sport of slacklining. What people once viewed as a side-activity, many people now regard slacklining as a sport in it’s own right. This might sound uninteresting, but the consequences are drastic. Few people spend a whole day engaged in a side-activity. Many people spend a whole day in a sport. This means people are willing to drive long distances and spend many hours rigging and derigging highlines and waterlines. It means people are willing to spend the money on longline rigs. It means people are willing to spend a whole afternoon getting to know one-another tricklining, and makes it worth while dragging large crash mats out for the masses to enjoy.

Personally, this change in attitude is typified by the question I ask myself each morning. No longer do I think “Should I go slacklining today?” – rather, today I ask myself “What do I want to work on today, and with whom?”. Do I want to rig a low trickline and work on foot-work and flips? Perhaps butt-chest combinations on a higher trickline would be better? Maybe someone else is keen for a longline? Or are there trips planned for further afield on the facebook group?

I’d love to hear what your favourite part of 2012 was, or what you’d like to see for 2013. Share your thoughts in the comments below, or ask them on the facebook page. Other than that, happy slacklining, and for those lucky enough to still be on holidays, enjoy your freedom while it lasts!




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